July 24, 2010 10:21:00 PM
HAMILTON -- Leaders do it all.
Dylan Earnest and Katie Beth Dahlem epitomized that concept this season for the Hamilton High School baseball and fast-pitch softball teams.
For Earnest, a senior left-hander, the 2010 season was a chance to show he was more than one of the state''s top pitchers. He more than delivered, leading the Lions with a .442 batting average.
"It was the best year I have had since I have been playing baseball," Earnest said. "We had a pretty good season. It could have been a little bit better. Overall it was a great year."
For Dahlem, a senior catcher, her final prep campaign gave her an opportunity to emerge as a leader and to prove to herself she wanted to keep playing softball in college.
"It has been great," Dahlem said. "When I was younger, I was real shy and timid, but being out there and having to play with the older ones, you have to make yourself known. That made me more vocal."
Earnest''s and Dahlem''s ability to do it all on and off the field this season helped them earn The Dispatch''s Small Schools All-Area Player of the Year honor.
In addition to leading the team in batting average, Earnest had three home runs, three triples, five doubles, and 33 RBIs. He had a .509 on-base percentage and a .653 slugging percentage.
But Earnest showed his best stuff on the mound, going 11-1 with two saves and a 0.80 ERA. He struck out 154 and walked 13 in 78 2/3 innings. He will play baseball at Itawamba Community College in the fall.
Earnest said he expected to have the pitching performance he did this season, but that he was especially pleased with how he improved at the plate. He said a fast start to the season raised his confidence and allowed him to eclipse the .330 mark he set as a junior.
Earnest didn''t think he did anything differently mechanically at the plate, and that the biggest change was his aggressiveness. He said he went to the plate with the mind-set that he was going to drive the ball this season.
"He was more disciplined and didn''t swing at as many pitches," Hamilton High coach Lewis Earnest said. "I moved him up to the No. 2 hole and they couldn''t pitch around him because he had Chase Reeves hitting behind him. He was a hitter not just a swinger.
Earnest took the same approach on the mound.
"I was more consistent throwing strikes," Earnest said. "I was more consistent with my breaking ball. The past few years the only pitch I really had good command of was my fastball and every now and then I would have a game where my breaking ball was working good, This year, I had my breaking ball just about every game."
Coach Earnest said Earnest''s time last summer with the Pontotoc Red Sox American Legion team helped prepare him for his final high school season.
"He always has had kind of the bulldog mentality -- get the ball and go," Earnest said. "I think pitching at the level he pitched at this summer (with Pontotoc) he had to pitch, not throw. He had to locate, he had to be smart, and he had to be a pitcher, not a thrower. I think that helped him as much as anything, and his also got stronger."
Earnest is looking forward to taking the next step. He feels he will be able to get stronger and into better shape at ICC, which should help him realize his goal to play baseball at a four-year school. He said he could have worked a little harder in some areas and done some other things on his own that he didn''t do, but he feels he will make a huge improvement at ICC.
Coach Earnest also believes Earnest has the potential to extend his career past the junior college level.
"He is going to have to get in a little bit better shape, and they will make sure of that," Earnest said. "I think he is going to be fine. He is going to get stronger. I think he is just going to get better. I think he will play somewhere else after that."
Dahlem, who will play softball at Northeast Mississippi C.C., also would like to continue her career at a four-year school.
At first, though, she wasn''t sure she wanted to keep playing. It wasn''t until the first practice of the fast-pitch season (she also was a member of the Class 2A state champion slow-pitch team) that something clicked and made her want to keep playing softball.
A "perfectionist" approach to academics and athletics allowed Dahlem, the class valedictorian, to have a senior season to remember.
Hamilton High coach Jason Cobb, who was an assistant coach on the slow-pitch team, said Dahlem''s work habits allowed her to be so successful.
"Katie Beth is one of those unique players who comes around once in a while," Cobb said. "I love her work ethic. She always was happy to be at practice. She was usually the last one to leave the ballfield, and she made sure everything was picked up and cleaned up. She was the last one off the bus to make sure the bus was neat. That is how she showed her perfectionist side."
Dahlem also showed that fastidious nature at practice, repeating drills when things didn''t go right or taking an extra swing or two to end batting practice on a good note.
Dahlem joked that Cobb had to tell her "This is not the last one" in batting practice so she wouldn''t think too much about ending her session on a good note.
But Dahlem said she always has worked hard to make sure she is prepared and that everything is done the right way.
"If I feel like if I am not prepared I am not going to do good," Dahlem said. "I would even study for spelling tests and little tests that I knew the stuff. I had to make sure. I would always re-write my notes the night before. It is time consuming, but it pays off to make sure you''re prepared."
Cobb said Dahlem''s example set the tone for the rest of the team. He said she accentuated her lead-by example attitude by becoming a more vocal presence on and off the field.
"She wasn''t the most natural athlete we had, but she was one of the hardest working athletes we had," Cobb said. "Her work ethic was so wonderful that she wasn''t going to settle for doing anything second best."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.