In above 70 degree temperatures, Amory High baseball coach Chad Williams will wear wind pants underneath his uniform or an Under Armour mock turtleneck in hopes of extending a win streak.
“We were clicking,” Amory senior catcher Zack Randolph said of his team’s 16-game winning streak this season, “but he (Williams) didn’t talk about it too much. He’s really superstitious, so he didn’t talk about it too much.
“But I know he was thinking about it all of the time.”
Whether you believe in superstitions or good luck in general, whatever Williams did this season seemed to work for a team that not many expected to be playing for a state title. After all, standout players Kyle Montet and Stephen Otey – who both played on last year’s Amory team that was swept by Mooreville in the second round of the MHSAA Class 3A playoffs – had graduated.
Even though they moved up to a bigger classification in terms of the member schools’ enrollment and played a very difficult schedule this year, the Panthers had a 16-game winning streak and advanced to the Class 4A state championship series before losing to St. Stanislaus.
“He did really well with us this year,” Amory junior pitcher Will Cox said of his coach. “He’s calmed down a good bit, and this year was fun. He just made it a lot of fun.”
For the Panthers’ 27-7 record and second-place finish in the state, Williams has been named the Daily Journal’s 2010 High School Baseball Coach of the Year.
Instead of playing an exhibition game against another high school team before the season started in February, Amory held an alumni game, which featured several former top-notch Panthers.
“Before we went to the state championship (series in Pearl), I called every one of those guys that played in the alumni game and told them, ‘I really appreciate it,’” said Williams, 36, who just finished his 11th season at Amory’s helm. “The reason being was that it was such a success. We had a bunch of guys come out, and of course it was a beautiful day for it. ...
“I thought it rubbed off on our team ... it was sort of what got our season going.”
Said Cox, Amory’s ace pitcher and 2010 Daily Journal Player of the Year: “That was cool. That was a good way to start off the season. I hope we do it again next year.”
Williams was doing what the successful Amory coaches before him did. Williams, an Amory High Class of 1991 graduate, was an assistant football coach under Bobby Hall and Pat Byrd, and a baseball assistant under Vince McLemore (1997 Daily Journal Coach of the Year).
He also said he learned a lot from former Amory baseball assistant and head golf coach Charlie Llewellyn.
“Those guys got out and got the community involved,” Williams said. “Amory is a great supporting town. They will do whatever, especially if you’re winning. They’re going to support you regardless.”
Amory’s tremendous support was on full display during the playoffs.
“It really showed in our playoffs,” said the Amory skipper, “because we would go to places in the playoffs and we would have more fans than the other team, especially when we went to Lafayette County.
“We’re playing for the North half (championship) and we’re at Lewisburg and we have more fans than they do at their home place. That’s very impressive. That means a lot to our kids and to us (coaches).”
Trusting his players
Williams said he has had “a lot of success with guys that give me everything that they’ve got,” and because of that, he will stick with them during the course of a season.
“If they stick with me, I’m going to give them an opportunity,” Williams said. “The mold here at Amory has always sort of been that we may not be the biggest; we may not be the strongest; we may not be the fastest; but if we play with heart and play to the end, that gives a guy, who may not be the most athletic, a chance to be successful.
“I’ve had numerous players step up and do that every year, especially their senior year. Sometimes they don’t get that shot because the seniors get beat out early (for playing time).
“But I’ve had a lot of success with guys that give me everything they got, and I’ll stick with them.”
You can also count Williams’ assistant coaches – Chris Pace, Richard Hass and Josh Baty – as devoted members who helped the Amory program return to the state championship series for the first time since 1999.
“They’re very, very good coaches,” Williams said. “They’re very good at what they do. They pretty much keep me straight most of the time.”
That in turn allows for Williams to have a calming effect on his players.
“He keeps everybody really relaxed,” said Randolph, who’s been on the varsity since his freshman year. “He’s not one of those coaches that just stays on your back all of the time. He lets you fix your mistakes.
“He wouldn’t hound you all of the time. He will let you fix your mistakes, so I thought that was good for us.”
Also good for the Panthers, apparently, were their superstitious ways.
“I’m very superstitious,” said Williams, standing outside his Amory High baseball office on Monday morning. “My assistants have bought into that. My players have bought into it.
“It’s something special around here.”
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or email@example.com