By Brandon Speck
HOUSTON – That first good swing of the bat and Houston’s young pup figured it out.
By the time the Hilltoppers opened Thursday’s Class 4A playoffs against Ripley, Luke Hancock, a starting eighth-grade catcher, was leading the team in hitting.
“I was pressing real bad,” said Hancock, 14. “Once I got that first hit, everything totally changed for me. I didn’t get a hit in like the first five games. Ever since then, I’ve been doing good.”
Colleges are already paying attention, as he’s in the books for only a handful of passed balls.
“That’s something you expect from a senior, much less an eighth-grader,” Houston coach Scott Gann said. “You’ve got that opportunity, you’ve got to take it.”
Hancock is hitting .367 with a home run and 26 RBI.
He’s had plenty of advice from the guy right below him on the stat leaderboard, senior outfielder and pitcher Austin Burdine.
Burdine, a senior Mississippi Delta signee, is hitting .365 with a pair of home runs and 14 RBI. Junior Garrison Howell is hitting .354.
Burdine said the older guys took the role of making sure younger guys understood the task.
“We expect to win,” Burdine said. “We don’t expect a little effort. We expect a lot of effort”
Houston only returned two with experience, but the young-old dynamic has proved an effective one. Houston finished the regular season with a 19-6-1 record. Burdine and outfielder JJ Jones are the only seniors.
While all signs point to Hancock having four more years to chase success, Burdine is taking his final cuts in a Houston uniform.
“You figure the older guy knows what’s expected. The younger guy may not know, but can kind of look up to the older guy and figure it out,” Gann said. “Those that are in between kind of start jumping on board when they see younger guys doing well.”