Rick Smith took over the Family Christian Academy baseball program the season after predecessor and close friend Robin Herd led the Flames to their first Class C state title two years ago.
A few months later, Smith was hoisting a second championship trophy with his first team.
That’s not such a common occurrence.
To his credit, Smith is quick to say he inherited a senior-laden ballclub, with each senior being offered opportunities to play at the next level. He is just as apt to point to the job Herd did in establishing the program from the early 2000s to that first championship year.
Smith, who’d been an FCA assistant for two years before taking over, said he took a “Not broke, don’t fix it” approach with the Flames when Herd tabbed him as his successor. That, he said, along with shared faith, patience and vision with Herd are what have resulted in what he called a “seamless” transition.
As this season’s less experienced but schedule-toughened FCA squad heads into its Saturday playoff opener, Smith has settled into his role as head man. But that doesn’t mean he and his team are complacent with past success. The sixth-seeded Flames host No. 11 Ebarb at 1 p.m.
“They’re a determined group,” Smith said. “I’d say they have a bit of a chip on their shoulder. They’d heard so much about last year’s seniors that they wanted to go out and show they can do it. So much had been said about the seniors. So their attitude was ‘Why not us? Why not now?’ ”
Smith made it a point to schedule higher classification schools to assure his team was challenged and to avoid complacency. Even if it meant potential additional losses.
Family Christian played traditionally strong teams such as Brusly, Episcopal, Dunham and University.
While there were, indeed, more losses. It didn’t shake the confidence of a team Smith describes as a “determined” group.
“We challenged them from the get-go,” Smith said. “We didn’t want them to be complacent or satisfied.
“We knew our record wouldn’t be the same as last year, but that wouldn’t matter come playoff time...It started last year at Sulphur. After the game, we told them ‘You guys coming back, enjoy this, but not for too long.’ ”
The team’s strength, Smith said, lies in it’s tenacity and versatility.
Several seniors have personified these attributes, becoming more vocal as leaders and sacrificing their previous roles to better help the team at new positions. This, Smith said, is critical at smaller schools.
Of those leaders, third baseman Titus Rogers and second baseman-outfielder Tacovi Pecot first came to mind. Rogers has also developed into a reliable closing pitcher. Smith beams as he mentions Quincy Ellis, an all-state catcher a year ago who has morphed into a shortstop as needed by the departure of Ben Chauvin.
Then there is Mason Diaz, whose four home runs or second on the team behind Rogers’ five.
“Both last year’s team and this year’s team have the same grit,” Smith said. “Difference is, this year we as coaches had to be more patient with the lack of experience. You can’t accelerate experience. But this team always worked hard, had that grit.”
Smith said his program is blessed by geography. Unlike many Class C programs that are rurally located, FCA has the advantage of being located in a more urban area, which affords otherwise unavailable scheduling opportunities.
He cited Monroe-area Claiborne Christian as a northern school with a similar advantage.
“We’re blessed by geography,” Smith said. “Being able to play up is a challenge that will help us in terms of competition and growth.”