Entering the thirteenth year under Coach Adam Thomas’s leadership, there is no question that the Chattahoochee Valley Pirate baseball team has established itself as one of the ACCC’s, Southeast Regional, and national elite programs. During the initial three years under Thomas’ guidance, the Pirates underwent a major reconstruction, beginning with the foundation of Character, Pride, Discipline, and Class installed in the fall of 1999. The Pirates displayed significant and steady improvement each of those first two years, in terms of wins, academic success, and sophomore advancement. However, the Pirates have enjoyed the fruits of their labor from the onset of the 2003 season and that success has continued through the conclusion of the 2011 season. During this eight year stretch, Thomas’ teams have been perennial playoff participants and have been a championship contender year in and year out.
At the completion of Thomas’ third season at the helm in 2002, he gave CVCC its first winning record since 1996 and the table has since been set each year for reverberating success. The Pirates went on to set school records for wins (41) and finished as the runners-up in the AJCCC in 2003, continued by a 35 win season and another playoff appearance in 2004, followed by a 39 win season and an appearance in the semi-finals of the ACCC Tournament and fourth place finish in 2005. The Pirates continued their winning and post-season success in 2006 with a 32 win season and another post-season berth, and with a 90% freshman 2007 squad that, once again,tied the school record for wins (41) culminating with a third place ACCC finish. With those baby Pirates turned seasoned veterans, they had a repeat performance and won 41 more games to complete another third place finish in 2008. Additionally, the 2008 sophomore class finished as the winningest class in CVCC history, finishing with an astonishing 82 wins to their credit. Furthermore, with yet another predominantly freshman club, the 2009 edition of the Pirates posted another 39 win season and repeat trip to the conference semi-finals. After returning nearly every member of that 2009 club, 2010 Pirates claimed the ACCC Southern Division Championship, while posting an amazing 42-8 record, with the 42 wins and .840 winning percentage setting a new standard for CVCC Baseball. For an encore performance, with virtually an entirely new team of freshmen, the 2011 edition of the Pirates, once again, claimed the ACCC’s Southern Division Championship, while posting another 39 win season.
For over a decade, CVCC has built on the foundation of Character, Pride, Discipline, and Class, and has developed Tenacity, Toughness, Focus, and Confidence. The Pirates play the game the way it is supposed to be played – HARD! Thomas’ players have earned the reputation as hard-nosed players who never quit and have been branded as one of the hardest teams to beat in the ACCC. This has been evident since the breakout season of 2003, as the Pirates have been one of the most successful teams in the ACCC, as well as the southeastern part of the country, and have matched or broken school records for wins in four of the past eight seasons, with the 2007 and 2008 clubs posting back to back 41 win seasons, and of course the 2010 team earning a league leading and school record 42 victories. A continued sense of excitement is in the air at Howard Lake Field, as the veteran 2012 Pirates are extremely talented while returning nearly every player from the 2011 Divisional Championship team, and once again, will expected to be one of the teams to beat for the ACCC crown.
There has always been one constant on an Adam Thomas coached baseball team – STRONG PITCHING. The 2012 campaign should be no different, as the Pirates return literally every single pitcher from a staff that was tops in the ACCC in 2011. There certainly is no substitute for experience, however, the same can be said for talent and ability, as well, and the Pirate pitching staff certainly has plenty of both.
To begin the year, the Pirates will use a five man starting rotation during non-conference play in February and March. Anchoring the staff will be sophomore southpaw, Mike O’Neal. O’Neal was simply the best pitcher in the ACCC last season, as he triple crowned the Southern Division during the regular season with 11 wins, 110 strikeouts, and a 2.60 ERA. O’Neal’s counterpart will be big righty, sophomore Zach Helewski. Again, one of the top arms in the ACCC, Lu posted a 7-4 record with 67 K’s and a 3.42 ERA, and was an absolute shutdown guy from the midpoint of the season in 2011. New to the staff, but not to JUCO baseball is Connors State transfer, LHP Clint Spratlin. After serving as the ace at CSC last season, he brings another # 1 starting talent to the rotation.
The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation will see a multitude of guys, who will also serve as the Pirates’ bullpen. Trace McDaniel, who is unquestionably the most versatile pitcher on the staff, will be counted on to serve in every role imaginable. As a freshman, T-Mac posted a 4-4 record with a 4.29 ERA. Joining McDaniel in the same capacity will be super utility man, Martin Castro. Also the Pirates leadoff hitter and starting third baseman, Castro was a perfect 4-0 with a 3.12 ERA in 2011. Also vying for the final 2 starting rotational spots will be sophomores Dustin Dunagan and Daniel Szathmary. Dunagan is, without question, the most improved pitcher on the staff. A big time arm with quality secondary pitches, Dunagan is set to make his mark on the 2012 season. Szathmary (6-1, 3.23 ERA), is cut out of the same cloth as McDaniel, as he is capable of pitching in many different roles. Expect much of the same during the 2012 season.
The 2012 Pirate bullpen looks to be as solid as ever. Littered with freshmen pups and grizzled veteran sophomores, the Pirates have several quality options that should build a strong bridge from starter to closer. From the left side, the lone sophomore south paw, Tyler Abbott, will be relied upon heavily. The Pirate cleanup hitter has big time stuff and should be deadly versus left handed hitters. Joining Abbott, will be Valdosta State transfer, big Nick Jones. The 6’7” lefty, brings an upper 80’s fastball and vicious slider to the table for the Pirates, along with true freshman, Will Thomas, who has shown dominance with a mid 80’s fastball and 12 to 6 curve.
Along with McDaniel, Dunagan, and Szathmary, much of the right handed middle relief will fall on the shoulders of three more freshmen: Ben Taylor, Tim Massengale, and Sammy Altman. Ben Taylor is the next “stud in waiting”. Although much of his work this season will come out of the bullpen, he is the ace of the future for the Pirates. Massengale, who also serves as a starter on the infield for CVCC, brings a 90 mph arm and the best true curveball on the team, while Altman is an outstanding option for Coach Thomas as he possesses shutdown stuff.
Sharing the late relief/closing duties will be sophomores Matt Vollenweider and Josh Gobble. Arguably the top relief pitcher in the ACCC, Vollenweider brings a 90+ mph arm with a devastating slider and changeup to the table to lock down games late for the Pirates. Gobble, a transfer from Georgia Perimeter, has been one of the biggest surprises for staff. A 93 mph arm with an exploding slider, Gobble will be called on to help shorten games for the Pirates.
On any quality team, the defense must be strong up the middle and the Pirate ship anchor at the catching position is certainly stout. The catching staff at CVCC in 2012 could arguably be the best catching trio in the entire country from the defensive side, with sophomores Dustin Averett and Neal Chambless and freshman Cody Walker protecting the dish. All three are defensive standouts with similar abilities and are absolute shutdown catch and throw guys. Expect action from all three guys this season, as there is literally zero drop off in production from one guy to the next.
There is nothing but familiar faces on the infield this season, as the Pirates return nearly every single starter on the dirt at The Lake. Anchoring the middle of the infield will be the rock solid, slick fielding, Jared Kahn. Kahn is as close to automatic as a middle infielder can be. Joining Kahn in the double play combination at shortstop will be a tandem of Pirates, in sophomore Josh Sanders and redshirt freshman Tim Massengale. Both are athletic, strong armed infielders with game changing defensive abilities. Moving to third base in 2012 will be Mr. Steady, Martin Castro, after spending the 2011 season at shortstop. First base will see a host of Pirates, as Nick Jones, Ty Abbott, Taylor Hinshaw, and Kendell Brinson will see time at the right corner of the infield in a OF/1B/DH rotation. Additionally, the sweet swinging Cody Dykes, who looks to be the Pirate DH, will also see time at third, with freshman David Levy, who is the starter in waiting at second base, will see plenty of time on the infield, as well.
As is the case at the catching position and on the infield, the Pirates will return a very experienced outfield in 2012. Manning the corners and all are interchangeable, will be sophomores Ty Abbott, Taylor Hinshaw, and Pat Olvaney. All three are offensive game changers, and will be a part of the OF/DH/1B rotation. Roaming the green grass in centerfield will be a freshman threesome in Matt Nettles, JD Perry, and Dominique Smedley. All three bring exceptional speed and defensive prowess to the Pirates.
The Pirate offense, under the leadership of assistant coach, Dash O’Neill, has been one of the most potent and dominant in the ACCC over the past decade. With the 2010 and 2011 units leading the league in every meaningful offensive category, the fall season was spent piecing the puzzle together to make 2012 offense one to put fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. As the Pirates have slowly evolved from a base stealing team to a hybrid of both speed and power, this usually spells bad news for opposing defenses, as the Pirates are perennially known to play one of the most pressure styles of offenses in the ACCC. With over 90% of the offense returning, the plan, approach, and results look to remain the same.
As always at CVCC, there will certainly be plenty of speed in the lineup, with Pirate second baseman, Jared Kahn, pacing the way as a big time stolen base threat. Additionally, freshmen Dominique Smedley, JD Perry, David Levy, Tim Massengale and Matt Nettles are all guys that can make a difference with their wheels on the base paths.
The power source this year will again come from several Pirates, but certainly the focus of opposing pitchers will be on outfielders, Ty Abbott, Taylor Hinshaw, and Pat Olvaney. These three guys were among the league’s top 20 run producing power number performers, in terms of homers, doubles, and RBI’s. They will be counted on heavily by Coach O’Neill to push runs across the plate for the vaunted Pirate pitching staff. Expected to join these three in the potency of the offense will be big left hander Nick Jones and East Georgia transfer, Kendell Brinson. Their tandem of right and left handed power options should put the duo among the best in the league in terms of run producers. The catching position touts three guys that have gap to gap abilities in Dustin Averett, Cody Walker, and Neal Chambless.
From the pure hitter standpoint, expect to see veterans, Martin Castro and Cody Dykes to pace the Pirates in batting average, on base percentage, and runs scored. These two Pirates are hitting machines and will among the ACCC’s best in the afore mentioned categories.
After back to back Southern Division Championships, the Pirates of Chattahoochee Valley are focused on one thing only – A FAST START AND A STRONG FINISH. The key for CVCC this year is the focus on the process of becoming a champion, looking past the high expectations that come with the success the program has achieved, and finding a way to finish in the post-season. The team looks to be poised and working with a sense of purpose as they build on the foundation that Coach Adam Thomas has lain. With continued hard work, dedication, and the “Dirty Pirate” mentality, the 2012 season could, once again, be something special for the Chattahoochee Valley Pirates.