Youthful Natchez leans on senior catcher for leadership

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 14, 2017

With many players departing from last year’s first-round playoff squad, Natchez High School baseball has had to turn to a new crop of talent this season.

In any given game, the Bulldogs could start a multitude of underclassmen, including several eighth graders.

And with so many youthful players playing key roles, head coach Dan Smith is relying on senior catcher Charlie Latham to be an extension of himself on the field.

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“I call him Coach Latham,” Smith said. “We want him to control the field, just like a quarterback. He’s my coach on the field. He’s helping the pitchers and the younger catchers behind him.”

In Natchez’s game last Friday night against Bogue Chitto, Latham was just one of two seniors in the starting lineup, alongside shortstop Tydarius Terrell.

The experienced backstop said the role of leadership is something he’s fully embraced.

“I want to be the person that the younger players want to be like,” Latham said. “I want to be the person that gives 100 percent when we come out here every day.”

Latham said the key for the Bulldogs’ younger players progression is through repetition and game experience, noting the steady progress they’ve made throughout the early going.

“Just letting them grow up and see the game, and once they see the game, they’ll get better,” he said.

While Latham is more than willing to help guide the younger players, he remains focused on his own responsibilities, including “protecting the plate.”

“I want to keep the ball in front of me and throw people out (attempting to steal),” he said. “The biggest thing is to keep the ball in front of me so nobody scores from third base.”

With the overhaul of youth comes with it several bumps in the road, yet Latham and Smith point to March 21 and its region opener against Provine as a day they think the path will smoothen out.

“It’s looking bright,” Latham said. “Every day we’re progressing. We’re fighting. And as long we keep fighting, then region (play) is looking bright.”

But in the meantime, Latham and the Bulldogs have their sights set on improving each game, and that continues today at the Jackson Public School tournament.

“(Latham) is just a great kid,” Smith said. “I tell him all the time, ‘If I had a daughter, I’d want her to date him.’ He’s in practice early, after practice late. He’s a big brother to the team. I’m going to miss him next year.”