Youth serves coach well second time around


MONTICELLO — The first time Tim Rodgers coached the Fordyce baseball team didn’t work out so well.

“I guess I didn’t play the right people, it was a problem and I got fired, I guess you can say,” he said. “We got a new superintendent, a couple of years went by, they made some changes, and I got back into baseball, and I just got lucky as far as having coach (Mitchell) Musgrove, Tom Tidwell, Dustin Sanders, and Marcus Luther — a great coaching staff helping me.”

Surely, Rodgers made decisions differently to help the Redbugs be more successful in his newest opportunity, right?

“The superintendent, when he told me I was going back into baseball, I told him, I’m not changing what I did last time,” Rodgers said. “I want to try to play the best players. It doesn’t matter if they’re ninth grade or 10th grade, 11th or 12th. That’s what got me in trouble last time.”

And made him a winner this time.

Behind a freshman-laden infield and a pitching staff lead by standouts with sub-2.00 earned-run averages, Rodgers took Fordyce baseball where it’s never been — the state championship round.

And it’s earned him The Commercial’s Southeast Arkansas Baseball Coach of the Year accolade.

“I couldn’t ask for any better coach,” freshman standout pitcher Ross Rogers said. “He’s the most Christian, good-hearted, nicest coach that I’ve ever been coached by, and our whole coaching staff is like that.

“He’ll get mad when you do wrong, but he’ll come down and tell you what to do right. We’re just blessed to have coaches like that, all of our coaches.”

In his second season back as head coach, Rodgers led Fordyce to a 26-3 record and championships in the 8-3A Conference, 8-3A District and 3A Region 4. His senior pitcher, Cole Johnson, landed a Division I scholarship with Central Arkansas, and two other starters, Braden Chambers and Rogers, went a combined 15-0 on the season. (Johnson was 8-0 before the championship game).

In 2012, Fordyce bowed out of the first round of the Region 4 tournament with a 15-1 loss to Prescott.

Rodgers didn’t imagine he’d have quite the turnaround season.

“We knew we could be a lot better because the kids played travel ball, and we were waiting for that group to get into senior high,” the coach said. “When they got up in ninth grade and we played extended high school (season) last year, we knew we could compete with people. The year before, we couldn’t compete with people all the way. We could play with them a few innings, but we would do something to lose the ballgame.”

Early in the season, Rodgers put his trust in an infield that included three freshmen and a sophomore and inserted them as starters.

“What made us better was the infield,” he said. “We made a decision at the beginning of the year — and I took some heat for it at the beginning of the year, but we went ahead and did it … we went ahead and went all ninth-graders in the infield (except for a sophomore second baseman and senior catcher). That’s what made the difference.”

So did timely hitting. A perfect example came in the semifinals of the 3A state tournament, when Cole Johnson hit a one-run double to left-center field in the 11th inning to give Fordyce a 5-4 victory.

Chambers (.400 batting average), Johnson (.354) and Rogers (.303) — just as they did on the mound — led the Redbugs at the plate.

“On offense, that was another thing,” Rodgers said. “Last year, it seemed like we couldn’t get the hits when we needed them. This year, it seemed like every game we had, we got the hits when we needed to. People in the bottom of the batting order, some of those ninth- and 10th-graders, they helped us win ballgames.”

Fordyce is losing only three seniors from this year’s team, so chances of adding a baseball title in football country are very good for next year.

And Rodgers, who’s also the head football coach and athletic director, helped make it so.

“In Fordyce, we’re known for football, and we’re trying to get back there (to the final), too,” said Rodgers, a 28-year Fordyce employee whose only state championships came as a football assistant in 1990 and 1991. “A lot of these kids play both sports, and at a Triple-A (3A) school, we have to share kids. That’s one of the things we’ve done. That’s helped us out in the weight room.”