Starkville Academy baseball coach Neal Henry shouts instructions to his team during the season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
"Expect to win and know that you can win."
That was Starkville Academy head baseball coach Neal Henry's philosophy when he took over the Volunteer program.
It seems to have worked as the Vols were the Class AAA, Division II State runner-ups and Henry was selected as Starkville Daily News Coach of the Year.
Henry found himself taking over the program two weeks before the season three years ago. He has done a good job since being thrust into the situation.
"I just graduated from college and I took a job as an assistant my first year," Henry said. "Justin Brewer, the head coach, left at Christmas. The interim coach was let go two weeks before the season. I was the head coach. I had to take the bull by the horns."
In Henry's first year, SA won 14 games. It won 11 games a year ago and this year took it even farther.
The Vols won 23 games, won their division and made it all the way the state championship series.
"I have set the goal of winning a state championship every year," Henry said. "Ultimately that's what you want to do, whether it be your first, second or third year. That's my goal every year.
"Two years ago my first year here, the seniors this year and the juniors this year, they were six or seven of my starters. There is one thing you can't coach and it's experience. With those guys having experience, I think that was a big factor this year. They have been through the hardships of the conference."
Henry had Ryan Mann, Ryan McKell and Alex Holtcamp as seniors this year. They had a lot of experience between them.
"I knew we had a lot of people coming back from the previous year," Henry said. "I knew we were going to be OK."
Henry and the Vols really knew they had a special year going when they swept a three-game series against the then No. 5 team in the state Hillcrest Christian.
Starkville Academy won in Jackson 2-1 and then turned around and won 3-2 in extra innings, and 2-1 on the same day.
"Looking back, those three games were probably the most important of the year because it got us the No. 1 seed," Henry said. "We kept on winning close games and I thought we were going to be alright."
Henry and the Vols play an old-school type of game. They rely on pitching and defense to win games.
Henry credits his philosophy to experience and the fact that the new bats limit offenses.
"When you can pitch and play defense, you are going to win a lot of games," Henry said. "If the other team can't score, they can't win. With the new bats, the home run total gets cut in half. We are going to have to adjust to these bats. We are not going to be hitting it all around the park."
Henry has seemed to found a good combination at Starkville Academy and next year doesn't look to be much of a drop off.
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