Prep baseball preview: Natchez High ready to flourish on the diamond
Published 12:00 am Monday, February 5, 2018
NATCHEZ — Natchez High School baseball coach Dan Smith has been waiting for this season.
After three years leading the Bulldogs, Smith will graduate his first class of players this year, and he said the time to flourish is now.
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“This is the first class I came with. These are my babies that are now big boys,” he said. “We preached when they first got here to just stay together. We knew if they kept working hard the end product would pay off.”
Though this season looks bright, Natchez has already had success with Smith — reaching the MHSSA Class 5A playoffs each of his three years. Last year, the Bulldogs fell in the first round to Wayne County by dropping the first two games of the series.
“We have made progress, but as a coach I’m my worst critic,” Smith said. “I’m always wanting to get better because we could have easily won district the past couple years.
“We moved up a lot of seventh and eighth graders last year who weren’t really ready for high school, but to still make the playoffs was great.”
Natchez lost four seniors to graduation last year, most notably star catcher Charlie Latham. Replacing him will be hard, Smith said, but the rest of the positions will be no problem to fill.
The Bulldogs will receive great help in the infield and outfield from senior Jatavis Melton, who signed to play shortstop at Mississippi Delta Community College in late December.
As a junior, Melton was named to the MHSAA Region 6-5A All-Region First Team, batting .373 on 25 hits, two home runs, three triples, four doubles and adding 47 stolen bases. Alongside him will be fellow seniors Shavoké Herrington and Tradarius Davis.
“The main thing I’m looking for is leadership from those three,” Smith said. “The rest of them are still pretty young.”
In his senior season, Melton is looking forward to the overall experience.
“It’s about believing and trusting the process,” he said. “You have to want to be here. You can’t just be out here for fun.
“I really want to go far with this.”
Next in control will be junior Paul Hargrave, Smith said, who will receive significant playing time on the mound this season after backing up Jordan Hamilton last year.
“That’s the good thing about it,” he said. “A lot of my young ones will hopefully be a little more seasoned.
“The key thing is that most of them played baseball this summer. That’s a big difference to have playing time.”
If anything, Smith said he hopes the Bulldogs will leave the program in good shape for years to come.
“I also preach to the older kids to make sure they stay involved,” he said. “They have got a bunch of kids looking up to them, so I want to keep the cycle going in Natchez.”