Ricky Tillman is in his second stint as baseball coach at Porter-Gaud , and the sequel is starting to seem familiar.
Tillman was the founding father of the baseball program back in 1992 and built the Cyclones from scratch, leading the team to a Palmetto Athletic Conference state championship in 1995. The PAC was a group of private schools. Many of those schools changed affiliation to SCISA, including Porter-Gaud.
The school joined SCISA in 1996, and Tillman’s teams were consistently in the hunt for region championships.
Tillman’s first stint ended in 2002 and he returned in ’10. He’s built the program back to its championship-caliber level. The team went 16-7 last year and is 8-2 this spring.
Coaching is not the only reason for success. Tillman has players who are committed to play baseball almost year-round in attempt to make the high school season successful.
“When I returned in 2010, I asked the players how many of them played during the summer,” Tillman said. “Only one player, Nick Windham, raised his hand. He was the only player who played travel ball.
“At the beginning of this season, I asked the same question,” Tillman added. “Seven or eight players raised their hands. The kids realize that you can’t play your last game in May and not pick up a baseball glove until January.”
Windham, who plays outfield and pitches, is the only senior on the team. He leads the Cyclones in batting average (.536), doubles (five), stolen bases (five) and is tied for the lead in RBIs (13).
Edward Nelson, an infielder and pitcher, is the only junior on the roster. He’s the workhorse of the staff, pitching 192/3 innings.
The rest of the players are either sophomores or juniors, although eighth-grader Moravia Johnson joined the team this week.
Sophomore pitcher Bo Harrell shows promise. He leads the team with a 3-1 record and 19 strikeouts. His father, Jimmy, was a two-sport star at Summerville and played football and baseball at the University of Georgia.
A.J. Sessions, another promising sophomore who plays outfield and first base, is second on the team with a .471 batting average. Classmate Harrison Frickman, the team’s catcher, is batting .393. Freshman outfielder Matt Naumoff is hitting a robust .450.
“We were forced to play a lot of freshmen last year,” Tillman said. “They learned on the run. They kept getting better as they matured.”
The team is hitting a collective .318 and has outscored foes 94-42.
But Tillman credits Tony Cadden, a longtime American Legion coach, and Mike Green for their work and perseverance as assistant coaches.
Tillman says work remains to be done. The Cyclones played in the prestigious Hanahan Invitational Tournament during Tillman’s first stint. Now, he’s contemplating on rejoining the field in the future.
“We will get better, Tillman said. “We need to play in the HIT or a comparable tournament. We’re on schedule of building the program back up. We can’t quit working, and we have to keep on winning.”
Follow Philip M. Bowman on Twitter: @PandCPhil