No matter the situation, West Hall baseball coach Dustin Rennspies could always count on his bunch to compete vigorously this season.
With a 19-10 overall record, the Spartans made the postseason for the first time since 2003, in only Rennspies’ second season. Once in the playoffs, Rennspies’ group of Spartans battled back from a sizable margin before ultimately falling to Ringgold, 7-6, in the deciding third game of the first-round playoff series.
“We lost that last game to Ringgold, but the kids kept battling back and battling back,” said Rennspies. “They never quit and always believed in their ability.”
West Hall’s coach said it was a goal when the season started to make the postseason, even though his group led by three college-baseball-bound seniors had never previously played in the playoffs. Rennspies said the tone for West Hall’s successful season was set with a come-from-behind win at Dawson County to open Region 7-AAA play. To put it into proper context, the Spartans won eight more games than they did in 2013.
For his efforts, Rennspies is The Times’ Baseball Coach of the Year.
“It was a lot of fun to coach this group,” said Rennspies. “It’s very rewarding to see a group of players grow up and develop.”
The Spartans extended their season for a day in the postseason with a doubleheader split against Ringgold, winning the second game 4-1 behind a strong eight-strikeout outing from senior Zach English. The next day in the deciding Game 3, West Hall trailed by as much as 5-2 in the fourth inning before battling back to tie playoff-tested Ringgold 5-5 in the fifth inning.
The heart of the Spartans’ 2014 playoff run was the three players going to play at the next level: Cameron Johnson (Florida A&M), Lincoln Stubbs (West Alabama) and English (LaGrange College).
West Hall’s 5-3 win in eight innings against Dawson County on March 10 to open region play gave Rennspies every indication of the kind of determination his team had to rally and win. Trailing 3-1 with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Johnson knotted it up with a two-run homer. Then, in the next inning, Michael Cronic connected on what proved to be the game-winning, two-run home run for the Spartans.
Rennspies said it was no magic formula to cultivate the talent his program produced this year: West Hall had talented players that had been in the same system long enough to believe they could win, despite losing in recent seasons.
“They believed in the team concept and believed in each other’s abilities,” Rennspies said. “It was a cohesive unit.”
Another marker of success for West Hall was handing recent Chicago White Sox second-round draft pick Spencer Adams from White County a 5-4 loss in Cleveland.
Rennspies believes the success of the 2014 Spartans will carry over to the players returning next season.