A program on the rise

Item File PhotoHuntsville head baseball coach Justin Jennings talks with his team prior to the start of a game last year. 

Huntsville baseball finished the year with something they haven’t accomplished since 2011 — an appearance in the postseason.

The Hornets finished the district slate of their schedule 8-7 and clinched the fourth seed in head coach Justin Jennings first full year in the role.

“It was a pretty special year,” Jennings said. “Obviously, you want to advance and play a couple weeks in May and June. Ultimately, when you are trying to turn a program around, you just want to get in. We were able to get the fourth seed and had a chance to be a three seed. That was the biggest thing about this year. It wasn’t a get in and be the four seed. We had some chances against the top three seeds.”

While it was a first round exit for the Hornets, making the postseason was a major improvement for this squad that had only seven district wins over the last five years combined.

The turn around started last year with this team, when Jennings was hired, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut that down. His goal was to lean on senior leadership, including Cody McLerran.

“Those three (seniors) will be tough to replace,” Jennings said. “Two of them were dual guys and it will be tough to lose them on the mound.”

The Hornets will return seven juniors next year, who now have seen what it is like to play on a playoff caliber team.

“One of our district starters was a sophomore,” Jennings added. “We hit two sophomores in the middle of our order, who both placed on the second team all-district. We return Caleb (Cotton), who is coming off offensive player of the year honors, and definitely returning some key players.”

The Hornets had eight members receive district honors.

McLerran and pitcher Matthew Howell were both elected to first team district. While Lue Durham, Hagan Harris and Cooper Molnes collected second team honors.

“I think it’s huge to take a program that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 10 years and get eight all-district selections,” Jennings said. “That’s not something you expect. We had as many as anybody in the district, and we know what our kids are capable of. Being in the situation you never know; we were really pleased. That’s our biggest thing within the program. We want the kids to expect the win.”

One big thing that Jennings has brought into this program is his philosophy not shying away from any completion or being scared to face somebody. In the district portion of the season, they were able to win against the number two team while holding their own against the top portion of the district.

With the turnaround in full swing, and a new baseball stadium on the horizon, Jennings is ready to keep building this team to play those late May and early June games.

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