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Hornet revival: Hatton baseball undergoing program resurgence

Mar. 13—HATTON — When Denton Bowling accepted Hatton's head coach position last year, he knew there was a lot of work to be done. He took control of a baseball program that hadn't made it to the playoffs since 2019.

Consisting of only three seniors and one junior, most of the players weren't alive the last time Hatton made it past the second round: when Brent Gillespie coached the Hornets to a state runner-up finish in 2007.

"Ultimately, as a coach, it comes down to if you can get a group of young kids to buy into what you're trying to do," Bowling said. "There's only four or five kids with any kind of varsity experience. Most of these kids were JV or junior high players that never even got to play JV."

Three seniors — Parker Huff, Alex Brackin and Garson Pierce — have been on the team all four years and played for Bowling in football. "They've been around me more than their parents over the past five years, probably," he said.

After baseball tryouts, Bowling said he knew what it would take to turn the program around and called the players back to the field.

"I said, 'Guys, this is bad.' Having that respect for them, I asked them if they were sure they wanted to do this," Bowling said. "Alex goes, 'Coach, we just want to win,' and I say, 'Son, I can't promise we're going to win a game,.'"

Bowling said he was unsure if he wanted to do it. But the young men weren't quitting. They were committed to Bowling and to the program.

"I know what it's going to take. I've been there," he said. "But they said yes, and I felt like I owed it to them to give them a chance to see what it takes to be successful in this sport."

So far, he's done a pretty solid job. The Hornets are off to a 10-5 start, the best baseball record in the county so far.

"I feel like I've spent half my high school career up here goofing off, so I was ready to win a couple of games," Brackin said. "Last time we went to the playoffs was my seventh-grade year. I don't ever remember us starting off with six wins."

Bowling emphasized the importance of building a foundation for the program in the first year, especially with only one season of 2A ball ahead before the program moves up two classifications next year.

"We want to lay the foundation and drop the anchor right here. This is where we are, but how far do we want to go? How far do we want to drift?" Bowling said, "We have to maintain these core values. and those three (players) know me."

The young men said they've enjoyed baseball more this year as opposed to past years, even when they thought it was more of a development year.

"We had this conversation earlier. I told them, 'You're not going to bat .400, I hope you do, but a walk is just as good as a single, then you can steal a base and bunt,'" Bowling said. "They're starting to see the situational balls that come in at times and get you runs. They're starting to buy into that, and that's led to success."

That success is easy to see. Last Thursday, Hatton beat East Lawrence 12-1 and all three seniors combined for only one hit and two RBIs.

"They've set that trend and helped the young ones grow up. Baseball is a game of failures, and sometimes they're going to hit you in the mouth. They've had some really high highs and some low lows, but last night, they didn't carry us last night," Bowling said. "The kids they brought under their wings carried us through those moments, which is really impactful as a coach when you see it. I looked at my guys and said, 'We can win.'"

Brackin said now that they've started winning games, "We might as well as keep going."

"I feel like a lot of the team has bought into what we're trying to do. Get back to where we're winning and making the playoffs," Pierce said. "Last year, when we got down by one or two runs, we would just give up and not be in the game anymore. We have way more fight this year,"

Bowling said he was happy with his decision to stay as coach and said those three seniors have a lot to do with it.

"I don't know how long I'll go. But day-by-day, this has been good for me personally. It's been fun. It's been rejuvenating," he said. "But we wouldn't be able to be where we are right now without those three seniors."

He said the team is growing every day but still has a lot to learn. Fortunately, the season just started.

"We won two state championships in softball and the first time we won it we went into the postseason 29-27," Bowling said. "Last year, we were 34-22. Yeah, we were state champions, but we also lost 22 games."

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