Special recognition of the 2014 East Central Community College baseball team is scheduled Feb, 1 when the annual First Pitch Dinner is held on the Decatur campus.

Activities begin at 6:30 p.m. in Mabry Memorial Cafeteria in preparation for the new season, which begins Saturday, Feb. 8, as the defending state champions host Pensacola (Fla.) Junior College in doubleheader action starting at 1 p.m. at the Clark/Gay Baseball Complex. Neal Holliman, now in his eighth year as Diamond Warrior head coach, anticipates another great turnout for the First Pitch Dinner, which again features one of the top baseball coaches in the country.

Butch Thompson, associate head baseball coach at Mississippi State University in Starkville, will serve as this year's speaker.

"We are extremely excited to have the best pitching coach in the country speak at our First Pitch Dinner," said Holliman. "Not only is Coach Thompson nationally recognized as a coach, but also as a person. I can assure you this will be a great night for our program."

Coach Thompson, regarded as one of the premier pitching coaches in America, helped lead the 2013 Diamond Dawgs to their first ever appearance in the Championship Series of the College World Series at Omaha, Nebraska. MSU finished runner-up to champion UCLA en route to a 50-21 record.

Thompson enters his sixth season on head coach John Cohen's staff, where he has achieved success both with his individual tutelage and teams.

Thompson has coached players to 21 total Division I All-American honors and 27 All-Conference accolades, including 2013 SEC Pitcher of the Year and San Francisco Giants' first-round selection Chris Stratton, who is on his way to becoming the seventh player Thompson has tutored who has made it to the major leagues.

His 2013 pitching staff was one of two to finish in the top 15 nationally in earned run average, strikeouts per nine innings and hits allowed per nine innings. As a result of the staff's success, four other pitchers were drafted, including top 10 picks Kendrali Graveman and All-American Chad Girodo, who were eighth-and ninth-round selections, respectively, by Toronto.

Thompson was a standout pitcher at Amory High School and Itawamba Community College in Fulton prior to launching his coaching career as pitching coach and top assistant at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., in 1993. He later returned to his alma mater Birmingham-Southern, and helped lead the Panthers to consecutive Southern States Conference championships and in 1995 coached BSC to its first NAIA World Series berth.

He received a bachelor's degree in history at BSC in 1992 and completed a master's degree in sports administration at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 1996.

For more information, contact Coach Neal Holliman, 601-635-6374 or call toll free, 877-462-3222, ext. 374. His e-mail address is nholliman@eccc.edu.