Senior Brandon Pearson struck out seven batters on 140 pitches in Drew’s historic win against Union Grove. (Special Photo: Jerry Jackson)
RIVERDALE — There is a different air around Drew’s baseball program.
After winning only five games last season, the Titans are a school-record four games over .500 at 6-2 overall and 3-1 in Region 4-AAAAA, Division A play. Setting the tone for such a turnaround are the team’s two coaches, head coach J.C. Walton and assistant coach Antonio Mitchell.
They first joined the program as assistants a year ago. Since then Walton has seen an improvement of the team’s attitude. “Everyone is working together and believing in themselves, that’s the motto for the year which coach Mitchell came up with. ‘Believe in yourself,’” Walton said. “All of our players are starting to believe in themselves.”
One of the Titans’ wins this season was a 3-2 victory over region foe Union Grove, the first win over the Wolverines in Drew’s five-year history as a program.
“The game against Union Grove was a very tight contest,” Walton said. “The game came down to an error here or there, so it easily could have been our error, but fortunately Union Grove made a costly error.”
Drew’s senior pitcher Brandon Pearson struck out seven on 140 pitches in the win against Union Grove. Pearson, in his fourth year pitching on varsity, spearheads the Titans’ staff. Backing up him and the Titans’ pitchers are a defense and lineup that works hard and puts pressure on opposing teams.
Coach Mitchell credits left fielder Kahari Richards and centerfielder Mark Hawkins with having a made a big impact as the team’s leadoff and No. 2 hitter respectively. They along with right fielder Damarco Smith form an outfield Mitchell brags about.
“I think we have the best outfield in the region. Not only can they catch, but they got speed,” Mitchell said.
Smith, a senior who also contributes as a pitcher, in turn brags about his coaches. “It’s been a great turnaround since my
freshman year. We’re putting in more work, taking it more seriously. Our new coaches helped us get better,” he said.
As far as run producers go, sophomores Antonio Gamble (catcher) and Mason Williams (shortstop) suffice. Williams delivered the game-winning hit in a 6-4 victory over Morrow. Williams credits the togetherness the team has displayed since Walton and Mitchell arrived.
“(Our) first goal is to play as a unit. Everybody plays as a family. We’re all family,” he said.
While underclassmen contribute, Drew relies on its seven seniors for leadership. “We’ve had horrible seasons in recent years. Us being seniors, having a better season, we want everybody to be on the same page,” Smith said.
That is echoed by the 30-year-old Mitchell, who was a standout athlete at Mt. Zion. He believes the Titans can make the playoffs for the first time in school history.
“Just believe,” Mitchell said. “That’s the motto. Once we believe in ourselves, and they buy into it, we will make the playoffs.”
Talk of making the playoffs has the players focused.
“It would mean a lot,” Williams said. “That’s what we’re striving for.”