April 30, 2013 10:57:11 AM
STARKVILLE -- There are few things coaches like better than when their pitchers throw strike one.
Starkville Academy baseball coach Neal Henry has grown quite comfortable and happy when senior left-hander Hunter Bolin is on the mound. Not only does Bolin get ahead of batters, but he also is a commanding presence on the mound.
"He throws the best pitch in baseball: strike one," Henry said. "He throws a lot of strikes. He understands that if he is going to be a good pitcher he has to throw strikes. He is going to battle for us, and he has done that ever since he has been a ninth-grader."
Bolin's maturation took another step Monday as he signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Mississippi College, a Division III school in Clinton.
"I have worked hard in the offseason and in the summer, and have went to a lot of showcases to get seen by colleges," Bolin said. "I also have worked hard during the season and made sure every day I am getting better at something. That is what led me to today to get an opportunity to play baseball at a four-year school."
Bolin has been one of the leaders this season for Starkville Academy (16-9), which will take on Washington School at 5:30 p.m. today in Greenville in game one of their Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II playoff series. The Volunteers will play host to game two at 5 p.m. Thursday. If needed, game three will follow game two.
Bolin is 8-1 with a 1.24 ERA. He has walked 14 and struck out 80 in 62 innings. He also is one of the Volunteers' top hitters with a .447 average, 11 RBIs, 31 runs, eight doubles, and 18 walks from the lead-off spot.
Bolin feels he has improved the most as a pitcher. He said he has learned how to pitch and not just be a thrower. He said he has learned the importance of managing counts, locating his pitches, and changing speeds. He said he learned at an early age from numerous coaches the importance of getting ahead of hitters. He hopes to get a chance to pitch or to play in the outfield at the next level.
"Being a senior here, you're at the top of the pedestal and you're the leader of your high school team," Bolin said. "Now you're going to a new school, so you're at the bottom. You're going to have to work your way back up the food chain to get playing time. That is a big motivation for me because I want to have an opportunity to play."
Henry recalls putting Bolin into the lineup as a freshman at a spring break tournament and seeing him get a hit against Lamar School's Whit Haggard, who was throwing in the upper 80s to low 90s. Bolin had two doubles in the game and has been a fixture for the Volunteers ever since.
"He comes to practice every single day wanting to get better," Henry said. "He wants me to explain things to him in a way that he gets it."
Bolin also has worked hard to refine his pitching skills. Henry said Bolin has worked hard to earn everything he has achieved. He said Bolin pitched for the Volunteers as a freshman and has developed into an ace on the staff in the past three seasons.
"It was just a matter of time before someone picked him up," Henry said. "I think Mississippi College is getting a great steal because he can throw the best pitch in baseball, and that is strike one."
n Corinth 11, Caledonia 1: At Corinth, the Lady Confederates saw their season end in game two of the best-of-three first-round series of the Mississippi High School Activities Association playoffs.
Cara Hopper had seven strikeouts and took the loss. Morgan Smith, Kacey Lovett, Hopper, and Kaylee Jernigan had singles, Sarah Beth Kinard had a single and a sacrifice, Hope Burton had a double, and Chelsea Goley had a sacrifice.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.