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A baseball coach points off-frame as a high school pitcher watches.
Promising First Season for New GHS Baseball Coach
GSD Communicator

Spring baseball is gearing up, and like the start of last fall’s football season, fans are eager to see how this year’s Chargers will perform under the guidance of a new head coach.

Justin Flake took over Grenada’s baseball program last summer. After months getting to know the players, learning their strengths, and challenging their weaknesses, he’s been eager to finally take the field in competition.

Flake developed a successful strategy at his previous schools, including DeSoto Central and Heritage Academy in Columbus, where his team achieved the first 20-win season in school history, the first district title in seven years, and the school’s first-ever state championship.

Flake credits his winning mindset to the power of positive leadership. “The thing I’ve learned everywhere I’ve coached is to make sure the players know that you enjoy what you do,” he said. “If I bring positive energy day in and day out, it filters over to them, and then they start pouring positive energy into the program, which filters over to the stands and school and community.”

The coach insists that it’s important to remain cool under pressure. “Coaches are thermostats, not thermometers, so we set the temperature by demonstrating that everything’s cool,” Flake said. 

In addition to skills work, Flake said the staff regularly preaches mental toughness and even brought in a sports psychologist to teach players how to handle adversity. “We’re just using all the resources we have to help them learn how to stay calm under pressure, how to handle it when things don’t go their way,” Flake said. “That’s a big part of this sport, where you fail more than you succeed.”

Flake praised his coaching staff for fostering a close-knit environment. This year’s staff includes CJ Hodges, the pitching coach and associate head coach; Michael Cox, who came over from the middle school program, providing continuity with the younger players; and district newcomer Collins Brown, who works with catchers and leads the middle school program.

Looking at the team’s potential, Flake said Grenada’s bullpen should be deep this season. He and Hodges opened the door for any player who felt they could contribute on the mound. “In our first two jamboree games and our season opener, we threw four arms every game,” Flake said. “Nobody’s carrying the load. Everybody’s getting the opportunity and experience. And they’re performing.”

Senior and Hinds Community College signee Jude Westmoreland is the team’s leading pitcher, but there are more than 20 other players with Ps by their name who are ready to take the mound. 

Freshmen and sophomores make up more than half the team with many adept at various positions and skills. Among the pre-season standouts were Dylan Black, voted senior team captain by his peers;  junior Preston Downs, a staple behind the plate; and sophomore Drew Klinck, the best all-around player. 

Flake said athleticism and speed is one of the team’s biggest assets. “If we get guys on base, we can do some things, like scoring from first on a ball hit in the gap,” he said. “Our team speed’s gonna allow us to score runs and put pressure on the opponent.” 

One aspect of the game that’s often overlooked is baseball IQ. Flake said the coaches emphasize situational awareness, review film, and generally try to help the boys mature mentally as baseball players. “We want to make sure they’re thinking like coaches when they’re playing so that they’re prepared enough during a game to just play,” he said. “We’re there to help if they need it, but ultimately players win games, not coaches.”

At press time, the team had proven themselves early. Their pre-season jamboree at South Panola on Feb. 10 pitted them against Water Valley and the top 5A team, Lafayette. The Chargers were down early in both games, but they hung in and pulled out a pair of wins — 4-3 over Lafayette and 5-3 over Water Valley. 

“Leaving there, I felt good that our kids could take a punch and get right back into it,” Flake said. 

The team’s season opener against Starkville Academy was played at Holmes Community College on Feb. 13. The pitching was strong, and the defense remained consistent, giving the Chargers a 2-0 shutout. 

Assistant Athletic Director Chip Foster was impressed by the team’s opening performance. “There were no walks,” he said. “In high school baseball, if you can pitch a game with no walks, you’re bound to win.”

Local fans will have their first opportunity to see the Chargers at home on Feb. 27 when they play Water Valley. What can fans expect to see?

“I feel like they’ll see a team that plays the right way and that represents Grenada the right way,” Flake said. “They’re gonna play hard til the last out, no matter what the scoreboard says. We’ve got the speed to be aggressive on the bases. Our guys do a good job at the plate, and our pitchers are going to throw strikes.”

Flake added, “And anyone worried about the game dragging out, you may get to go home early. Because when your pitchers are throwing strikes, and you’re making plays, it won’t take long to get a baseball game in.”