Daily photo illustration by Gary Lloyd|
Senior shortstop/pitcher Will Nichols, left, and head coach Brent Gillespie paced Hatton to a 32-12 record and a state runner-up finish.
1A-3A ALL-AREA BASEBALL
a big year
Hornets' Nichols, Gillespie pull in The Daily's top 1A-3A baseball honors
By Brooke Milam
email@example.com · 340-2460
Probably only a few outside the Hatton High dugout expected to see the Hornets in the Class 2A state baseball finals this season.
But senior shortstop/pitcher Will Nichols and coach Brent Gillespie believed in their team's potential from the start.
The Hornets ended their season right where they thought they belonged, playing in the state finals against Leroy at Montgomery's Paterson Field.
Although Leroy swept the best-of-three series, Hatton still finished the year as the 2A state runner-up.
"I give a whole lot of credit to Coach Gillespie," Nichols said. "He's a great coach and really cares about his players. He was not only a huge part of my success, but of our team's success."
With Gillespie guiding Hatton back to the state championship series for the first time since 2003, and Nichols headlining the Hornets' strong base of players, the pair is receiving their share of postseason honors.
Gillespie is The Daily's Class 1A-3A coach of the year, while Nichols is The Daily's 1A-3A player of the year.
Gillespie — "Coach G" to his players — also was coach of the year in 2003 when he led Hatton to state runner-up.
He said he didn't need anything exceptional this season from a group that he knew had promise. He and his coaching staff — which included assistants Tyler Berryman and Bobby Terry and former players Dustin Hatton, Wes Chambers and Adam Wilburn — just wanted the players to perform to their potential.
"What we did as a group of coaches was constantly try to push them in practice," said Gillespie, who has coached Hatton for 12 seasons. "That was one of the biggest things we did, and I think that benefited us when it came to big games. I didn't feel like we were intimidated at any time."
Hatton's 32-12 record set a school mark for wins, breaking the previous best of 27 wins reached in 2001 and '04. The Hornets did it despite starting the year 8-9.
Gillespie said the ability he saw in his team this year began with five seniors, and that Nichols was a prime example of a player he needed to rise to the challenge.
"This year, I just needed Will to be the consistent player that he's always been, and he ended up being even better than he's ever been," Gillespie said.
Nichols signed a scholarship with Alabama-Huntsville, finalizing his decision as Hatton approached the postseason. With that out of the way, he led the Hornets' charge to the state finals.
"This year my goal was for us to win the state — that's what I really wanted to do," Nichols said. "When you know you've got a real good shot at (making it to the final), it makes you give it everything you've got."
Nichols' .500 batting average this season set a school record. It also marked his fourth straight year batting .350 or better.
"Unlike in past years, this year I got off to a good start with the bat. In the past I've started off slow," Nichols said. "Getting off to a fast start allowed my batting average to be as high as it was."
Gillespie agreed that this season was a perfect cap to a great career for Nichols at Hatton.
"This was by far the best year he's ever had," Gillespie said.
"He's been a big part of our team for four years. He's a team player that's been involved for a long time."
Nichols' role changed early in the season when he moved from the third spot in the batting order to leadoff.
"At the start of the season my main purpose was driving in runs when I was batting in the 3-spot, but when I moved to leadoff after about 10 or 12 games, my job was just to get on base and try to score runs," Nichols said.
Nichols had 77 hits this season with 10 home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBIs. He also stole 23 bases and scored 76 runs. On the mound, he posted a 9-4 record with a 2.91 ERA, striking out 79 batters in 77 innings.
"We stressed to Will and the whole team all year that they didn't have to play over their heads, they just needed to play their style," Gillespie said. "This year was definitely one of the best.
"I probably had as much fun coaching this year as I've ever had. It would definitely rank as one of my favorites."
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