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NHS has new coach, lots of team speed

 

Natchez High School senior Darius Terrell starts to swing at a pitch while working in the batting cage Thursday afternoon during a team practice. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — After signing on as an assistant baseball coach last August, Brian Kossum was thrust into the head coaching job around Christmas time.

But the NHS alumnus and first-year head coach said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I wanted the job,” Kossum said. “This is what I went to school for.”

Kossum attended Copiah-Lincoln Community College for two years, Southern Mississippi for two years and William Carey College for two years to get a master’s degree. He said he wanted a teaching degree for the purpose of one day coaching baseball at his alma mater.

“I’ve been around baseball my whole life, starting when my dad got me into it when I was little,” Kossum said. “It’s always been a part of my life. Looking back, I can’t imagine not playing Dixie Youth and being around the game.”

Kossum takes over a team that went 7-13 the year before and got blown out in two playoff games against St. Martin High School, 12-0 and 11-1. But Kossum said he’s liked what he’s seen so far in practice.

“When I got out here, I didn’t know what to expect,” Kossum said. “We have some good athletes, and they know the game. Right now, we’re working on getting our baseball IQ up, but I’ve been impressed with their attitudes. For a lot of these kids, I’m their third coach in three years. The first day I got out here, I thanked them for staying loyal.”

Pitching-wise, Kossum said he’s working with several different players to try and round out a rotation. One of those will likely be senior Derrian Johnson, and Johnson said he’s looking forward to taking over the No. 1 spot in the rotation again this spring.

“I’m a bit rested right now,” said Johnson, who just finished basketball season Tuesday. “I have to get back into baseball shape and get back into the fundamentals of hitting, pitching and fielding.”

Having Davion Ward return as catcher will be a big help, Johnson said. He and Ward have been playing baseball together since they were young children, and Johnson said Ward is a difference-maker.

“We always made all-stars together,” Johnson said. “He knows how I play the game, and I know how he plays the game. He puts a lot of work into the game, and I think he’ll earn a scholarship (for baseball). He hates making mistakes, and when he does, he’ll make up for it.”

Ward said he’s also looking forward to catching Johnson again this season.

“We consider ourselves brothers,” Ward said. “When he’s on the mound, he can feel what I’m about to call as a catcher. We just have that kind of connection.”

Ward said this team has more of a winning attitude this spring, and he expects big things out of the younger players.

“The younger guys are stepping up,” Ward said. “I feel a winning vibe. It’s an honor to play on this year’s team.”

Team speed will be the Bulldogs’ biggest asset, Ward said.

“Once we get on base, I think we’ll be able to run all over defenses,” Ward said.

Kossum agreed, saying the team’s athleticism was its biggest strength, along with its defensive play.

“I’m hoping that aggressiveness on the basepaths and smart baserunning will get us a few extra runs,” Kossum said. “You’re not going to score 10 runs every game in 6A baseball.”

NHS will play Cathedral High School in a scrimmage at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Chester Willis Field.

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