He lost the second, third, fourth and fifth batters in the lineup, creating a giant gap in the order.
Even so, Blanchard led Piedmont to a 26-10 season, a spot in the 3A state quarterfinals and a solid follow-up to that 2012 finish. As a result, Blanchard is The Anniston Star’s Calhoun County 3A baseball coach of the year.
“We had a good group of guys coming back, and that’s what has laid the foundation the last three or four years,” he said. “The group of guys that graduated last month, though, they were kind of the backbone of the program since I took over.”
Players such as Cade Bradley, Matt Strott, Collin Bradley, Cass McCord and Payton Young rewarded the faith he had in them.
Expectations weren’t as high for the team as they were in 2012, because Piedmont was facing strong teams such as White Plains and Saks in 3A, Area 10.
“Everyone was kind of counting us out this year and thought White Plains had the best shot at it and Saks would also be strong,” Blanchard said. “I knew we had a good junior class last year that would be seniors, and we had a few guys that were young that really stepped up.”
The highlight of the season came when Piedmont officially won Area 10, which came in the year’s last area series when the Bulldogs beat White Plains.
“If you go to White Plains and win, much less win an area championship, you’ve done something. They have a good baseball program, and Chad Hudson did a great job,” Blanchard said. “We had some older and younger guys step up, and that’s what kind of formed our team. Everyone kind of gelled.”
Piedmont took the momentum into the postseason and advanced to the third round before losing to eventual state champion Mars Hill Bible in three games.
“We didn’t make it as far as I wanted to, but I enjoyed playing with that team,” Cade Bradley said. “Everyone wanted to win just as bad as I did, and that made it fun.”
Although Piedmont had five players graduate, Blanchard said he puts a lot of emphasis on the B-team and junior high team, so the Bulldogs won’t have a down season.
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star