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CLASS 1A-4A ALL-AREA: Bowling brought success back to Hatton

Jun. 7—HATTON — After Hatton coach Denton Bowling won a state championship in softball last year he considered taking some time away. Feeling exhausted, he wasn't sure if he'd coach on a Hornet diamond again.

"When I went on from softball, it was never fully the intention to become the baseball coach. I know there were rumors that got started, but that was never the case," Bowling said. "I just kept hearing that voice, that these kids deserve a chance, these kids deserve an opportunity. They need to be shown what it's like to be successful."

So in May of last year, he accepted the head baseball coach position. The program hadn't seen the state playoffs since 2019 and the second round since 2007. Bowling knew the size of the task and even questioned whether he was up to it.

"I told several people," he said, "the transition from one sport to the next. Going back to baseball, can I get motivated? Is my message still going to get across?"

After they held tryouts later that month, those questions became concerns.

"We had to have tryouts quick before school went out. So I got some members of my softball staff to come out there with some of the baseball staff that I retained," Bowling said. "We had tryouts, and I'll never forget. After tryouts, we stopped and said, 'Wow, this is going to be a long, long year ahead of us.'"

However after a productive summer, the Hornets started the season hot with a 6-3 record in February. But the team's potential didn't hit Bowling until a week later at Lexington.

Hatton was down 5-10 in the final inning of a doubleheader against the Golden Bears when the Hornets scored 12 in the seventh to win the game 17-10.

"We beat Lexington at their place in a doubleheader game two. We blew a lead on a bad coaching decision and they scored five," Bowling said. "We were down five going into the top half of that home inning. We put up 12 runs and ended up winning the ball game."

As the season continued, the Hornets went 13-2 in March with a nine-game win streak. Ranked Class 2A's No. 7, Bowling said the team had started to create an identity and found it in an old naval saying.

The team was meant to "Anchor Down" and lay a foundation for teams to come. An anchor was put in the centerfield grass and the team started to celebrate with a blue anchor in the dugout.

"That was kind of our mantra over the course of the season," Bowling said. "I feel like we were able to accomplish that as a coaching staff, as a group of ballplayers and then ultimately as a team. We've said that we're not going backward from here. We're not drifting anymore. We're going to move forward."

But it all came down to a wet Thursday in April where Hatton lost in a win-or-die game against Whitesburg Christian that saw them knocked out of the postseason. But Bowling wasn't upset to miss the playoffs.

He said he never expected to win one game, but the team went 23-10 in the regular season to record their first 20-win season since 2013, which is why he was chosen as The Daily's 1A-4A Baseball Coach of the Year.

Bowling said the playoffs would have been icing on the cake, but the real treat was the time he spent with this group.

"The day of the (Whitesburg Christian) game, they were squeegeeing the water off the field. To see them work as a unit and never complain, it felt like our message had gotten across," Bowling said. "This is the process firsthand, take ownership over what you want to do. At the end of the day, wins and losses are byproducts of that. But that was the culminating part for me to say, 'Wow this is quite a group of young men that we have here.'"

According to Bowling, the year rejuvenated him and he credits his three seniors who he said led the team; Garson Pierce, Parker Huff and Alex Brackin.

Bowling said even though they won't return next year, he'll make sure the anchor they dropped will.

"It's crazy, It goes to show you what happens when kids buy-in. We sold them on the idea of an anchor. We put a 60-foot anchor in the middle of the field. Then the next thing you know, we start anchoring it down and the anchor down celebration," Bowling said. "Fans are screaming anchor down and turn this ship around, I'll never forget hearing that at a ball game."