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Zopf: Patience pays for Panthers, War Eagles
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The game of baseball is one of patience.

As a hitter, you must wait for the right pitch and know that sometimes a walk really is as good as a hit.

As a baserunner, you can’t get too antsy and risk getting picked off, or be too aggressive and risk being thrown out at the plate.

As a pitcher, you have to work the plate and use each pitch wisely, because if you don’t, that fastball down the middle just may end up as a home run to center.

Even as a baseball fan you have to be patient, especially when sitting through a four-hour marathon between the Yankees and Red Sox.

But the most patient person in baseball has to be the manager or coach, who needs to know when to send a runner, when to hit-and-run and when to relieve a pitcher in a jam. He also needs to be patient in terms of winning, and realize that although times are rough, eventually the instilled strategies, techniques and philosophies will come to fruition.

For two area baseball coaches, that time is now.

Jackson County’s Tommy Fountain and Chestatee’s Wes Gentry have seen plenty of losses in their days at their respective schools, and very few this year. And by few, I mean one.

That one loss belongs to the Panthers, whose 9-1 record marks the best start in a long time, and the nine wins are one more than they had all of last year.

“They don’t keep records of that around here, but from what I understand, this is the best record since the mid 80s,” Fountain said. “It seems to be about one good team a decade.”

When he first took over the Panthers three years ago, Fountain wasn’t too sure that this “one good team” would arrive so quickly. The program was coming off a 5-20 season and followed that up with just six wins in 2008. After graduating a slew of seniors, Fountain forced several freshmen and sophomores into action last year, and that experience has resulted in the hot start in 2010.

“It was kind of a blessing in disguise having to start over,” Fountain said. “We took those young kids and molded them and taught them what it takes to win.”

What makes it even more special is that it was a group comprised of homegrown players, something that Fountain preached the importance of during a camp Saturday at the high school.

“We emphasized that we want them to be Panthers for life, and to not worry about what everyone else is doing,” he said. “We told them that they can be part of the solution or part of the problem, and every kid there wants to be a part of the solution.”

The same thing is happening over at Chestatee.

The War Eagles (7-0, 3-0 Region 7-AAA) are off to the best start in program history just one season after finishing 6-17 and three seasons removed from a winless campaign.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge,” Gentry said of taking over the team. “I thought that it would be fun to start from scratch and I felt like I had something to prove in terms of whether or not I could turn it around.”

It appears that he has, and thanks to a host of seniors who suffered through countless losses, the War Eagles are poised to make a playoff run.

“I think they were pretty tired of being the whipping post,” Gentry said. “I have to pass a lot of the credit to the guys; their resiliency has been pretty good.”

While his players get the credit, Gentry knows that this remarkable start wouldn’t have been possible without patience.
“If any coach is worth a grain of salt, they’ll tell you that patience is everything,” he said. “We’re just as competitive as the guys, but we can’t play for them.”

Instead, coaches like Fountain and Gentry have to stand in the dugout and watch. And at the right time, they’ll make a decision to send a runner, call for a hit-and-run, or bring in a pinch hitter when the game’s on the line.

Make that decision at the wrong time and it could mean a loss. Show a little patience and make it at the right time, and it could mean having the most successful season in a program’s history.

Jonathan Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. You can reach him at
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