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Jul. 4—SALTILLO — Eric Reynolds has Saltillo blue running through his veins, so nothing gets his heart beating more than leading the Tigers back to the top of Class 5A baseball.

Reynolds, a former player at Saltillo, was a part of the 1998 team that last reached the state championship series. After winning Game 1 behind a two-run home run from Reynolds, the Tigers dropped the next two, including a 2-1 loss to West Lauderdale in a game where Reynolds threw a no-hitter.

Now 23 years later, Reynolds used that shortcoming as fuel to his fire to get Saltillo back as a head coach. The Tigers made good on their trip to Pearl in June, winning Game 3 over Pascagoula to hoist the gold glove trophy for the first time since 1972.

Reynolds is the 2021 Daily Journal Coach of the Year.

Saltillo was close to getting over the hump in 2019, when it fell in the North Half finals to Lafayette. The talented Tigers rolled that over into 2020 where they went 6-1 before COVID-19 shut down the rest of the season.

“This year has been a culmination of the last seven, since I took over,” Reynolds said. “Winning is a mindset. It’s a byproduct of doing things the right way. The guys before them have set the precedent, and these guys are no different than any of the other ones. We had some unfinished business. … And they’ve put in the hours to get to this point.”

Versatile lineup

Saltillo’s run hinged on the fact that it could win games in multiple ways. At 26-11, several of the Tigers’ wins are due to a well-rounded roster that featured a pitching staff with a collective 2.45 ERA, a stud catcher in junior Matthew Roncalli, and a lineup that produced from top to bottom.

“We’ve won games with aggressive base running, then there’s games where our defense won it, and games with stellar pitching performances. On any given night, you can look back at its different aspects of the game that helped us,” said Reynolds.

The championship drive is reinvigorated again within the Tigers’ program, which returns a bulk of their output from this title run. Reynolds’ desire to keep adding to the trophy case at Saltillo has never went away, and it isn’t with his players now either.

“We’ve got guys chomping at the bit to fill some roles,” said Reynolds. “If we’ve put a system in place to make them the best players they can be, and they’ve worked while they’ve waited, they are ready to go, and hopefully we’ll be able to play some high-level baseball for the next few years.”