Friday, May 1, 2009

TC Bulldogs’ season held together by Bolt...

TC Bulldogs’ season held together by Bolt

Will Bolt was not exactly the popular choice when former Texarkana College president Frank Coleman named him head coach of the Bulldogs baseball program in the spring of 2007.

The selection took a lot of folks by surprise, primarily because they felt Chad Massengale had earned the position by coaching the Bulldogs to the Region XIV tournament finals on an interim basis. It was Massengale and volunteer assistant Jake Beasley who saved the team from a possible internal implosion after head coach James Mansinger resigned under fire.

That they weren’t rewarded for their work was cause for resentment toward Coleman directly, and Bolt indirectly, although the latter came highly recommended by three former Bulldog coaches, all of whom he had worked for and learned from at either Nebraska or Texas A&M.

Two years later the Bolt hiring is a good example that the best decisions are made from the head, not the heart. And while we may never know how the Massengale/Beasley combination would have fared at TC, there is little question Coleman’s choice was a good one.

It was feared Bolt’s hiring would result in the exodus of several players loyal to Massengale and with remaining eligibility. That did happen in a few cases, but Bolt did manage to convince local recruits David Allday, Lance Marvel and Zach Fowler to keep their TC commitments.

Bolt’s first team, a mixture of players recruited by Bolt and Mansinger the year before, made the Region XIV tournament as the third seed. The Bulldogs lost two straight games in the double-elimination event, finishing 33-23 overall.

Of the current Bulldogs, only third-year sophomore Thomas Watson, Marvel, Zach Fowler and Justin Fowler weren’t signed by Bolt. Allday officially came on board after Bolt was hired.

Those four, along with returnees Trey Buck and Gip Hendrix, and sophomore transfer Joaquin Hinojosa, played integral roles in the Bulldogs’ march to the No. 1 seed in the East Zone this spring as did a strong freshman class headed by surprising mound ace John Stilson from Texas High.

It turned out to be just the right mixture for an East Zone championship, but the most intriguing part of the story was the route the Bulldogs took to the title.

Because of an unusually wet spring and the drainage problems at George Dobson Field, Bolt was forced to take his team on the road for the first six conference doubleheaders.

Counting a loss to Paris Junior College in a rain-suspended twin bill, the Bulldogs welcomed last-place Lon Morris to Dobson Field on April 1 for their first home series with a 6-5 record. It marked the first home appearance for TC since the final of a four-game series with Coffeyville, Kan., Junior College on Feb. 22.

A sweep of Lon Morris and completion of the suspended game-win over Paris made the eventual road record 9-5, but the home-field advantage in the second half of the season didn’t quite work out the way Bolt had hoped.

A sweep of Panola College, which gave TC a 3-1 edge over the team it eventually tied for the title, was followed by three straight splits, leaving the Bulldogs close but still behind both Panola and Navarro College, the only team with a 3-1 advantage over Texarkana.

But the Bulldogs won their last seven games, and final-day splits by Navarro and Panola pushed TC ahead of the former in the standings and gave it the tie-breaker over the latter.

“The way we won it speaks of the resiliency of this group of kids,” Bolt said. “We didn’t make excuses; we said we had to take care of business, got hot down the stretch, and that’s the way it played out. We won at the right time of the year.”

TC’s assent to the conference throneroom in just his second season at the school was no surprise to Bolt, who bears an incredible on-field resemblance to current Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, the man generally given credit for resurrecting the Bulldog program a couple of decades ago.

“We talked to the kids when we recruited them and when they first set foot on campus about our three goals,” Bolt said. “We want to first win the conference championship, then the regional title, then the national championship. When you talk about it enough to make it important, then you can do it.”

Evidently the Bulldogs are taking Bolt at his word, and while much tougher roads lie ahead, it’s clear the choice Coleman made two years ago was a wise one.