For the fourth time in five years, Chattahoochee Valley Community College baseball coach Adam Thomas is taking a team to Grand Junction, Colo., to compete in the National Junior College World Series.
The Pirates open play Saturday at 2 p.m. EST against Iowa Western.
And Thomas, who has been coaching CVCC for 19 seasons and has amassed more than 700 career wins, feels good about this year’s team.
“This is the best team we have taken out there, top to bottom,” Thomas said of the 48-10 Pirates. “And that is not taking anything away from our other teams. They were all good teams. All of the teams we have taken out there had strong pitching at the top. The difference with this team is we are much deeper in the bullpen. We have always had one or two guys in the bullpen — we got five or six this year.”
The Pirates left early this week to fly to Colorado for the World Series, but Thomas stayed home in Phenix City to watch his son graduate from Glenwood Thursday night. He planned to hop an early flight Friday and join the team later in the day.
The first appearance in this run was in 2014 when the Pirates finished sixth in the 10-team tournament. In 2015, CVCC finished third. In 2016, the Pirates also finished third, but made the three-team championship round.
Going into the season, Thomas thought CVCC would be a solid club and he upped the ante by playing a difficult non-conference schedule. The third week of the season in Jacksonville, Fla., he got his answer about the quality of his team.
“We went down there and played Miami-Dade, Broward Community and Gulf Coast at a time when Miami-Dade and Broward were in the top 10 in the nation,” Thomas said. “We beat Broward 22-5 and at the time they were the best team in the country.”
The trip, in which they went 3-1 and lost to a team from South Carolina, opened Thomas to the possibilities of what this team could accomplish.
“I left there thinking we were pretty good,” Thomas said.
Thomas is doing it with a roster that has a strong local flavor. At least six of the players on the 27-man postseason roster are from the Chattahoochee Valley. Third baseman Jack Copley of Columbus High, right-handed pitcher Casey Cobb of Harris County, right-handed pitcher Evan Baber of Central, outfield Carson Allison of Glenwood, left-handed pitcher Carson Hicks of Glenwood and redshirt utility player Brandon Moseley of Glenwood are all local products.
Copley is one of two players on the team who have played on the big stage before. Copley was a member of the Columbus-Northern team that went to the Little League World Series in 2010. CVCC pitcher Hunter Phillips played on the Warner Robins team that made the 2009 Little League World Series.
“I did not know he had played in the Little League World Series and we started talking about it a couple of months ago,” Copley said.
That experience will be a plus CVCC prepares of the JUCO World Series, Copley said.
“At least we have the experience of playing in front of a bunch of people,” said Copley, who has signed to play Division I with the University of South Alabama next year.
The experience of playing in the Little League World Series can’t hurt, Thomas said.
“Those guys have played in front of 30,000 people on TV — that is a little more than the 30 we play in front of in Phenix City,” Thomas said.
The team’s pitching depth is also a plus, Thomas said.
“This is a tournament that rewards winning,” he said. “You start winning games and you get days off. That gives your pitching staff some rest.”
CVCC has turned into a pipeline for players coming out of high school looking to get drafted into pro baseball or sign with Division I schools.
“One of the things that I can do is identify talent,” Thomas said. “I can do that and I can relate to players. You can win a lot of games with good players. And you can win games with good people. But when you get good players who are also good people, you got a real chance to do something special.”
Columbus State University is playing in the NCAA Division II World Series this weekend in Cary, N.C. The Ledger-Enquirer will look at the Cougars run to the series on Saturday.