By Brandon Speck
NETTLETON – No one is surprised that Nettleton is still playing softball this weekend. The Lady Tigers are a series win away from a seventh straight trip to the Class 3A state finals.
But across the road and for the first time since 2008, Nettleton baseball is still in the hunt, too.
“They’ve been together a while, a lot of them starting since ninth grade,” second-year coach Will Hawkins said. “A lot of our pitching is seniors and a lot of our hitters are juniors.”
The last time the Tigers made the playoffs: 2008. The year before, Nettleton came out of nowhere to win the Class 3A state title.
A starter on that team: Will Hawkins.
That year’s playoff format was different. Nettleton had to win three games in one day of the division tournament just to get one of the two spots.
That team sneaked up on a lot of people. Similarities?
“They love to be around the game just like we did,” said Hawkins, whose Tigers (23-8) open a three-game, second-round 3A series at North Pontotoc at 7 p.m. Friday.
John Austin Taylor leads the Tigers at the plate with a .427 clip and 23 RBIs. Another junior, Caleb Bates is hitting, .403. Junior Tanner Crawley is hitting .357, sophomore Cody Payne at .354.
The pitching has a combined 2.23 ERA. Senior J.J. Chaney is 7-1 with a 1.13 ERA.
Hawkins diverts any credit, he just wants to lead a team that is his once again back to Pearl for the first time in seven years.
“Whereas you used to do it, now you have to try to help guide them to do it,” he said.