‘Do you want it?’: Natchez defeats Brookhaven for first district title since 1999
Published 12:09 am Wednesday, April 11, 2018
On a crisp cool Tuesday night at Chester Willis Field, Natchez High School baseball coach Dan Smith gathered his team right outside the dugout after the sixth inning.
Once every player was around him, Smith asked the team one simple question.
“Do you want it?” he said.
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That “it” wasn’t just a win over the Brookhaven High School Panthers, it was to make history — to capture the Bulldogs’ first MHSAA Region 6-5A district title since 1999.
“We wanted it,” said senior Shavoké Herrington. “There’s no question about that. We have been talking about it before baseball season. If it came down to a district championship, it will be us and Brookhaven. So, we prepared ourselves all season for it to come down to this.”
In the huddle, all the players responded “Yes, coach, we want it.” And they all followed it up with their play in the final inning as Natchez took down Brookhaven, 4-3, in seven innings.
“A whole lot of weight left my shoulders,” Smith said. “It was like a truck was lifted off my back. But I’m more proud of the kids. This is one positive thing that people can’t take away from them.
“Brookhaven has been winning (the district) for years. They have been the beast of our district. It was good to finally defeat them.”
While the Bulldogs were finally able to slay the beast, Natchez had to experience an emotional seven innings to take down Brookhaven — with the peak coming in the bottom of the fifth.
After both teams scored two runs each in the first inning, Natchez and Brookhaven failed to come across home during the second, third and fourth. However, the Bulldogs almost broke the scoring drought after what seemed like a run batted in single from Paul Hargrave. Yet, that was not the case.
Once Hargrave made contact with the ball, the Bulldogs’ Jakel Barnes went sprinting from first to second base. He tried to get there safely by sliding. However, Barnes was tagged out on his slide during the play and he accidently toppled Brookhaven’s second baseman.
Due to Barnes mistakenly taking down the Panthers’ second baseman, it stopped Brookhaven from getting Hargrave out at first. The Panthers’ coach did not like the sequence. After a talk with the umpires, Natchez was called for interference which resulted in a nullification of the tiebreaking run and it ended the fifth inning.
“It was very frustrating,” Smith said. “But as a head coach, I have to keep my composure so my players can keep theirs. If I get bent out of shape, so will they. It was hard but I kept it.”
The play definitely had some Natchez players heated, but they kept calm and did their thing.
During the top of the sixth, the Bulldogs’ starting pitcher, senior Tre Davis, went three up and three down. Then in the bottom of the sixth, Natchez stole home twice it give itself a 4-2 lead.
“We have been trying to beat them every since I started playing for Natchez high,” Davis said.
On the night, Davis pitched 6.2 innings while throwing 100 pitches, allowing only six hits and striking out five Panthers. Four of those six hits came in the first inning.
“I just took a deep breath and coach came to talk to me,” Davis said. “After I took that deep breath, it got my mind right. I just told myself, I have to do it, it’s my senior year.”
In front of crowd that was evenly split down the middle between Natchez and Brookhaven fans, the Bulldogs were finally able to stand alone on top of the mountain in triumph.
All year the Bulldogs have been on a quest for a district title. They never quit when it seemed like the game was about to go south for them — which has been Natchez’s attitude all season Smith said.
“It was real fun,” said senior Jatavis Melton. “I just told my teammates to believe and keep grinding. That’s what we did.
“Brookhaven thought they were gonna come down here and beat us. But I knew in my heart that we were going to win.”
While every Bulldog player, coach and fan was all smiles afterwards, for Smith, he feels the impact of winning a championship won’t be felt until the next day.
“It’s wonderful,” Smith said. “I can’t put it into words. It’s amazing.
“We won district. It probably won’t hit me until (Wednesday).”