Rise of the Patriots

Published 10:56 pm Thursday, April 23, 2009

When Butch Austin began coaching Pike Liberal Arts School’s baseball team the program was not close to where it is today.

Austin said when he arrived in 1993 as the head baseball coach there was not a JV program and the program was not yet off its feet.

“When I first came here we had a dirt infield and the outfield was dirt and the fence was a hog wire fence,” Austin said. “This baseball program has come a million miles since then. I am not only talking in the field, but other places too. I started the junior high program and coached the junior high and the varsity at the same time for a while. Now we have a great junior high program that is a great feeder program for the varsity.”

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Austin would put the Pike baseball program up against any other program.

“I think our baseball program is as good as anybody’s,” he said. “Our players are as good as anybody’s and sometimes I don’t do as good a job coaching as I should, but I think if you have a good leader and good players you are supposed to win.”

And win is exactly what the Patriots have done in the past few years. The Patriots made the Final Four of the AISA state playoffs last year and were ranked No. 1 in the Alabama Sports Writers Association to start the 2009 campaign.

They are currently ranked No. 3 and heading into the playoffs with a full head of steam. The Patriots knocked off Glenwood, who also spent some time as the No. 1 team in the state, last week.

Making the state playoffs has been a regular occurrence for the Patriots for about a decade.

“We have never won one, but we did come in second one time,” Austin said. “I just know we have a good thing going.”

The Patriots lost to Mobile Christian in the bottom of the seventh on a two-run home run in 1997 and that is the last time Pike has been in the championship game.

PLAS Athletic Director Steven Kilcrease has worked with Austin for the past two years to make sure the baseball program has everything needed for success.

“Coach Kilcrease has been my buddy out here and I thank him and Ms. (Ceil) Sikes too,” Austin said. “They have backed me on every move I make and I thank them for that.”

Kilcrease has seen the program grow from the time he was a player under Austin to now.

“I think having that baseball tradition is good for the school because it attracts families to the school,” Kilcrease said. “Butch is well known throughout the community and he does a great job with the kids. There are kids that want to come here and play for him.”

Football may be considered king in Alabama in the public’s eye, but in Troy the citizens find a way to let baseball into their hearts. And the local Troy youth leagues help develop the athletes before they reach high school level.

“It starts with the recreation department because they do such a good job out here with the coach pitch and all the way up,” Kilcrease said. “Troy has always been that way and it is good for Pike and it is good for Charles Henderson. It is good for the surrounding schools in the area.”

Austin said there are many people from the recreation leagues all the way to the varsity Pike Liberal Arts Patriots baseball team that help develop the talent in this area.

“This program has done well with the help of a lot of people and our fans are the greatest fans in the world,” he said. “They will always ask me if they can help in any way.”

Austin and the Pike Liberal Arts Patriots have been succeeding on the baseball diamond for the past 10-plus years and the Patriots will begin their trek for that elusive state championship tonight in the first round of the AISA State Playoffs.