Natchez coach wants to make baseball bigger part of players’ lives
NATCHEZ — Calling the Natchez High School baseball team a young team wouldn’t be entirely accurate.
But head coach Brian Kossum said he’s not just playing for this season, even with the presence of several upperclassmen.
“We have five seniors starting, but we do a lot of rotating the younger players in,” Kossum said. “We’ve started seventh, eighth and ninth graders, so that’s going to help us for next year.”
Kossum was handed the task of not just coaching his Bulldogs for this season, but also developing his younger players so NHS will have a brighter future in baseball. NHS is 33-41 in baseball over the last three seasons, and 4-6 so far this year, With a good core of younger players — seven of less than 20 on his roster are freshmen or middle schoolers — Kossum said he hopes better days are ahead.
“We’re coming along, slowly but surely,” Kossum said. “Baseball hasn’t been these kids’ lives growing up, and when you look at other programs that are successful, they’ve been playing their whole life.
“We have to change the culture, where baseball becomes a big part of their life, and that will take time. So far, they’ve picked up on the things we’re trying to show them.”
Among several young positional players who have stood out, Kossum said seventh-grader Shavoke Herrington is someone who has a bright future. Herrington has split time between catcher, second and third base.
“He’s definitely a guy to watch in the future, maybe even the near future,” Kossum said. “He’s an athlete.”
Herrington has started in several varsity games for the Bulldogs, and he said he’s gotten used to playing in high school games despite thinking it’d be difficult at first. He also said he’s gotten used to being around high school players despite early intimidation.
“The first few days of practice it was kind of hard, but once you get to know them, it’s OK,” Herrington said.
After being predominantly a catcher in youth ball, Herrington said he began picking up on what it takes to play the infield.
“There are a lot of things you have to learn like cutting off and lining people up,” he said. “But I got used to it and know how to do it now.”
The Bulldogs have thrown a number of pitchers on the mound this season, and Kossum said developing pitching would be especially key as he tries to build a strong baseball program at NHS.
“I want to get away from years past where we only threw two to three guys,” Kossum said. “We have eight or nine guys who can throw, but it will take time. Once we fine-tune their location and movement, we’ll be pretty good.”
Eighth-grader Joseph Russell and seventh-grader Chris Scott are both seeing time on the mound, even though Kossum warned them that things would be rough at first.
“It’s trial by fire,” Kossum said. “I told them from day one that they’re going to get hit, and they just have to throw strikes.”
Freshman hurler Travez Lyles, however, is who stands out the most in Kossum’s arsenal of young arms, he said.
“I’m really excited about how he’s come along,” Kossum said. “He went from being unable to throw strikes to becoming one of our most consistent guys.”
Lyles admitted he was a “wild pitcher,” at first, but with the coaches’ help, he’s been able to adjust to the craft of pitching.
“It was all about getting my pitches right and setting my feet to the catcher after I throw it,” Lyles said. “They tell me to play catch with the catcher, and don’t try to aim. I don’t know why (that advice) helps, but it does.”
In his first time on a high school mound, Lyles said he was scared, but having the support of his teammates made things better.
“They were telling me it would be alright,” Lyles said. “The nerves have stayed with me until now, but I don’t really have them anymore.”
Unlike Herrington, though, Lyles said he wasn’t intimidated by his older teammates when he first came out for baseball.
“I guess I felt like I could do everything they do, and I’m just as big as them,” Lyles said.
NHS has taken some tough losses to Region 6-6A opponents Terry and Brandon high schools. NHS lost to Terry twice, 14-0 and 12-0, and the Bulldogs have also fallen to Brandon 12-2. But Kossum said he’s OK with taking the lumps as long as his team sees improvement.
“I would rather go out and play a great team and get beat 10-0 then play a team we shouldn’t be playing and win 10-0,” Kossum said. “When you go play Terry and Brandon and you play three good innings, you can walk away feeling like you did well.”