Coach Derek James spends his first summer with the baseball Bulldogs

For the first time in 14 years someone other than Brian Fitzgerald will be in the dugout and the third base coaching box leading the Toombs County High School baseball program. “Coach Fitz” as everybody calls him stepped down from his position as head coach and was honored after the final regular season home game.

Derek James in the third base coaching box for Bacon County at Jacky Jones Field

Enter the Bulldogs new head coach. He’s Derek James, a former first baseman, who played for his father Greg- the Hall of Fame Coach of the Vidalia Indians. After graduating from high school in 2009 Derek played ball for the Brewton-Parker Barons prior to beginning his coaching career. His first head coaching job was with the Vidalia Recreation Department Junior Boys and then he became the head coach of the J.R. Middle School Chiefs. He spent five years in Vidalia before becoming the head coach at Bacon County High School in the summer of 2009.

Coaches Derek James and Brian Fitzgerald go over the ground rules in Alma

The 2017 season, was the season of Region 2 AA dominance in the GHSA State Tournament and Bacon County was one of three Region 2 AA teams to make the Final Four. Toombs County and Jeff Davis were the other two and JD went on to win the state championship. That season the Raiders went 26-12 and finished third in the region. They swept Harlem, on the road, in two games 4-2 and 5-4. Took care of Rabun County in three games winning 11-0 and 7-3, swept Bleckley County 7-3 and 14-4 before losing to Elbert County in three games. Bacon won the first game 3-2 and then lost 2-1 and 6-1.

In his last four seasons at Bacon the Raiders went 79-46- a .632 winning percentage and 37-19 in Region 2 for a .661. Bacon has made the state playoffs the last four seasons and James also took his team to the post season in his second year in Alma. In his nine seasons at Bacon James won 146 games and lost 106 (.579).

From 2010 thru 2012 the Raiders played in Region 2-A and they went 14-12 overall and 12-2 in the region in 2010 and then the next season 19-10 overall and 15-3 and both years they qualified for the state playoffs.

Season Overall Region State playoffs
2018 14-17 7-7 4th place First Round
2017 26-12 10-4 3rd place Final Four
2016 17-11 8-6 3rd place First Round
2015 22-6 12-2 2nd place Second Round
2014 10-15 6-12
2013 8-17 6-12
2012 16-6 14-2 2nd place
2011 19-10 15-3 2nd place Second Round
2010 14-12 12-3 First Round
Totals 146-106

James and his Bulldogs began their summer workouts on June 4 and they practiced four days a week from Monday thru Thursday. They also played games beginning June 5 against Metter. They wrapped up their month on June 26 with a seven inning game at Swainsboro.

Here are some selected game summaries. Thanks to Trina Graham for scoring the games.

June 5- at home vs. Metter- 2 five inning games

Game 1- 1-1 Tie-Chandler Lynn walked to lead off the fifth inning and scored Toombs County’s only run to tie the game at 1-all and that is the way it ended. Cole Graham, batting third, had TCHS’s only hit- a two-out single in the first inning.

On the mound Brock Harrison pitched two innings and did not allow a hit. He walked one and one Tiger reached on an error. Bryce Deloach pitched the next two innings. He yielded back-to-back singles to open the third, but then got three straight outs on two grounders sandwiched around a strikeout. A leadoff double in the fourth turned in to a run and it was unearned. Dalton Lynn pitched the fifth and allowed a single with a strikeout and a walk.

Game 2- TCHS 8, Metter 0- Four Bulldog pitchers combined on the shutout. Dalton Lynn threw the first two frames and allowed one hit with a strikeout. Chase Musselman pitched the third and gave up a single with a strikeout, Bryson Stanley tossed the fourth and also struck out a batter with a single and Logan Knight walked a batter and struck one out in the Dawgs combo three-hitter.

At the plate Toombs scored four runs in the first, three in the second and a run in the third. Graham went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, Musselman 2-for-2 with two runs scored, Chandler Lynn 2-for-2 with two runs scored, Deloach 1-2 with a run scored, Dalton Lynn 1-for-2 with a run scored and Alex Gordy 1-for-1 with a double, a walk and a run scored.

Toombs County 6, Vidalia 5

The one and two hitters in the lineup each went 2-for-5. Deloach also stole a base and scored a run and Harrison stroked a double and scored a run. Trey Cloud went 2-for-4, Stanley 1-for-4 with a run scored, Chandler Lynn and Musselman (run scored) 1-for-5 and Kodi Cortez walked twice and stole a base.

On the hill Harrison pitched the first two innings. He retired the Indians three-up, three-down in the first inning and he walked a batter, struck one out and induced two ground outs to third in the second. Deloach tossed the second and hit a couple of batters, but did not allow a hit. Dalton Lynn handled the next three frames he allowed a single in the fourth, a double in the fifth and walked and hit a batter in the sixth. Cloud yielded a single and a double and walked a batter with a strikeout in the seventh. Musselman gave up a single and then retired three straight in the eighth and Stanley tossed a three-up, three-down ninth.

Vidalia 9, Toombs County 3

TCHS scored three runs in the third inning. Cloud reached on an error and Dalton Lynn doubled. After two ground outs Deloach was hit by a pitch and Harrison doubled. The Dawgs only had two hits and Musselman walked three times.

Highlights on the bump were Cloud pitching a three-up, three down inning and Dalton Lynn struck out a batter in a scoreless frame.

June 26- Swainsboro 9, Toombs County 7

Gordy led the offense with a 2-for-3 game with a run scored, Dalton Lynn went 1-for-3 with a double, Cloud 1-for-3 with a run scored, Cortez 1-for-3, Harrison walked three times and Stanley walked twice for the starters. Coming off th bench Knight went 1-for-2, Landon Hutcheson 1-for-2 with a run scored and Harrison hit a double.

Harrison threw a scoreless first inning with a strikeout, Dalton Lynn threw the second with a K and a walk, Musselman struck out a Tiger and walked one, Cloud mowed down Metter three-up, three-down and Chandler Lynn allowed a single in a scoreless frame.

The Bulldogs led 4-0 after two innings and 5-0 after 5 1/2. Swainsboro scored four runs in the sixth and five in thr seventh to rally for the victory.

Coaches Derek James and Brian Fitzgerald in Lyons

Coach James talked to Toombsnow1 about a variety of subjects:

Summer goals for his first summer with Bulldogs:

The first goal was to get to know the kids. It is a brand new situation for me, it’s a brand new situation for them and like I told them anytime you get a new boss there will be changes here and there, some small things, but we aren’t going to reinvent the wheel. The goal this summer was mainly to meet each kid, see where they are and go up and draw the plan to make them the best baseball player they can be by the time we get to the 2019 season.

What the Bulldogs accomplished during the summer:

I believe in the multi-sport athlete. You got the kids busting it in football and wrestling and they come to you and some of them have long days. We finished our summer at Swainsboro with our best night of baseball and I was very proud of that. At the plate we can be a very potent group. The velocity on the mound is there and there are a lot of great things they do. In this region as I told them we have to keep working to max out what we are before we get to the region schedule.

Assistant coaches duties. Don Mims- who has coached at Metter and Robert Toombs joins the staff as does Wesley Bratton and former Bulldog Patrick Craft is the only holdover from coach Fitzgerald’s staff:

We are not going to really have one coach as a designated hitting coach or pitching coach. We are going to have the philsophy where we teach the same fundamental principles and every coach is going to teach every kid. That’s the way we did it at Bacon and that’s the way we will do it at Toombs.

How did the Dawgs look defensively?

The ability to catch and throw the baseball is there and as we move to January we will get on the same page as far as relays, cuts and pop fly communication. I was impressed with the arms from the outfield andthe abiliity to catch the ground balls. There is not a lot of depth behind the plate, but we have a strong senior (Cole Graham) and we are looking to put a couple of young kids behind him to develop some depth.

What did the pitching staff look like?

On the mound three of our seniors got to throw. Brock Harrison, Bryce Deloach and Dalton Lynn all pitched well this summer. Cole Graham, we will look to him as we get closer to the season. Trey Cloud, our one junior, pitched well this summer. I was really impressed with the younger kids. For some of them it was the first time they have pitched from the 60 foot, six inches. Obviously, in 2019 we are going to depend heavily on our four seniors and one junior and they will be the top five on the mound.

What the Bulldogs will do for the rest of the summer?

The kids that are maybe not playing another sport we will continue and focus on the fundamentals and slow it down. June was more about the team operation. July and up until the season we will focus more on each individual kid and basically what they need to reach the goal that they want to achieve at Toombs County High School.

What have you learned over the years about being a head coach?

The biggest thing and obviously with my background and who raised me, the first thing he taught me was you keep learning. Whatever information, drill or activity you just look around at other successful people and what they are doing. The first thing as a coach you have to be yourself, but other things you see people do don’t be afraid to steal it and always be willing to learn and always be willing to learn because information and technology has changed. We can really help a lot of these kids become better student athletes.

What is it like to coach against his Alma Mater Vidalia this summer?

I’ve talked to some about it. To me it really is not a big deal. The fact is I don’t care who we play, we have a ball game to win. For me personally the biggest change is not going to be beating Vidalia. I have been going against Vidalia for the last six years. The biggest difference for me this year is instead of going against Toombs is now I am going against Bacon.

Leaving Bacon County for Toombs County:

Bacon County was very good to me, they gave me my first opportunity and when Toombs called and layed everything on the table me and my wife felt this was the opportunity we wanted to take. One of the big reasons I took the job was it’s the recreation department in Toombs County. Partin Park has done a great job for many years. There are a lot of good people who work with the kids at the youth level and that is one thing we are going to do as a program. Just this past summer coach Mims is with the Mite Boys and coach Craft with the Junior Boys and by next summer I am looking at putting myself in one of those areas. With baseball by the time they are freshman if they are not really sure about baseball, you may never see them. You may miss a great athlete. We definately want to help the recreation department so that if they are strong, we’re going to be strong.