Julian Ipac’s bat made contact with the baseball, drifting it to right-center field. As the ball hit the ground, Calhoun Baseball head coach Chip Henderson, standing in his usual spot just left of third base, raised a fist in the air. He knew what it meant. Another victory for Calhoun.
But this victory had a heightened emphasis.
On Saturday, Ipac’s walk-off single in game one of a doubleheader against the Fannin County Rebels delivered Henderson his 600th career win, becoming only the 11th baseball coach in state history to reach the historic feat.
“I’d be lying to you if I said it was just another game,” Henderson said. “Six hundred, that’s quite a milestone and it just means I’ve been doing it for quite a while. Twenty-six years, I’ve been blessed with talented ballplayers, tremendous coaches and tremendous support from the baseball community here.”
Game One (No. 600)
At the beginning of leap day, Henderson sat on the cusp with 599 under his belt. Calhoun checked in at 5-0, looking to continue its perfect start to 2020.
Neither team could find much offense in game one. Calhoun’s Bryse Ingle held Fannin County at bay, pitching 6 1/3 innings giving up five hits, no walks and striking out 11 batters.
However, Ingle did surrender one long ball to Ben Rogers to lead off the seventh inning. That would be his only blemish of the day as Brady Drummond entered the game and prevented any more damage being done.
“Bryse was lights out. He just maybe left one up in the zone a little bit,” Henderson said. “That doesn’t diminish what he did. He held those guys at bay. Brady came in and he gave us a quality outing.”
Calhoun would not go down without a fight, as Kris Sutton came home from third base on a passed ball.
Heading to extras, the stakes went up as one mistake could be extremely costly. The Rebels went down 1-2-3 in the eighth, setting the stage for a walk off.
John Andrew Cash and Andon Lewis hit back-to-back singles to place runners at the corners, setting the stage for Ipac.
Moments later, Ipac’s one-out winner to right center capped off a 2-1 comeback victory over the Fannin County Rebels in game one. The Jackets rushed the field as the celebration was on.
“When you start playing quality arms like we faced today, you’ve got to go the other way,” Henderson said. “The quicker we buy into that, the better off we’ll be.”
For Coach Henderson, though, a surprise was in store.
After addressing the team, Henderson made his way toward the middle of the diamond, where a banner and cookie cake celebrating win No. 600 awaited him.
The team posed for a photo, followed by Henderson taking some photos with Ingle and game one’s hero, Ipac.
Finally, it was time for family pictures. Perhaps saving best for last. Henderson’s wife, Cheryl, and younger daughter Carlie, were present to witness history. Henderson’s eldest daughter, Cassie, could not attend due to her West Georgia Wolves facing Shorter in a softball doubleheader in Rome.
“I can’t say how appreciative I am of my family,” Henderson said. “They’ve been there since day one. As coaches, sometimes you may not have too many fans, but I can tell you, I’ve got three that’ll go to battle with me any day, and that’s all I need.”
Game two featured a 180-degree turnabout from the start of game one.
Hagen Banks started the second game for the Yellow Jackets, but quickly ran into a bit of trouble as Fannin County’s Rogers smacked a two-run homer to right-center field. Banks recorded one of his eight total strikeouts to extinguish damage.
Calhoun bounced back hurriedly, as Andon Lewis doubled to right field with two down off the Rebels’ Carson Beavers, sending Ethan Crump and Parker Lester home.
Both pitchers settled in, as the squads combined for one run, a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the third inning.
Fannin County would find its equalizer in the top of the sixth, as Calhoun’s Owen Hall looked to have an inning-ending strikeout, but the ball skipped away from catcher Mathew Williams.
Heading to the bottom of the seventh, the contest remained tied at 3-3, setting the stage for another walk off.
When the contest was ripe for the taking, Calhoun found a way as Crump singled with one out, then stole second. The next batter was Dante Morton, who had been in and out of the day’s action thus far.
With the winning run at second base, a base hit would likely end the game. Morton did just that, delivering a near-mirror RBI base hit to right-center field, emulating that of Ipac’s just two hours earlier. Crump came around to score and Calhoun continued its undefeated streak into March, now standing at 7-0.
“He struggled a little bit the first game,” Henderson said. “I sat him and I inserted him back in. We try to preach to the boys keep your mind right, stay in tune with the game because when your number is called, you never know when it will be and you’ve got to be able to produce and boy did he.”
Final score: 4-3 Jackets
Henderson stayed at 600 wins for all of about three hours.
“Those were two great games by two quality programs and I’m so proud of our boys the way they performed,” Henderson said. “The way they battled, they fell behind and they just kept fighting and that’s two awesome wins right there as we get close to region play. Hopefully we can treat this right and continue our momentum we’ve got. I wish there was a way we could bottle it.”
Henderson did note his team lacked overall offensive consistency, as Calhoun struggled to move runners around the base pads.
“Offensively,we struggled in both games,” Henderson said. “We just couldn’t get that timely hit. With that being said, sometimes you’ve just got to give credit to the guy that’s on the mound. We’ve just got to do a better job of putting balls in play. We can’t stand up there and take third-call strikes with runners at second and third in a 0-0 game or a 1-0 game.”
Twenty-six years in the making. And another remarkable milestone reached in a storied career. What’s amazing to think about is Henderson has done it all in one school: Calhoun.
“Been fortunate to stay healthy long enough to be able to see it through,” Henderson said. “I’m most proud it’s happened all at one place here: Calhoun.”