Photo by Christine Troyke
SUWANEE -- There is no doubt Chris Hawkins and Nick Jones have been North Gwinnett's primary offensive leaders throughout this baseball season.
That includes the Bulldogs' current run through the Class AAAAA state playoffs, which continues Monday with a trip to Kennesaw to meet Harrison in the semifinals, beginning with a 5 p.m. doubleheader at Don Shaw Field.
However, they've had plenty of help throughout the lineup, including someone who would've been considered a most unlikely source until recently.
When the season began, Coty Nash wasn't much more than a spare part, though a fairly reliable one, hitting about .290 as a part-time starter and pinch-hitter through North's first 18 games.
That earned him a chance at a larger role when coach Frank Vashaw was looking for some extra pop in the lineup about midway through the season.
"The first 17 games or so, he'd started as a (designated hitter) some, and maybe some in left field," Vashaw said of his left-handed hitting junior. "We got to a point starting the second round (of the) region (schedule) where we felt one of the issues that we had was offense.
"One thing Coty brings to the plate is the ability to hit the ball on the ground and be safe. ... We stuck him in the North Forsyth game the second time around and I think he had a hit and got on base a couple times. He's started every game since then, and what's kind of neat about it is in that time, he's hit in 12 of 15 games and has 19 hits in those games."
Indeed, since taking over the starting role in center field, Nash is 19-for-41 -- good for a .463 clip.
And that production has only increased since the playoffs started almost three weeks ago.
He is hitting .500 (10-for-20) with six RBIs, four runs scored and a 1.050 OPS in seven postseason games.
The average is second only to Hawkins among all Bulldog starters, while the six RBIs tie him with Nick Jones and Luke Tindol for second on the team, and his OPS trails only Hawkins and Jones.
And even Nash admits the role of one of North's (21-12) most valuable postseason players is not one he expected to play.
"As a team, we all compete for (starting) spots," said Nash, who is hitting .403 with 11 RBIs and 20 runs scored for the season. "But I think that as a team, we do a good job of supporting the people that are in the lineup.
"At the beginning of the year, it wasn't my turn. I got my chance later on, and it's paid off."
Nash's production has particularly paid off considering where he hits in the North batting order.
While it is always to get a boost for a team to get production out of the No. 9 spot, Nash's contributions are magnified with the lineup being recycled behind him, where big bats like Hawkins (.513, 14 HR, 43 RBIs), Seth Bancroft (.314, 1 HR, 21 RBIs) and Jones (.422, 8 HR, 43 RBIs) await.
Of course, Nash also realizes that the complementary relationship with those hitting after him is a two-way street, resulting in more and better pitches for him to hit.
"With the rest of the team we have, I knew I could focus on getting on base," Nash said. "Our whole lineup's been hitting good lately in the playoffs. Especially with Hawk and Seth and Nick coming up behind me, I know if I can get on base, we've got a chance to score some runs."
The Bulldogs have been quite adept at scoring runs in the playoffs, having averaged over eight runs in seven postseason games.
And Nash isn't overwhelmed by those numbers, or his own, for that matters.
In fact, he's quite comfortable crunching numbers. He scored a 800 on the original scale when he recently took the SAT -- a big part of his overall 2,070 score (a 1,450 based on the original scale).
As someone who has always excelled in math, and who is interested in engineering, numbers have always been important to Nash.
But as a baseball player, he realizes some numbers are more important than others.
"I've always been strong in math," Nash said. "And obviously, baseball is a game where stats are really important. But winning games is the main stat. All the other ones tell you how good you are at winning games."