In his second season guiding Lakeside High School's varsity baseball team, head coach T.J. Davis said the day-to-day grind of managing the squad got a little easier because he knew more about what to expect.
Then, the playoffs started. And they went on, and on, and on, because Lakeside just wouldn't lose a series.
"In a sense ... it got harder, getting into the playoffs and going as long as it did," said Davis, who coached the junior varsity team for two seasons prior to leading the varsity squad.
"Trying to keep the guys in shape, not let them get too tired. ... Trying to maintain the physical and mental sharpness that long. That was tough."
The Panthers' sustained success meant that they played an additional three weeks -- 13 games in five series -- after the regular season. Davis was the one who had to convince his players each round, and in each pressure-packed game, that theirs was the squad more deserving of moving on.
Whatever he said, it worked.
For his effort in leading the Panthers to a Region 3-AAAA title and a berth in the Georgia High School Association state championship series, Davis is The Columbia County News-Times ' Baseball Coach of the Year for 2010.
The Panthers lost just one game in region play (15-1) while going 21-3 in the regular season. They went 6-2 against the county's other four GHSA teams, including a season-opening 9-6 win over Class AAAAA Greenbrier.
In the state playoffs, Lakeside went to a deciding third game in the first three best-of-three series. Then, the Panthers traveled to Jesup, Ga., for the semifinals, sweeping Wayne County despite having to deal with one of the more intense, vocal crowds in the state.
In the finals, the home- standing Panthers' rally fell short in a 5-0 and 11-7 sweep at the hands of Marist.
"It was fun to watch," Davis said of the team's playoff run. "I thought we could do it, but it came down to whether we all wanted to play together. ... I thought we had the potential."
One of Davis' biggest challenges came at mid-season, when a pair of senior pitchers -- Ben Black and Zach Hayden -- missed time on the mound because of injury. Davis said it gave a pair of younger guys -- Cade Hardin and Heath Durand -- an opportunity to get some innings on the mound and develop.
Senior Jeffrey Stoner said that one of his coach's best qualities was his ability to keep things light.
"We had fun practices," he said.
"You need good team chemistry to get that far."
Davis said what he'll remember most about the eight exiting seniors is not necessarily their playing ability.
"After a game or a practice, I could sit down with any of those guys and have a 15-minute conversation about anything," he said. "What I'm going to miss most about this group is the personal relationships."
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