Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. North Gwinnett's Chris Hawkins has been a known commodity throughout his career. But the Tennessee signee has had a breakout season, hitting safely in all but one of the team's 28 games this season. He has a 24-game hitting streak and was a big factor in the Bulldogs' first-round sweep of Milton.
SUWANEE -- Even a player with numbers as gaudy as Chris Hawkins has put up this spring is bound to have a few bad days at the plate sprinkled throughout a season.
However, the North Gwinnett senior can count those bad days on one hand. In fact, he can count them on one finger.
There has been only one game during North's 28-game schedule in which Hawkins has failed to get at least one hit.
That includes the 24-game hitting streak the 6-foot-2, 205-pound shortstop takes into the Bulldogs' second-round Class AAAAA state playoff series today at North Cobb.
"He's been hitting (just about) every game," North coach Frank Vashaw said of Hawkins. "Chris has always had a desire to play at a higher level. ... His focus on reaching the goals he's set for himself has paid off.
"The question of talent wasn't an issue. It was a question of adjustments, and that's one thing he's been able to do this year better -- as good as I've seen somebody change in 365 days."
Hawkins has been a force throughout his career at North, having played regularly since his freshman season and coming into the season as a career .320 hitter.
But there is no question he has taken his game to a much higher level this season.
His 50 hits in 98 at bats (good for a .510 batting average -- 113 points higher than his .397 mark last year) broke the old North Gwinnett record for most hits in a season held previously by Jim Moreland and Taylor Gill.
He also has 11 home runs (just two away from Mitch Ryder's school record) and 35 RBIs and a whopping 60 percent of his hits (30 of 50) have gone for extra bases.
But while the increased authority he's hit the ball with can be attributed to physical improvements he's made -- working hard in the weight room and in the batting cage -- it doesn't explain his consistency that includes him averaging nearly two hits per game, including 14 multi-hit games.
That, he says, can be attributed to a different mental approach.
"I feel I am a little bit more patient and waiting on my pitch better than I have in the past," Hawkins said. "My walk total (18) is up a lot this year from where it's been. ... I think I'm just letting the game come to me a little bit more now. ... I think I've matured as a hitter."
That extra maturity has come in handy several times this season, most notably during North's 10-11 start when he had longer to wait for "his" pitch.
"By about halfway through (the) Region (7-AAAAA schedule), I wasn't seeing too many fastballs," Hawkins said. "I wouldn't see but maybe one or two really good pitches to hit a game. I just had to focus on making sure that when I got my pitch, I hit it."
As the bats of North teammates like Nick Jones (.437, 7 HR, 38 RBIs) and Seth Bancroft (.337, 1 HR, 18 RBIs) have heated up during the Bulldogs' current seven-game winning streak, Hawkins has seen considerably more good pitches to hit.
However, his focus has still been tested, mainly by playing shortstop, though he has done a solid job in the field despite playing more at third base and in the outfield during his summer travel season.
But according to Vashaw, the biggest test to Hawkins' focus this season has been his own success.
Having already signed to play college baseball at Tennessee in the fall, word has begun to spread among local professional scouts about the season Hawkins is having.
It is not uncommon to see multiple scouts watching him every time he takes batting practice or takes the field for a game, something he is very aware of.
However, Vashaw admires the way he hasn't let that attention become too much of a distraction.
"The magnifying glass has really been on him the last five or six weeks," Vashaw said. "We take BP before a game, and the first couple times, it was three or four guys. That wasn't that bad. Then all of a sudden, it's 10 guys and the (scouting) bureau sends its camera lady. Then it's 15 guys and you've got the cross-checkers and there are the same guys who have seen them twice who want to pull him off to the side.
"To me, being 18 years old, it would be very difficult to no let that affect the way you go about it. It would be very hard to focus on the team aspect of it, which he has. ... Winning is important to him."
Nothing is more important to Hawkins right now than today's doubleheader with North Cobb, which ended North's season in the first round in his sophomore season two years ago -- something he and his fellow seniors still remember.
"What I remember most about North Cobb is they're a team that plays really hard," Hawkins said of the Warriors (20-9). "They're going to have a lot of intensity. We're going to have to come out and play our game, and if we do that, I think we'll be fine.
"We went through a lot of hard times in the beginning (of this season), but we kept working hard and believing in ourselves."