April 30, 2014 11:32:08 PM
Gevonta Webb never imagined himself as a catcher for the Columbus High School baseball team.
Sure, Webb played the position when he was in elementary school, but he always thought of himself as a second baseman or playing another position.
When Webb moved to the high school team as a freshman, he made sure to tell Columbus High coach Jeffrey Cook how he felt.
To his credit, Cook didn't listen. Something Cook saw in watching Webb, who wasn't built anything like a prototypical catcher, convinced him the Falcons had found their next catcher to replace Josh Tentoni and to handle a talented group of pitchers for the years to come.
Three years later, Webb can sit in the Columbus High dugout and smile.
Not only have the Falcons increased their win total each of the past three seasons and made the playoffs four-straight years, but Webb also is part of a senior class that, according to Cook, helped the program win its first playoff series.
That's fitting for a player like Webb, who admits he had plenty of work to do as a freshman to become a catcher. These days, Webb is one of the best athletes on the team and one of the top receivers in the area.
"When I first started out, I probably weighed 120 pounds," Webb said. "It started during the summer of my ninth-grade year. That is when I realized I had to put in work. ... I fell in love with it, so I said I am going to go out every day and do this and do that."
Webb and Columbus (21-6) will try to win their second playoff series starting at 6 tonight when they take on Clinton in Game 1 of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs. Game 2 will be at 6 p.m. Friday in Columbus. The if-needed game will be at a time to be determined Saturday in Clinton.
Numbers tell only part of the story of Webb's maturation. He had only one hit in 13 games as a freshman. As a sophomore, Webb hit .190 with eight hits and three RBIs. He increased his batting average to .267 as a junior and had 16 hits and nine RBIs. This year, Webb has come into his own, hitting .413, which is the second-best mark on the team to first baseman/pitcher Chris McCullough among regulars. Webb leads the team with 28 runs and 28 stolen bases, is tied with McCullough for the team lead in hits (31), and is third with seven doubles, and fourth with 19 RBIs.
In addition to his maturation as a hitter, Webb has honed his catching skills. Cook credits former assistant coach Greg Dees, who is now the head coach at Raymond High, for working with Webb and helping him to grow to enjoy playing the position.
Webb said the enjoyment he gets playing catcher has grown into something more because he appreciates and understands how a catcher can control a game.
"The first day (he played catcher) I had a bruised thumb and it was hard. I wanted to cry and no, I didn't like it," Webb said. "But it was a spot, so I had to take care of it."
Cook said Webb recently received a scholarship offer to play baseball from Coahoma Community College. He said Webb has two other schools that are interested in him. He hopes Webb gets a chance to continue his baseball career because he has been so impressed by how hard he has worked to get better in every facet of the game and in the classroom.
"We kind of had a heart-to-heart talk with him back in the 10th grade," Cook said. "We told him he had a chance to get out and to improve his situation. (We told him) it is time to grow up. I think he took the challenge. Coach Dees, who was a catcher in college, was a big influence. He was able to get a lot of one-on-one time with him, and he really grew that summer after his sophomore year.
"He has been stellar behind the plate this year. He has caught five no-hitters this year. He has been one of the main reasons back there.
He has grown so much. I am really, really proud of him."
Cook said Webb has kept a great personality and a big smile on his face all of the time even through all of the days he was tough on him. Cook said he saw the potential Webb had to play the position and he wanted to stay on him to motivate him to realize his potential.
Looking back, Cook said Webb probably could have started at second base as a freshman, but he knew the team had a bigger need at catcher, so he opted to use Webb's athleticism behind the plate.
"He has made us a good pitching team because our guys know they can throw one in the dirt or bounce an 0-2 curveball and he will be able to block it and make the play," Cook said.
Webb never thought he would hear a coach say that about his catching skills. Cook's comment shows how far Webb has come from earlier in his career when you never knew if Webb was going to block a ball or throw a runner out.
"I have come a long way," Webb said, "In the ninth grade, I had no lessons and nobody taught me anything. I just got back there and started receiving the ball, but I fell in love with it, like I said.
"I am going to keep working. The Lord will lead me to it, so I am going to keep doing it. I want to. I love it. I wouldn't mind doing it for anyone around here. I am going to do it. I love it. Catching, you can't take that away."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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