Motivated Choctaw Baseball Eagerly Await 2022 Season / Jace Aymond

Photo: Caleb Reese awaits a pitch against Delta State on May 1, 2021. The freshman was one of the top Choctaws at the plate, as he hit .326 on the year.

The feeling of knowing that one could have done more or performed better is one of the most gut-wrenching feelings an individual can experience. For the MC baseball team, that is exactly how they felt about their 2021 campaign. However, a disappointing season such as last year’s brings many positives in that the team can take a step back and open their eyes wider at what needs to be improved for a successful next year.

Last season, MC finished just below .500 with a 16-20 overall record while finishing 13-18 in GSC play. For the first time since 2016, the Choctaws were unable to make the postseason and GSC tournament, as they were just three games behind Auburn-Montgomery who claimed the eighth and final seed. 

It was a team loaded with plenty of talent, however, as Caleb Reese and Dakota Kennedy were both named as All-GSC First Team members. Kennedy hit .366 on the year, a team high, while also leading the squad with his 49 hits and 36 runs. Reese finished the year swinging .326 with 44 hits, 27 RBIs, and nine home runs.

Two votes away from adding an All-American to his collegiate career, Reese, a sophomore from Bossier City, La., was also selected by the GSC to the Preseason All-GSC Team. 

Of course, Reese mentioned, “It’s a great honor, but at the end of the day, I have to know that there’s a bigger and better promised land than that. It’s a great award to get and I’m very grateful for it, but at the end of the day, I want me and my boys to go to Cary, North Carolina, and win a World Series. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Reese has never finished with a losing record to end a season in his baseball career and he’s one of the lead advocates in making sure that this season is a successful one for him and his Choctaws. The concepts of trust, chemistry, and accountability are what Reese sees as things that need to be applied year-round to set themselves up for success.

“Such a big part of this game is trusting the guy to your left and right and keeping them accountable. That’s somewhere that we’ve really grown since the first week of the offseason. We’ve definitely improved since the fall, and I really think it’s going to be a special season this year.”

Head Coach Jeremy Haworth adds on to the approach they took this offseason by saying, “This fall, we made it a priority to put a lot of pressure on this team, see how they grow together, and I think they responded pretty well.”

On his team for the spring, Haworth also mentioned, “We have some key pieces on the mound coming back and we feel like they’re going to help us tremendously. As long as we can get healthy, I think we’ll be fine this year.”

With a new season comes new additions to the team as well. Haworth and the Gulf South Conference have big expectations for the first-year Choctaw players. The GSC’s Newcomer Watchlist highlighted Joseph Cuomo, a right-handed senior pitcher and a transfer from Bryan College; Kolby McWilliams, a sophomore catcher from Spring Hill College; and Gavin LeBlanc, a left-handed freshman pitcher from Iota High School.

The 2022 schedule is not forgiving in any way as of the 50 games on the ledger, 15 of those are against nationally ranked opponents. In fact, the Choctaws’ first series of the year is at home against the 18th-ranked North Greenville Crusaders on Feb. 4-5. 

Other notable non-conference games include top-30 Arkansas Tech, 21st-ranked Southern Arkansas, and 2021 national semifinalists and top-three-ranked Tampa University. Three GSC members also are ranked: No. 8 West Florida, No. 12 Lee, and No. 25 Delta State.

“If you want to win a GSC championship, compete in a regional, and win a National Championship, you have to play these teams to see where you’re at and where you stand,” said Haworth, who now is in his seventh year at the helm. 

He added, “Baseball is a game where if you can stay disciplined in what you’re doing and not worry about what the other team does and stay mentally strong, then you can beat anybody. It doesn’t matter about the talent; it matters if you’re willing to execute more than somebody else. If we do that and have a successful year, then that gives us confidence going into the playoffs and a good chance at winning a National Championship.”

Although this was a team that missed the postseason for the first time in five years last season, with new faces plus a productive offseason to reset the dynamics, the 2022 campaign for the Choctaws will be one filled with big plays, excitement, and emotion. Plus, it always seems that teams are tougher to beat if they are out with a vengeance.

“Last season really lit a fire under me heading into this one,” Reese said, “and I took it personally.”

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