It was not Deion Walker’s first time at SunTrust Park. It was not even his first time being on the field.
But the Class AAAAAAA state championship series against Parkview was a moment that will stick with Walker for a long time.
“We were warming up and the place was decked out in Hillgrove fans,” Walker said. “Then, the Parkview fans started showing up and it was just 'wow.' This was the grand stage for high school, and we had to play baseball.”
Though Hillgrove lost the series in two games, the experience was one that gave Walker a glimpse of what every-day life could potentially be in a few years.
After his phenomenal senior season, the recent Hillgrove graduate is the 2019 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Baseball Player of the Year.
In his final year at Hillgrove, the center fielder and pitcher batted .341 with seven home runs and 46 RBIs. On the mound, Walker kept up the dominance with a 10-2 record, 3.10 ERA and 76 strikeouts.
In June, Walker was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 35th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, though he appears set to take advantage of a scholarship to Chattahoochee Valley Community College, where he can bolster his stock for the future.
“This was my last hurrah, and I wanted to do something special,” Walker said. “My entire motivation this year was to make it special, not just for me but for my team. I wanted to do anything I could to get us to the championship.”
Before the championship series against Parkview came, Walker and his Hillgrove teammates had to run through a grueling regular season.
One of the games Walker had circled on his calendar was against Etowah on April 4, because the Eagles had swept the Hawks in the first round of the 2018 playoffs.
“I told coach I really wanted to pitch against Etowah. It was a vengeance or revenge thing for me because of what they did to me my junior year,” Walker said. “When I stepped on the mound that game, I had adrenaline. I was focused and wanted to do to them what they did to me last year. Luckily, everyone was behind me. They came out guns blazing and got the win.”
The non-region victory against Etowah came in the midst of a Region 3AAAAAAA title race that had just started. Walker said that the the Hawks' region was the toughest in the state, with each game being pivotal.
“It was stressful,” Walker said. “We had a hiccup with first game of region against Kennesaw Mountain and later on in our second-to-last region series. We played North Paulding and lost the first game. Playing in region, I feel like our schedule is the hardest.”
Hillgrove was able to rebound from the Kennesaw Mountain loss and went on to win its fourth consecutive region title. Walker took a lot of pride in his team’s four-year reign.
Much of the Hawks’ success could be owed to Walker’s success on the mound and in the outfield.
“When he did his job, it helped the entire team,” Hillgrove coach Dave Richardson said. “Nothing rattles him. I have coached lots of players at Hillgrove, but he is definitely up there as a mentally tough young man.”
Walker and the Hawks made it through the playoffs with ease, except for a second-round series against Woodstock that came down to the ninth inning in the decisive Game 3. Then came the series with Parkview at SunTrust Park for the championship.
“In the state playoffs, he pitched a lot of great games for us,” Richardson said. “He was a major X-factor in a lot of those games, and you can sense that a lot of his teammates followed his lead.”
Like all competitors, Walker wanted to win the state championship and end his career in glory, but he is excited for what is to come for the Hillgrove program.
“We got there, and I know that’s going to propel the 2020 class and the 2021 class to do even better than us and come out with the win,” Walker said.
2019 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County All-County Baseball
1B Luke Boynton, Walton
2B Wade Richardson, Hillgrove
SS Buddy Floyd, Pope
3B John Geisler, Walton
C Caden Smith, Pope
OF Justin Tew, Hillgrove
OF Connor Todaro, Harrison
OF Bobby Spencer, Walton
DH Justin Jones, Walton
Utility Deion Walker, Hillgrove
P William Marconi, Walton
P Collin Caldwell, Harrison
P Jarret Guest, Kennesaw Mountain
P Max Pralgo, Pope
P Leo Giannoni, Wheeler
P Reid Robertson, Pope
1B Reid Brown, Hillgrove
2B Justin Barnes, Kennesaw Mountain
3B Tyler Messick, Allatoona
SS Pierce Gallo, Walton
C Harry Ford, North Cobb
OF Victor Scott, McEachern
OF Brad Grenkoski, Kell
OF Andrew Feld, Pope
DH Sam Blancato, Kell
Utility Brett Blomquist, Allatoona
P Jonathan Young, North Cobb
P Ryan Getz, Lassiter
P Andrew Herlitz, Pope
P Austin Heard, Hillgrove
P Baylor Akin, Harrison
P Dylan Brown, Harrison
Allatoona: Bryce Thompson, Sam Worthan. Campbell: Michael Braswell. Harrison: Bryce Clark, Micah Davis, Evan Dory, Zach Elmy, Cooper Guilotte. Hillgrove: Max DeJong, Jack Gilsenan, Zach Stewart, Fred Wilson, Ethan Wright. Kell: Noah Dawkins, Luke Hughes, Hal Stelljes. Kennesaw Mountain: Will McCrum, Ryne Oria, Brady Schwickerath, Reece Schwickerath. Lassiter: Andrew Corbin, Camden Eck, Mason Kearney, Kyle Lavender, Adam Love, Sam Marques. Marietta: Carlton Reed, Will Underwood. North Cobb: Nathan Williams. Pope: James Tibbs, Gage Vailes. Walker: Nick Addison, Charlie Condon, Gino Groover, Davis Hodges, Sam Taylor. Walton: Ben Anderson, AJ Montijo, Brandon Nikitaides, Micaiah Williams. Wheeler: Mike Musser, Brian Yapkowitz.