Traditional baseball talent Cooter blessed with strong senior core

Pictured from left are Cooter baseball seniors Jake Faulkner, Bryson Plunkett, Hayes Austin, Jacob Watkins, Lane McLevain.

Highly touted high school baseball squads projected to make deep postseason runs are often blessed with a strong senior core.

Such is the case for the Cooter Wildcats baseball squad this spring.

Cooter has five seniors projected to crack its starting lineup on a squad that placed third in Class 1 last season and is ranked No. 2 in the Class 1 preseason state baseball rankings.

“All five are the type of kids you want your own kid to model themselves after,” Cooter coach David Mathis said. “They are all straight-A students that stay out of trouble. They work hard in the weight room to get ready for the season. You couldn’t ask for more out of our seniors. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to coach them.”

The five seniors are Lane McLevain, Hayes Austin, Bryson Plunkett, Jacob Watkins, and Jake Faulkner.

McLevain, who went 6-0 with a 0.56 ERA in 37.2 innings pitched, was selected Tri-County Conference Baseball Player of the Year in the fall. He is expected to serve as the starting catcher this spring when he is not pitching.

“He was a first-team all-state catcher last season,” Mathis said of McLevain, who has signed to play baseball at the College of the Ozarks near Springfield. “We had a great fall for us. He’s 13 or 14-1 his last 15 games pitching with his only loss coming to Valle Catholic and we committed a couple errors behind him in that game. He won the third-place game for us at the state tournament last season.

“He’s our No. 1 starter,” Mathis continued. “He comes out and just beats people. He’s not overpowering but nobody every squares him up good. He’s also a really good defensive catcher that throws it well behind the plate.”

Watkins, who hit a team-high .559 with a team-high 36 RBIs in the fall, is expected to anchor the infield defense at shortstop.

“He’s probably one of our most decorated players,” Mathis said of Watkins, who has also signed to play baseball at College of the Ozarks. “He’s been selected all-state the last two years and was a strong candidate to be all-state for a third season. He had a really good fall and could have been Co-Player of the Year in the Tri-County. He had like two strikeouts in 80 at-bats in the fall. He also plays a great shortstop for us. He’s probably one of the best infielders around here in Class 1, 2 or 3.”

Cleanup hitter Hayes, who hit .413 with one home run and 23 RBIs in the fall, is expected to be the starting first baseman for the Wildcats.

“This is the third straight year he is starting at first base for us,” Mathis said of Hayes, who has committed to play baseball at Three Rivers College in Poplar Bluff. “He’s gotten a lot better over the years and has turned into one of the best first basement we’ve ever had. We’ve had all-state first baseman in the past and I think Hayes is a strong candidate to be selected all-state this year if we get to play.”

Faulkner and Plunkett are poised to get their first shot to start in a spring season.

Faulkner, who currently supports a 4.2 GPA, made a 27 on his ACT, and is valedictorian of his senior class, is projected to start at second base.

“He got his first chance to start in the fall season,” Mathis said of Faulkner, who plans to attend Mississippi State University on an academic scholarship. “He’s been a great role player for us the last three years and earned a spot as our starting second baseman this spring. He’s one of the better double play turners we’ve had in a while.”

Plunkett is projected to start in the outfield.

“He’s was going to be our starting left fielder this season after being a backup outfielder in left and center behind two all-state players the last two seasons,” Mathis said of Plunkett, who plans on attending East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Mississippi.

Cooter has yet to play a baseball game this spring because school and spring sports have been suspended until at least May due the COVID-19 pandemic. Mathis is holding out hope his seniors get a chance to make another deep postseason run.

“MSHSAA is doing everything possible to find a way to get the season started for us,” Mathis said. “They’ve got six or seven plans in place if we do start back in May. Hopefully, we will get to play baseball at some point. We are trying to keep a little bit of hope.”

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