Second-year baseball coach Andrew Smith had an unfamiliar problem this season at Ardmore. But, it was a good problem.
This year’s Ardmore team had so many good players, Smith struggled choosing which players not to play when filling out his lineup.
“There were several games where I really had to think about which players to go with,” said Smith. “The main thing was keeping them ready. We felt like we were two-deep at every position. You knew they were going to produce if you put them out there.”
Smith has been named the News Courier’s 2013 Baseball Coach of the Year for leading Ardmore to the fourth-round of the 4A playoffs, tying a school record.
The deep playoff run was something of a surprise from a team that finished the 2012 season with an 11-13 record, losing in the first round to Deshler.
“Our first year, the expectations were to make the playoffs,” said Smith. “We had high expectations this past season. We wanted to make the playoffs again, and hopefully go all the way to state.”
Ardmore didn’t quite make it all the way to state, losing in the semifinals to Brooks. The Tigers still managed to win three playoff series, something that had been done only once in school history (1989).
Playing in the Athens/East preseason tournament, Ardmore bats were too often silent and it looked like it might be another .500 season.
“We struggled at the plate early on,” said Smith. “Our pitching all year is what carried us. We had several 1-0 or 2-0 games. We played a preseason schedule that was tough. Later in the year, it helped us playing against those good teams. After spring break, things took off.”
Following a spring break tournament in Hazel Green, Ardmore won six of its next seven games entering the playoffs. While they were winning games, they had scored more than three runs in just one of those wins.
All that changed in Ardmore’s first playoff game against North Jackson. The Tigers scored 17 runs in the opening inning on their way to a 21-2 victory.
“In the playoffs, our nine-hole hitter, Thomas (Davidson), led us in RBIs,” said Smith. “Everybody was doing well. We were so deep, it made it pretty easy to coach.”
When they couldn’t score, the Tigers only had to lean on the arm of junior Cody Reed. The left-handed pitcher was recently named 4A Player of the Year, 4A Pitcher of the Year and selected to the Super All-State team.
Reed was so good, he put Smith in a tough spot during the team’s third round playoff series with Alexandria. After the final game of the three-game series was delayed three days due to rain, Reed could pitch again under AHSAA rules, but would be unable to throw against Brooks, should Ardmore advance.
According to Smith, it was an easy choice.
“When he was available, and we knew that he felt OK, it was pretty much a no-brainer,” said Smith about playing Reed. “We worried about him before anything else. That was our main concern. He would tell you if he didn’t feel right.
“When we took a lead in the seventh, we weren’t going to take him out. We had to get the win.”
The decision was a bittersweet one for Ardmore and Smith. Reed pitched the game of his life in a 4-3 dramatic seventh-inning win against Alexandria, but had to watch as his team was swept by Brooks in the next round.
Of course, if Reed had not pitched the game, Ardmore might not have been in that semifinal series with Brooks.
While it fell short of a state championship, a 24-10 record and three home playoff series in 2013 is something Ardmore’s baseball team will remember for a long time.
“It’s a great community and a great school,” said Smith, an Elkmont native. “Some of the players from those teams in the past made it really special, knowing that they were at the games, cheering for us.”