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Inside the Batter’s Box: Natchez sets sights on playoffs despite season struggles

Natchez High School junior Dalvion Jackson is a leading hitter for the Bulldogs, batting cleanup. Jackson has the only home run of the season for Natchez. (Sam Gause | The Natchez Democrat)

Natchez High School junior Dalvion Jackson is a leading hitter for the Bulldogs, batting cleanup. Jackson has the only home run of the season for Natchez. (Sam Gause | The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — When Dan Smith accepted the vacant Natchez baseball head coaching position in 2014, he did not anticipate the talent he would soon have at his disposal.

With a 5-9 overall record and 0-5 district record, the Bulldogs have struggled at times in 2015, but Smith will be the first person to tell you the team is not absent of talent.

“This will be my 14th year of coaching, and talent wise, it’s probably one of the more talented teams I’ve had,” Smith said. “We have power, speed and quickness. On top of good grades and good attitudes, we have good athletes.”

While the Bulldogs are still searching for their first district win, Natchez still has an outside shot to make the playoffs by sweeping Wingfield High School and finishing third in the district. Dalvion Jackson, who is a multi-sport athlete and was a leader on the Bulldogs’ defense in football, said baseball is his favorite sport, and he doesn’t want to see the season come to an abrupt end.

“The pressure is on, but we’re going to work hard and try to win these games, win more and try to make it to Trustmark,” said Jackson, who was not shy about sharing his big goals.

Smith said Jackson is the power man he mentioned earlier. So far this season, Jackson has averaged a .330 batting average and has hit a home run for the Bulldogs. The team could have used that batting average last season, when Natchez struggled to win a game. Jackson, a sophomore at the time, had to miss the season because of a knee injury. Back in the lineup, with his bat catching fire, Smith said Jackson has been a constant in the Bulldogs’ lineup.

“If his bat hadn’t been as good as it has been, we would have lost some of those games we won,” Smith said. “Sometimes we’re at practice, and he’s just knocking the cover off of the ball.

And while Smith has come to find out he has some sluggers on the team in the form of Jackson, Ernest Woods, Jarrell Morris and others, Smith said his biggest strength is the speed and athleticism his team possesses. Shavoke Herrington, Bulldogs centerfielder who has also been one of the leading hitters on the club, was the leadoff batter for the team last season as an eighth grader and continues to do so as a freshman. With Herrington, Jadarrius Ivory, Tyderrius Terrell and others, Smith said he has a roster full of players that can round the bases. Observing that at practice made him focus on the team’s speed throughout practice.

“We do a lot more base running,” Smith said. “We begin and end practice with base running. They started to understand how valuable that is after a while.”

The lack of games played — 12 total late in the season — has hurt the Bulldogs’ ability to get into a rhythm, especially on the mound. Chris Scott, one of the Bulldogs’ leading pitching candidates entering the season, has only pitched three games thus far, but Ivory’s emergence as a go-to pitcher has given Smith the depth he’s needed.

“I would say Chris and Ivory might be our top pitchers, but you also have to include Shavoke in there,” Smith said. “They’ve all gotten better as the season has gone along.”

Smith is trying to rebuild the Natchez baseball team while giving it stability at the same time. A playoff berth in his first season as head coach is a goal he’s pursuing aggressively.