ELLISVILLE, MS (WDAM) - Just two months prior to Jones County Junior College baseball's 2016 season opener, Chris Kirtland was introduced as the Bobcats new head coach.
Kirtland had been an assistant at JCJC for the previous six years, but when Christian Ostrander left Ellisville for Louisiana Tech, the keys were turned over to Kirtland.
In his first season at the helm, Kirtland led Jones County to a 54-9 record and NJCAA Division II World Series title. Kirtland's job in 2016 earned him a finalist nomination for the Skip Bertman National Coach of the Year award.
The Bobcats came up short in their defense of the 2016 national championship, finishing 46-4 and the Region 23 runners-up.
"I think as a coach, you're always learning," Kirtland said. "There's never a coach that will tell you they have it all figured out. As the season go on, it's exciting to develop our approach and what our recipe is going to be for success each year. And it comes with trying to make a solid impact on each and every one of these players."
Kirtland joined JCJC after graduating from Southern Miss in 2009. The New Orleans native was a utility player under former USM coach Corky Palmer before serving as Director of Baseball Operations on the Golden Eagles' 2009 College World Series team.
"I'm extremely happy for Chris," said USM head coach Scott Berry, who was an assistant coach in 2009. "He is an excellent person. I think that's the main thing. We all look at who the coach is and what they do but what needs to be looked at is who the person is because that coach is trying to not only get young men to play better baseball but he also has a job to prepare them for life. I think when you talk about Chris Kirtland, he understands his job. It's more than just baseball and wins and losses. Very proud of him."
The Bobcats are a combined 100-13 In Kirtland's first two seasons as head coach. But beyond the wins, Kirtland's focused on developing players on and off the field.
This past season, eight JCJC sophomores signed with Division I programs.
"This place is a stepping stone," Kirtland said. "This place is supposed to be the spring board for those guys to do great things at the Division I level but also in professional baseball. But even more than that, in life. We talk about 100 wins over the last two years. I'm excited about 100 graduates, 100 fathers, 100 husbands."