The Carver baseball program delivered a storybook ending to a hellish week last April. With a new season quickly approaching, the team and its new head coach are determined to make that moment just the beginning of something truly special.
The Tigers were devastated on April 18, 2016, when head coach David Pollard was killed in a three-car wreck started by a driver in a stolen vehicle. With the season finale coming four days later, assistant coach Andy Hicks rallied the team to an enormous upset, beating Shaw 5-3 for Carver’s first region victory in two seasons.
The victory brought a bright spot for a team reeling with the loss of its head coach. Going forward 10 months, the team still is relying on that win, not leaning on it as a crutch but counting on it as a launching pad for something more.
Carver baseball has never reached the state playoffs. With Hicks out in front, the Tigers are determined to change that in 2017.
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“We’ve got to show the world what we can do,” shortstop Ashton Scott said. “We’ve got to show Columbus, Georgia, what we can do.”
Stepping in and stepping up
Hicks said everything happened for a reason. He’s saddened by why it occurred but he holds firm to the belief that it all played out like it was supposed to.
“David was by himself for two years,” Hicks said. “I can just imagine the workload he had on him, trying to do this by himself for two years. All of a sudden last year, we had three or four guys helping. Things fell into place. I can just imagine what kind of shape this program would be in if he was by himself last year.”
Hicks served as the interim head coach for the Tigers’ final two games in 2016. He said he had no hesitation about taking the job full-time, but he knew that plenty of work had to be done.
A special education and history teacher at Carver, Hicks has gotten a quick lesson in what being a head baseball coach entails. From schedules to uniforms to players’ classwork, Hicks learned during the offseason just how much the program leader has to handle.
Hicks’ biggest offseason objective for the team, however, didn’t involve game times or grades. It was building up the mentality of players who just weren’t accustomed to winning.
Hicks pointed to the win in April as the basis for his players to start believing.
“There’s probably bigger reasons why we won that game, but it gave those guys confidence that we can play with anybody we step on the field with,” Hicks said. “That’s what we tried to instill in those guys. It’s been a huge catalyst as far as our offseason workouts.”
Hicks isn’t the only one drawing strength from the victory. His players echoed their coach’s thoughts, saying the win won’t be a one-time highlight.
“I feel like building off that win is going to be very vital for this season,” said Eric Jenkins, who pitches and plays first base. “We’re finally going to make some noise this year. That last game showed us we can really compete in this region.
“I think we can build off of that win and do something special.”
Turning Carver around can’t be done with a single victory. Pollard laid the groundwork for Hicks, who has taken steps forward in his first offseason.
Hicks implemented a weight-training routine for his players during the fall, something the team lacked in years prior. Hicks said discipline was a crucial factor for the Tigers’ chances in 2017, and the rigor of regularly scheduled workouts surely tested some of the members.
From Hicks’ perspective, those players passed the test.
“All of the guys that came out every single day during the fall were guys who played with us last year,” Hicks said. “There’s an excitement with those guys who played last year. They felt that success the last game of the season, so they have something to look forward to.”
Several players admitted the months leading up to the season have been a grind. Outfielder Dewayne Hooten said the transition has been tough after losing Pollard, who Hooten called “one of my mentors.” Still, the motivation to achieve something new has kept the players motivated.
Carver’s season begins Friday at Callaway before playing at Brookstone on Saturday. The two games are useful early tests for the Tigers, who can learn quickly what has to happen in order to win.
Few others may be looking closely at Carver to start the new season, but for its head coach, those people are missing out.
“I don’t know if everybody else has high expectations for us, but I have high expectations,” said Hicks, who played for consecutive state titles at Hardaway. “I’m ready to do something that Carver baseball has never done before.”
And the players, who rallied behind Hicks for an emotional victory back in April, stand right alongside him.
“Every time they break it down now, they break it down on, ‘State bound,’ ” Hicks said. “That’s our goal.”