There are days when the pitches don’t break quite right and the base hits fall just out of reach.
Even the best teams have days where the balls don’t bounce their way.
No team is perfect — but in 2013, Charles Henderson was mighty close.
The Trojans, coached by Dora native Derek Irons, won the Class 4A state championship after going 10-0 through the postseason.
Charles Henderson finished the season 40-3, winning 93 percent of its games.
Irons credits his players for putting together one of the top all-time seasons in Alabama High School Athletic Association history. Charles Henderson has the fewest losses in state history for a team with at least 40 wins.
“The body of work these guys put together is really amazing,” said Irons, 31, who was named the Class 4A Coach of the Year by the Alabama Sportswriters Association.
“People have asked me if what we accomplished has sunk in yet. The state title has, but what these guys accomplished really hasn’t. In baseball, somewhere along the way, you have a day where you just don’t show up, a day where you don’t get the bounces. We didn’t have that this year.”
In 2013, Charles Henderson lost one game in February (Class 6A Northview), one game in March (Class 5A Southside-Gadsden) and one game in April (Class 6A Enterprise).
The team went a perfect 22-0 against Class 4A competition and was 19-0 at home.
Though the Trojans went undefeated through the postseason, Charles Henderson had to battle its way through the playoffs.
The team needed 11 innings to beat Beauregard 3-2 in Game 1 of their third-round series and the Trojans were taken to the limit by UMS-Wright in the second game of their semifinal series, a 3-2 Charles Henderson win. The Trojans swept Rogers 7-4 and 7-2 in the state finals.
“The thing that kind of irks me is that people will say, ‘Y’all just breezed through.’ We didn’t breeze through — it was tough. We won on a walk off in the third round and another walk off in the fourth round. All the way through the playoffs we were one pitch or one play from losing. I’m so proud of our guys because there were so many opportunities where if we just flinched, we could have lost,” Irons said.
Irons is a 2000 graduate of Dora High School. He was coached on the baseball team by Michael Bridges, who is now Dora’s head basketball coach. Irons played baseball at Bevill State-Sumiton for two years and finished out his degree at the University of Alabama.
His brothers, Darren and Daryl, both played at Sumiton Christian High School.
Irons’ coaching career started at Shades Mountain High School were he was the pitching coach in 2004. He got his first break as a head coach at Paul Bryant High School in Tuscaloosa two years later.
“I interviewed at 24 years old. I couldn’t believe they gave me a shot. We went to the quarterfinals both years I was there,” Irons said. “Then I had the opportunity to come to Charles Henderson. When I came down and interviewed, a lot of people said that Troy is a baseball town. With the reality we are in, I know that in Alabama football is king, but I really do believe that Troy is a baseball town. From little league to the university, people get behind their baseball here. It makes it a lot of fun.”
Irons just completed his fifth year at Charles Henderson.
The Trojans competed in Class 5A for the first four years, running into powerhouses Spanish Fort and Russell County in the playoffs.
Irons’ first team at Charles Henderson reached the quarterfinals. His second squad was knocked out by Spanish Fort in the semifinals and losses to Russell County in the first and second rounds followed before the Trojans dropped a classification this season.
The team started the season ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and made it stand all season.
“We finished the regular season 30-3 and ranked No. 1. We were the favorites going into the playoffs. At that point, if we didn’t win the whole thing, it’s a disappointment. That so tough when you are in a situation where only one result is acceptable. Then we stepped up and did it. With all of the expectations, with our guys to be able to come through on the big stage says a lot about them. It was a really special season.”
Irons notched his 200th career victory during the playoffs with a 3-2 win over Beauregard.
The victory also broke the school record for wins in a year.
Irons and his wife Leslie, who is from Tuscaloosa, have two sons, Luke and Alex. Irons said Troy has been the perfect fit for his family and his coaching career.
“We had never lived in South Alabama before. We have absolutely loved it here. We love the town and the community. Winning a championship is special, but winning a championship in Troy is that much more special because it’s a baseball town. I have been blessed,” he said.