That is exactly how things have transpired for the Golden Bears (12-8, 8-2 going into Tuesday’s game with Pace), who lost six of their first seven games before winning 11 of their next 13.
Holy Innocents’ lost both of its 5A games to top-ranked Class A powerhouse Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy — which ended the Golden Bears’ eight-game winning streak with a 9-1 victory last Tuesday.
With a team consisting mostly of underclassmen, Aiken saw the trajectory of the season coming from the start.
“None of this was a surprise to me or the coaching staff,” Aiken said. “You have to keep in mind that between our JV and varsity, we have 29 players — of which 21 are freshmen and sophomores. With that said, we knew we had really good players.”
Aiken, the Holy Innocents’ pitching coach from 2004 to 2009, replaced Dylan Deal — who stepped down after last season and remains at the school as its ninth-grade dean of boys.
Holy Innocents’ was also affected early on by the absence of standout pitchers Ed Voyles and Jim Voyles — who are twin brothers — and Will Small.
The three players were playing on the school’s state tournament boys’ basketball team and didn’t join the baseball squad until early March.
With games against perennial contenders like Westminster, Lovett and Riverwood as well as a series of games against local powerhouses during a spring break trip to Florida in the first week of March, Aiken wanted to give his young and untested players a strong test.
“We scheduled a very, very tough schedule for our very young kids, so they can see good pitching and good teams,” Aiken said. “Because, all that really matters is how you do in your region, how you do in the latter part of the season and in the playoffs.
“Having a really young team playing against some really good competition has paid off. They believe that they can beat anyone when they need to — they’re playing each game one at a time.”
Pitching is the bread and butter for Holy Innocents’, with senior college signees Ed Voyles and Jim Voyles (both with Florida State), Daniel Topping (Birmingham Southern) and Small (Middle Tennessee State) providing a formidable veteran rotation for the Bears.
“We have four kids who, next year, will be playing college baseball,” Aiken said. “It’s one of the best pitching staffs I’ve had in 15 years.”
Despite its youth, Aiken is confident that his team can make a deep run in the Class A private school playoffs — seeing parallels with the Bears’ 2007 AA state championship squad, for which he served as the pitching coach.
“That team was very young and they just kept winning,” Aiken said. “I think we were 7-8 before we won 20 in a row. If you had asked me in 2007 if we would have won the state championship, I would have said ‘probably not.’ But we did. And, this year, if we go three games [in a state playoff series], I would find it hard for someone to take us two out of three games. It should be something really special, come May.”