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Waiting pays off for Coker

[4/9/04]HATTIESBURG Patience has been the motto for Kevin Coker’s athletic career.

He waited three years in high school to finally earn a starting catching spot. He waited for two years behind Southern Miss catchers in hopes of breaking through. He began this season as a backup that would see limited action, if any at all.

But now, the former Warren Central standout is a key cog in the 11th-ranked Eagles’ lineup, and is making the most of his chance.

“I put trust in the Lord and he puts opportunities in front of me,” the sophomore catcher said after a 9-7 loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday. “Coach (Corky) Palmer has given me the opportunity, and I am trying to make the most of it.”

Coker, who has beefed up to a solid 215 pounds, is hitting .319 in 21 games. He has 15 hits in 47 at-bats, with three doubles.

He platoons with catcher Brad Willcutt, who came into the season as a preseason All-American. Willcutt has battled injuries and inconsistent hitting he’s hitting .216 in 29 games and that has led to Coker getting more playing time.

“We have different skills, different tools,” Coker said of Willcutt. “He’s an even-keel guy, while I’m an emotion, hyped-up guy.”

Coker’s emotions landed him a scholarship following Warren Central’s 2001 state championship series. With a Southern Miss assistant on hand to watch him, the Vikings’ catcher went 0-for-4, but hustled out a slow grounder.

The hustle and fire he showed on that one groundout was enough to earn him a scholarship.

Palmer said when Coker signed that he needed some emotion pumped into his team, and Coker has not let him down.

Coker’s always the first one out of the dugout to congratulate teammates, keeps the players on their toes and brings that same fire into every game.

“I play with energy and emotion. Anyone that knows me knows that,” Coker said. “I’m just an average player with a love for the game of baseball.”

Coker went 1-for-4 with an RBI double in the Wednesday loss, and usually catches once per weekend and once during the mid-week series’. When he’s not catching, Coker is the designated hitter.

The increased playing time is even putting thoughts of the next level into his head.

“As a freshman, I wanted to get some playing time. This year, I want to get 100 at bats. Next year, I want to step in as a starter,” Coker said. “After that, who knows. I think every baseball player dreams of playing at a higher level. We’ll see what happens.”