Dawson County Tigers head baseball coach Dwayne Sapp knew at the beginning of the year some of his younger players were going to have to step up and play well for the team to have much success.
And in a big way, freshmen Sawyer Bearden, Trey Harvey and Julian Horner have done just that.
“Last year as eighth graders, you could tell they had a little bit of a head start over everybody else,” Sapp said. “I’m not saying that it’s from travel ball or whatever, but they performed well at the junior varsity level last year. In a different situation, they might be on JV another year but we’re thin in spots like pitching and outfield.”
Now, Horner is the starting left fielder and Bearden is the starting right fielder every night for the Tigers. Sapp said both are getting on base around 45 percent of the time this season. Both Bearden and Horner said they were surprised to find out that they were going to start everyday.
“I came in late because of basketball and didn’t know what to do,” Bearden said. “Next thing I know, they handed me a varsity jersey. I’m just honored to be here.”
Harvey, who played basketball alongside Bearden, has found a consistent role in the pitching rotation for the Tigers. During the series against Cherokee Bluff, a top 10 ranked 3A baseball program, Harvey pitched five shutout innings to give the Tigers their first region win of the year.
“They’ve performed well,” Sapp said. “They haven’t been overwhelmed by the varsity lights or anything. Now, you can tell when they look like freshmen. They’ve all made their mistakes, but they’ve had their shining moments too.”
During tryouts, all three freshmen thought they might have an opportunity to play at the varsity level, but would have understood and been content with remaining on the junior varsity team for a second season.
“I don’t think it was going to affect me if I didn’t make the team because I would’ve just hustled to be on the team next year,” Horner said. “To start over juniors and seniors was a shock to me. It’s nice to know the effort I’ve been putting in is getting noticed by everyone.”
To those who know them, it is no surprise that these three would all be called up to the varsity team at the same time together. Along with their other baseball friends, Harvey said that Bearden and Horner were “his boys.”
“We’ve always been friends,” Harvey said. “Playing video games, texting each other, up here working out. Baseball is where we get to escape and take our mind off school.”
Despite all three freshman still going to school at Dawson County Junior High, the upperclassmen on the baseball team have done a fantastic job of taking the trio under their wings and showing them the highs and lows of varsity level baseball, according to Bearden.
“The players we’re starting over have actually been very supportive and are helping us learn about our new roles and how to help the team win,” Bearden said.
Sapp said the Tigers might be short a few miracles this season to qualify for the state tournament, but that he sees this season as great experience for all the younger players to gain valuable experience. However, he sees a special role for these three.
“In their class, they’re the leaders moving forward,” Sapp said. “When this year’s junior class graduates next year, these three are the kids that are going to have to step up.”
The trio acknowledges the importance of their role moving forward. Though they do not plan on stopping making baseball fun anytime soon, Harvey said he knows their time is coming to step up and become the leaders of the team.
“It’s kind of exciting to know you have a chance to be a varsity starter for four years,” Harvey said. “But at the same time, you can’t slow down and become complacent. You have to grind everyday to prove you’re worth and keep your spot.”