Gatlin has found starting role as senior (continued)


At long last, Oxford baseball’s head coach, Chris Baughman, has finally found a man to fill his “black hole.”

Following a season-ending shoulder injury to junior Ben Bianco, Oxford’s rock solid lineup experienced a turn for the worst.

“Obviously, when Ben went down, offensively, we lost a huge player, who provided a great average and tremendous pop,” Baughman said, “and helped Thomas with that three-four punch we had in the lineup. I felt like we had to replace some really great numbers.”

The lineup that was once so daunting finally showed a weakness, and Baughman needed a filler for his eight-hole spot.

“Anybody we put there just got sucked in to the black hole,” Baughman said. “Anybody who we chose, no matter how well they had performed in practice or a JV game, the eight hole was just going to suck them in to a bad game.”

It truly was like being sucked into a black hole, for the Chargers’ eight-hole spot, no matter the man, was averaging below .150 at the plate, with 20 strikeouts through 50 at bats, as well as boasting merely one RBI, according to Baughman. That is, before the Chargers found their man – senior Tag Gatlin.

After six men made their case for a spot in the lineup, namely Carson Stinnett, Korbin Harmon, CJ Terrell, Reed Markle, Jack Clemons, and Tyler Smith, Gatlin made his mark.

“I knew there was a spot for me, and I knew there was a chance for me to earn it,” Gatlin said. “You never want to see someone in your team get hurt by any means, but obviously there was a spot to take advantage of, and I wanted to be the one to take it.”

On a damp Friday evening in Saltillo, Gatlin was finally granted his chance to prove himself, and he earned his first start of the year.

“I was battling at Saltillo that night between Carson and Tag, and my gut went with Tag”, Baughman said.

Following that game, he managed to solidify his role in the eight-hole, more than two weeks after Bianco’s injury.

“That first at-bat at the Saltillo game, it finally clicked for me,” Gatlin said. “I’d gotten a few hits throughout the season, but that first double in the gap did it for me, and then I went two for three on the day.”

Since then, Gatlin boasts seven hits, four RBI’s, and a .429 on base percentage, but more importantly, a rock in the lineup that has provided the Charger baseball team with its formidability that it once possessed.

“I felt like it was great for the team,” Gatlin said. “After I found it for myself, I felt that there was never going to be a weak spot in the lineup, much like last year.”

The road has never been easy for Gatlin, however, who spent his first three and a half years as a Charger on the bench.

“My first three years, my goal was to push the people in front of me, and fight for a spot,” Gatlin said. “But really, it was to make the people in front of me better, because I didn’t have a huge chance for a spot in the lineup. It was a grind for three and a half years to get here.”

Though he didn’t provide Oxford with a spark on the field, his actions before this season have not been in vain.

“I’m kind of the person that rallies the people in the dugout,” Gatlin said. “I took it upon myself to keep the bench rowdy and help the people out in the field.”

Along with his dugout fanatics, Gatlin has always worked his hardest throughout many long practices as well as the offseason. He is widely regarded throughout the Charger locker room as one of the best batting-practice hitters on the team, and it has begun to show results on the field.

“Before this year, he knew what his role was,” Baughman said. “It was hard for anybody to crack the lineup, but with Ben’s injury, it was time for somebody to step up and prove themselves. He hits the ball great in batting practice, and it’s line drives all over the field.”

“I don’t ever take a day off, and I always work my hardest,” Gatlin said.

Although Gatlin’s baseball days may be numbered, as he is continuing his college career on the football field at Mississippi College, for now, his primary goal is to aid Oxford in whatever way possible in returning to Pearl and repeating a state championship.

“No doubt we had found our man after the Saltillo series,” Baughman said. “Hopefully he’ll keep up the consistency, and I am confident that he will. At least for now, we’ve definitely found our guy.”