January 19, 2011 8:11:00 AM
Nothing was going to prevent Josh Snider from being where he wanted to be Tuesday afternoon.
After more than three years of recruiting New Hope High School pitcher Dillon Hawkins, Snider finally realized his goal and watched with excitement as Hawkins signed a scholarship to play baseball at East Mississippi Community College.
Snider, an assistant coach at EMCC, had worked the past few years with Chris Ball, a former assistant coach at New Hope High and EMCC, in recruiting players from New Hope. He said Hawkins was a freshman when he first caught his attention, and it was just a matter of waiting until Tuesday for Hawkins to become a Lion.
"The thing I loved about him, even his freshman and sophomore year was he was so mature on the mound," Snider said. "He looked like a senior the way he presented himself and the way he controlled things and took over the game. His approach to the game is what I liked about him the most."
Snider said it helps that Hawkins, a 6-foot-2, 180-pounder, has the potential to mature physically and that he has the tools -- a good curveball, a fastball that has been clocked in the mid-80s, and two other pitches -- that could help him be an effective pitcher in college.
Snider said Hawkins could add a few mph to his fastball as he gets stronger and matures into his body.
"We''re 100 percent focused on baseball," Snider said. "We have an excellent weight-training program, and our pitching coach, coach (Michael) Wallace, is in there with them. Dillon is going to gain weight. I think everybody gains weight when they come to college. The thing we try to watch is to make sure he puts on the right kind of weight. He has the body. Now we just need to create the body and form it a little bit."
Hawkins was the first player to commit to EMCC for the 2011-12 season. Snider said new head coach Chris Rose was at West Lauderdale High on Tuesday to sign right-handed pitcher Blake Thomas.
Hawkins, a right-hander, went 7-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 14 games (eight complete games) as a sophomore. He struck out 60 and walked 212 in 67 2/3 innings. As a junior, he was 3-2 with a 0.81 ERA in 34 2/3 innings. Batters hit .162 against him and struck out 40 times.
Arm problems limited Hawkins'' time on the mound in the 2010 high school season and during the summer, but New Hope High coach Lee Boyd anticipates big things from Hawkins this season.
"Dillon is a talented kid," Boyd said. "He has been on a throwing program and is healthy now and has been throwing the ball well since we got from Christmas break."
Boyd said Hawkins'' maturity gives him the confidence to be able to throw his curveball in any count. He said the ability to do that in college will help Hawkins keep hitters off balance.
Hawkins talked with former New Hope High teammates Hilton Gibson, T.J. Upton, and Gabe Franks to get their impressions of EMCC. Everything he heard was positive, and it didn''t hurt that the school is an hour away from home, but he said that wasn''t a factor in his decision.
"I want to be the best pitcher I can be," Hawkins said. "I still have a long way to go, but I know I can get there."
Hawkins said his curveball is his best pitch. He wants to add a few mph to his fastball and to gain more confidence with his other pitches -- his changeup and slider -- so he has a more options to get batters out.
"I have worked over the years and I have three more months in my high school career, and I am going to do my best at it," said Hawkins, who decided two and a half months ago he would go to EMCC. "It is going to be a big step (going to EMCC), but I think I can overcome it. I have a good work ethic, and I think that will help me (make the transition to college)."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.