Local teams look to players who enjoy spotlight

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 5, 2010

VIDALIA — Vidalia first baseman John Brixey isn’t quite sure how to describe the feeling — he just knows he revels in it.

When there are runners in scoring position and his team needs a big hit, Brixey said there’s no other spot he’d rather be.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Brixey said. “It just gives me a feeling in my stomach. If it’s not a big situation, I’m not as focused. When the bases are loaded, I try to get focused and make something happen.”

And Brixey said he isn’t sure why that’s the case for him.

“When there’s no one on base, it’s just not as big a deal, but when there are runners in scoring position, I have to make something happen. It’s a big deal.”

When the game is on the line, there’s nothing a coach wants more than to put that game in the hands of an athlete that wants to be in those situations. Johnny Lee Hoffpauir, Brixey’s coach, said he definitely believes clutch players exist, and you can tell who they are by their attitude about big spots.

“You have to want to be in that situation,” Hoffpauir said. “You have to want to have the ball in your hands, the bat in your hands or the ball hit to you in the field.”

Hoffpauir said Brixey is a competitor who feeds the rest of the team..

“He’s a quiet kid, but he competes hard, and doesn’t let the pressure get to him,” Hoffpauir said. “He always forgets the last-at bat he had when he comes up to the batter’s box.”

For Cathedral baseball coach Craig Beesley, there’s no one he’d rather have on the mound in a big spot than senior Dylan White.

“He’s just a competitor,” Beesley said. “He’s not the best pitcher we’ve ever had at Cathedral, but he just competes so well, especially in crucial situations.”

For White, the added rush of pitching in the spotlight is something he enjoys a lot, he said.

“I love the adrenaline,” White said. “It gets me going. I don’t think I lack any confidence on the mound this year. I just go right at people.

“That attitude is something I’ve had to develop, and it comes from learning experiences and trusting in your teammates.”

And it’s not always easy getting up for games that don’t have that big-time atmosphere, White said.

“It’s definitely harder getting up for those games,” White said. “Sometimes you have to rally the troops for a (lower-tier) team, because you kind of play down to their level.”

Beesley said the mental side of stepping up in big games isn’t something that can be taught.

“With Dylan’s situation, it’s probably 80 percent mental,” Beesley said. “That’s not something a coach can coach, either. It’s just something the kid has done all his life.”

There’s no bigger stage for a high school athlete than a state championship game, and Trinity Episcopal junior quarterback Givonni Dent knows that from experience.

Dent was 5-for-9 in passing with 98 yards in the MAIS Class A championship game last November. Dent said, however, that he performed his best on defense, where the Saints held DeSoto to just one touchdown in a 37-7 win.

“At linebacker, I took on blocks and made big tackles,” Dent said. “I just stepped it up to another level. In big-time situations, you have to step it up in order to help your team. I just set my mind to focus really hard and asked God to help me focus.”

And if a younger player asked for advice on how to perform well in big games, Dent said he’d tell him to keep the rest of the team in mind while he was playing.

“I would just tell him to trust in your abilities, and do what you can to help the team out,” Dent said.