New Heights, New Challenge
Randy Adams took the Thomas University baseball program places it had never been before this season.
In his second season as head coach after five years as an assistant, the 30-26 Nighthawks won their first Sun Conference championship and reached the NAIA World Series for the first time.
They began the Sun Conference Tournament in West Palm Beach with a 4-3 victory over the nation’s top-ranked team, Southeastern University of Lakeland, and rolled to wins of 12-3, 12-1 and 7-1 over three other teams, sending them another hour south to the NAIA nationals in Miami Gardens. Faced with elimination after dropping their opener and trailing Tennessee’s Bryan College 10-5 in the ninth, they staged a six-run rally for an 11-10 win, then routed Talladega College of Alabama 11-0 before the ride ended with a 14-3 loss to William Jessup of California.
What a ride it had been, especially that Bryan College comeback.
“I’ve never been a part of a game like that,” said Adams, whose baseball roots can be traced to Interlachen High, where he was Putnam County Player of the Year in 2005. “At one time, it was 10-8 with the bases loaded and nobody out and I thought, ‘Holy crap, we could win this game.’ They had their closer in there and nobody had touched him, but we figured him out.”
Adams had pretty much everything figured out this year at the Thomasville, Ga., school where he was an outfielder for two years. He was an outfielder as well at IHS – two years under Bobby Stevens, two under Jeff Finch – before hooking up with Sam Rick at St. Johns River Community College.
“Sammy and Alan (Rick’s son, now the head coach at Palatka High) taught me so much as a hitter,” said Adams, who still talks to them regularly. “I picked up other things from other coaches. Mike Lee (his predecessor at Thomas) taught me how to manage.”
Adams wanted to play independent-league ball after exhausting his eligibility at Thomas, but he broke a bone in his hand and was quick to accept Thomas’ offer to stay on as a graduate assistant.
“I wanted to get my master’s (degree), anyway,” said Adams, who ultimately became No. 1 assistant and recruiting coordinator before becoming head coach in the fall of 20-17. As recruiting coordinator, Adams’ signees included three PHS products – pitchers Brent Summers and Clayton Faircloth and catcher Clellan Barnes – who were contributors this season.
“Down the stretch, Brent and Clayton played a big role in the bullpen and Clellan came on as a DH. He came in in January and there were some catchers ahead of him,” Adams said. (Still another ex-Panther, Austin Langston, was with the Nighthawks’ junior varsity this season. Summers’ older brother Blake also played for Thomas and was jayvee coach before accepting a high school post near Thomasville.)
Adams cited increased athleticism as the biggest difference this year between this team and those of previous years at Thomas. They were aggressive on the base paths and sound in the field, ranking among the nation’s top 15 in fielding percentage
But there was more to it than that.
“We had a bunch of blue-collar kids who played the game the way it was supposed to be played,” Adams said. “We didn’t have a 5-7 shortstop trying to hit like a 6-4 first baseman. They embraced their roles and played to their strengths.”
The Nighthawks fought trough injuries and a schedule that included 18 games with World Series teams. Thus they were battle-tested before knocking off Southeastern in the conference tournament opener to begin a magical 6-2 closing stretch.
Only a handful of players were seniors, leaving Thomas in ideal position to contend in 2020 – under someone else.
Adams stepped aside recently to become head softball coach and assistant baseball coach for the wonderfully named Syrupmakers of Cairo High School, about a 10-minute drive from Thomasville. He and his wife Morgan will both teach there, leaving summers open for their three-year-old son.
“It was a good financial situation for us. They made me a substantial offer,” Adams said. “I loved recruiting, but it takes up so much time. I had promised my wife I would cut down on recruiting.”
Still, it was a difficult decision.
“I had to ask myself, ‘Do I love coaching college baseball or do I love coaching kids?’ I love coaching kids,” he said. “The hardest part was leaving the boys who are still there.”
So, as much as he may have wanted to stay for another ride, Adams is embracing a new challenge.
He may never have another game like that six-run rally in the ninth against Bryan College, but there are new memories to be made.