Hawkins stayed focused during Bulldogs' big run

Photo by Christine Troyke

Photo by Christine Troyke

SUWANEE — Chris Hawkins’ senior numbers speak for themselves.

The North Gwinnett shortstop’s .520 batting average included 64 hits, which broke the 24-year-old county record of 61 set by Brookwood’s Tom Green.

He also hit safely in 35 of the Bulldogs’ 36 games, including the final 32 straight.

And there was plenty of production with those hits — 15 home runs, 44 RBIs, 49 runs scored and a 1.677 on-base plus slugging percentage.

However, it is what those numbers don’t say that made Hawkins the Daily Post’s Player of the Year.

Or as North coach Frank Vashaw put it, it’s all about context.

“It was fun to watch a kid have a year like that,” Vashaw said. “For our team, it was huge, and it’s like we tell all our kids — the accolades will come if you (as a team) succeed.

“He grew up a lot this year. He did a good job of not putting (his season) above the team.”

There were plenty of opportunities for Hawkins’ increasing individual success to have become a distraction to himself and to the Bulldogs.

As the hits began to add up, so did the number of professional scouts who showed up to watch North’s batting practice sessions and games, and they must have liked what they’ve seen.

While Hawkins has already signed a college scholarship with the University of Tennessee, his stock in the Major League Baseball draft, which begins Monday, has risen. In its last two issues, Baseball America magazine listed him as the nation’s No. 136 best position player draft prospect, with projection for him to be a fifth- or sixth-round selection.

However, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder’s focus remained on his team — especially after the Bulldogs struggled to a 10-11 start out of the gate.

“I pretty much just made sure I got in the cage and got my B.P. in and tried not to look in the crowd (during games),” Hawkins said. “My focus was on driving the ball and doing my thing.”

That thing was getting hits, and plenty of them, in each game and every game. Or at least almost every game.

But even as Hawkins’ hits mounted — and helped North make a move into the Class AAAAA state playoffs by winning its final five regular season games — so did the potential for distraction.

“We didn’t really say much about it until it reached the 20s,” Vashaw said of Hawkins’ streak. “We didn’t want it to become all-consuming. Besides, Chris is usually one who knows what’s going on. He didn’t need to be reminded.”

As the streak began to take on a life of its own, Hawkins faced yet another distraction as opponents began pitch around him, making it more difficult for him to keep the streak alive and do his part to keep the Bulldogs winning.

“I would think about it. I’m not going to lie,” Hawkins said. “But I just tried to help the team win.”

His teammates returned the favor. They advanced round by round through the playoffs, reaching the state semifinals by getting on base and hitting behind him to force opponents to give him more pitches to hit.

“The young man is a remarkable talent,” said Harrison coach Mark Elkins, whose team defeated North in three games in the semifinals en route to the Class AAAAA state title. “We had a tough time trying to get him out. He’s an extremely advanced hitter. ... We had situations in the last two games where we had opportunities to walk him, but we didn’t have that (in Game 3). So, we had to pitch to him.”

Hawkins went 5-for-9 with a solo home run and three intentional walks in the series, but was on the wrong end of perhaps the most iconic moment of the entire playoffs. With his team trailing by a run, he was robbed of an extra-base hit by a diving catch leading off the seventh inning in the final game.

Still, North’s electrifying postseason run is what Hawkins says he will remember most about this season.

“The playoffs were awesome,” Hawkins said. “Nobody expected us to go that far. So, making that run was the highlight of the season.”