BRAD LOCKE:Help just a phone call away

Three or four times a week, Andy Wilbanks will call up Chris Basil to ask about pitching strategies or get a scouting report on an upcoming opponent.

The 41-year-old Basil, East Union's 16th-year baseball coach, is glad to offer advice to Wilbanks, who at 25 is in his second year at Ingomar. But he isn't sure how much he can tell Wilbanks.

“He's a very good high school baseball coach,” said Basil, who got to know Wilbanks when the latter played baseball at Ripley. “I think a lot of times when he calls, it's just to reassure what he thinks and get other people's opinions and make a final decision.”

He'll also phone his old high school coach, Jeffrey Cook, who's now at Columbus.

“Andy was always knowledgeable of the game even back when he played,” Cook said. “He was a coach on the field. This is my 10th year of coaching, and he's probably the best overall player I've ever coached, in every aspect of the game.”

Wilbanks has done well for himself.

For the second straight season, he's led the Falcons (18-6) to the region title and a No. 1 playoff seed. They open the Class 1A playoffs tonight at Falkner.

He feels he has to lean on coaches like Basil and Cook, because like a lot of small school coaches, Wilbanks has no assistant.

“It makes one person go kind of crazy by himself sometimes,” Wilbanks said. “You have to find somebody to call and talk about it.”

It's a lonely job, and it go no lonelier than back in October.

Hard lesson learned
When he was hired as Ingomar's baseball coach, Wilbanks was also given slow-pitch softball duty.

In his first season, the Lady Falcons won a state championship. They were poised for a repeat run last fall but were eliminated before the playoffs ever began.

Wilbanks, who hadn't made out a schedule his entire life until he put together Ingomar's 2007 softball slate, had sent his team onto the field too many times. The limit for regular season games is 30 – Ingomar played 32.

The MHSAA booted Ingomar and a stunned Wilbanks from the playoffs.

He called Cook.

“I just told him that God has a plan,” Cook said, “and he'd work out and be successful, and just keep doing his job.”

It was a young coach's mistake, but Wilbanks has bounced back like a seasoned veteran.

He claims to be surprised by this season's achievements, and he said being solid up the middle has kept the Falcons on track.

Senior center fielder Gerrell Keys is hitting .523 from the leadoff spot and has good speed. Shortstop Jared Carter, also a senior, is batting .416 and anchors the infield. On the mound, junior Josh Hodges has posted a 7-1 record.

Wilbanks credits Keys and Carter with helping him settle into his job. During last year's playoffs, Wilbanks put the team through four- and five-hour practices, but the Falcons fell in the second round.

“This year we learned to be more relaxed,” he said. “This week we're just going over the fundamental stuff.”

That's what a young coach must do as he learns the trade: adjust. It's what can make a good coach a great one.

Soliciting advice from one's elders is a good idea, too. Even a naturally gifted coach like Wilbanks won't reach his potential without unearthing every bit of wisdom from other fertile baseball minds.

And he learns his lessons: Ingomar played 24 games this season.

Brad Locke (brad.locke@djournal.com) is the Daily Journal assistant sports editor. He blogs about high school sports on www.djournal.com; or go to bradlocke.wordpress.com.