By Rubin E. Grant
Derek Irons has been a high school baseball head coach for 14 years, has won more than 400 games and has captured two state championships, so he knows a thing or two about players.
And when Irons, who just completed his seventh season as head coach at Oak Mountain, talks about Eagles infielder-pitcher Davis Gillespie, his words carry extra substance.
“Davis is a really hard worker in all phases of the game,” Irons said. “He’s a strong kid. He’s one of the best hitters I’ve ever coached. He hits to all fields and he has power to all fields, and he hits for average as well as power.”
During his senior year this spring, Gillespie produced a .609 slugging percentage with 17 extra-base hits, including eight home runs. He also had a .304 batting average with 27 runs scored and 25 runs batted in.
In addition to that, Gillespie took to the mound and led the Eagles in innings pitched (50 1/3) while compiling a 4-3 record with two saves and a 2.22 earned run average. He recorded 78 strikeouts and issued only 18 walks as Oak Mountain finished with a 21-14 record.
For his overall performance, Gillespie was voted the 2022 OTM Baseball Player of the Year in balloting of Over-the-Mountain coaches.
“I’m honored and appreciative,” Gillespie said. “I feel good about it. I think I did well. Our team didn’t get where we wanted, but I feel I stepped up my pitching since I’ve always been a good hitter. I’ve always pitched, but I hadn’t pitched as much as I did this year.”
Irons believes Gillespie was a good choice for the honor.
“It’s very exciting and well deserved,” Irons said. “He has the respect of a lot of good coaches in this area.”
Irons had no qualms about using Gillespie, who plays both corner infield positions, more on the mound this season than in previous years.
“He’s got a good arm,” Irons said. “Most of the year he was a starter, but at the end of the year he became our closer. We beat Hoover twice and he got the save in both of those games.”
Of course, it’s at the plate where the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Gillespie distinguished himself. He prides himself on being a line drive hitter with power.
“I try to keep an approach to all fields,” Gillespie said. “I try to hit the ball hard, and I think I have power to all fields.”
Gillespie is trading one set of Eagles for another set in college. He is headed to Southern Miss to play for the Golden Eagles.
“They have a ranked team and they’ve done well this year,” Gillespie said. “When I went to visit, I liked the coaches and the facilities. I feel like it’s a good fit for me.”
Coach of the Year
Vestavia Hills’ Jamie Harris was voted 2022 OTM Coach of the Year after leading the Rebels to a 24-17 record and to the Class 7A semifinals before being eliminated by Hewitt-Trussville.
“That’s certainly a nice honor, but it’s a team award,” Harris said. “If we hadn’t had the players buying in and the assistant coaches buying in, we wouldn’t have had the success we did. So this is a testament to our team.
“We knew we would have a good team coming into the season, but it was just a matter of putting it all together at the right time. That’s why we made our schedule as challenging as it could be to get us ready for the playoffs.”