Hatley baseball coach Jamie Edwards couldn’t be more excited to be back on a baseball field after being named the new head coach of the Tigers.
Edwards, a 1999 graduate who served as an assistant coach for several years, has spent the last three years working in administration as an assistant principal. When coach John Harris took the head coaching job at Smithville, Edwards decided it was time for a return to the field.
“Getting the chance to coach at Hatley and being back home was the biggest thing for me,” Edwards said. “I have played the role of assistant coach for ten years basically at Hatley and was more than excited about the opportunity to be head coach. It’s home, and it’s a job that I have always dreamed of having. It was just such a good opportunity for me that there was no way I could say no to it.”
Despite having been away from coaching at Hatley for four seasons, Edwards said he has stayed connected to the baseball team and the athletic programs as a whole.
“This place is just real special. I have spent the majority of my coaching and teaching career here in one capacity or another, whether it’s coaching and teaching as an assistant coach or administration,” Edwards said. “I just have a great love for Hatley, and all three of my kids are here, so I have an even more special connection to it, considering I have kids coming up in sports. Having played here all those years myself, it just brings back a lot of memories.
He spent four seasons as an assistant coach under Harris before being at Smithville one year, then coming back to Hatley in administration in 2016. Edwards also previously worked at Aberdeen and Tremont.
“The seniors today were the junior high kids when I left, and they have definitely grown a lot,” Edwards said. “I do know a lot of the kids and their parents and have gotten to see them play a lot the last three years and been around them. They are quality kids, good kids, and Coach (John) Harris has done an excellent job with them over the last 12-13 years. I have a lot of respect for him and really wish him luck with what he’s going to do at Smithville. When you go from being an assistant to a head coach at a place, it’s a whole different ballgame really. The responsibility now is on me, but I am eager to get started.”
The Tigers finished with a 15-10 record last season, falling in the second round to state champion North Pontotoc. Hatley has missed the playoffs just twice in the last eight seasons and made it to the North finals twice – in 2012 against Bruce and in 2015 against East Webster.
“Last season, they made a run in the playoffs, got to the second round and went to Game 3 with the eventual state champions. That’s a good season, and they played well all three games against North,” Edwards said. “Several of those years with Coach Harris, we went to North half and were right there on the doorsteps of it and just came up short. There’s definitely a tradition here at Hatley of making runs in the playoffs, and you’re expected to win here. Coach Harris did a great job of keeping up with that tradition throughout the years, and it is added pressure for all of us. At the same time, what are we doing here if we don’t like pressure? If that’s the case, we’re in the wrong business because I expect to win, and I expect the kids to want to win and be coachable and willing to do what it takes to get there.”
Hatley loses five seniors, but returns a handful with playing time, including two of their top three pitchers in juniors Brody Bickerstaff and Luke Moffett.
“We did lose a couple of big bats, a big pitcher and all that. But at the same time, we have a good core group coming back, and all the way around, we’ll be pretty stacked throughout the lineup,” Edwards said. “We’re going to have some guys that can pitch, some guys that can hit, and we’re going to have to have some guys that step up. We don’t have too many in any position. We have enough, but not too many. It’s going to be one of those things where we have to have guys step up and pitch for us and hit for us.”
Hatley goes into a slightly revamped division next season, keeping Aberdeen, Choctaw County and Houston, but losing Nettleton and South Pontotoc. Noxubee County will be a new addition to their division.
“Either way you look at it, if the division is softer than it has been in the past, my mentality is to come out the same way every ballgame because the minute you let someone slip, they can beat you,” Edwards said. “The teams in this division, there are several that can beat you if you don’t play your best. Houston of course is always good, and Choctaw County split with Hatley this past year. You still have to compete and come out every day.”
Edwards said he is already working on getting together with his team before school starts back as he wasn’t named the new coach until after Hatley’s summer season had concluded.
“We had a team meeting, and we were going to have them come in today and eat pizza, talk a little bit and go out and play some tennis baseball and have some fun. The rain cut us short today, so we’re going to do that next week,” he said. “We will still have a couple more meetings before August gets here. I know all of them, but they need to know what’s going to be different, how it’s going to be different and what to expect and my expectations of them. I need to know their expectations of me.”