By Andy Loigu
All-Group state honors from the Star Ledger were awarded to two local athletes this week.
Hackettstown baseball outfielder Jake Hall was named first team All-Group Two and Warren Hills softball pitcher Madey Smith was named second team All-Group Three.
“His bat was huge this year,” said veteran Hackettstown baseball coach Gary Poyer regarding Hall’s prolific production in his first varsity season as a junior. His .478 batting average (33-for-69) and .555 on-base average, with 39 runs batted in and a school single-season record 10 home runs are impressive numbers in any league at any level.
Hackettstown defeated the third and fourth ranked teams in Group 2 on the road this year, 18-6 Delaware Valley and 24-7 Jefferson. However, the Tigers were eliminated in the state playoffs by Hanover Park in the second round.
Hall’s 10th homer of the season was the last run the Tigers would score this spring, in a 3-1 loss to a Hanover Park pitcher who got most of the batters out with fastballs.
A model of consistency, Hall drove in runs in 18 of Hackettstown’s 23 games. Although two thirds of Hall’s base hits went for extra bases, he was not an all-or-nothing pull hitter. After spending the fall and winter developing his batting approach, he showed the ability to go the other way when the pitchers kept the ball from his wheelhouse. With above average hand-eye coordination, he showed barrel control, the ability to get the barrel of the bat on the ball anywhere in the strike zone.
“He put in a lot of off-season work on his skills and conditioning and the results show it,” Poyer added.
In the field, Hall has a strong and accurate throwing arm which kept baserunners from taking liberties.
Smith was among the state leaders in strikeouts with 198. Only a lack of hitting support kept her from being among the state leaders in wins.
She pitched four shutouts this season and the Blue Streaks scored two or fewer runs in five games that she lost.
Next year, she will be pitching for the Penn State Nittany Lions of The Big 10 Conference, on an athletic scholarship.
“Madey has been a workhorse for us,” said Warren Hills coach Jeremy Willis of his right-handed ace.
Baseball and softball, especially regarding batting, demand extraordinary skills. However, projecting high school players into the higher levels is difficult to say the least, no matter how impressive one’s numbers may appear.
Only five percent of all drafted players make it into the major leagues, while some who never were drafted, do reach the majors.
Of the first round picks of the past decade, the players one would assume are the prospects that can’t miss, plenty of them miss. Only 55 percent of them made the majors.
Noted author George F. Will wrote, in his book “Men at Work, The Craft of Baseball,” that after a tryout with the Giants, Sandy Koufax was told, “Make sure you get a good college education, kid, because you won’t make the majors.”
The return of professional baseball to Sussex County’s Skylands Park got an international flavor this spring as the Miners of the Can-Am League hosted the Cuban National Team and the Shikoku Island League All-Stars from Japan this month.
This columnist was most impressed with the skills and execution of fundamentals displayed by the Japanese team in a 4-1 win on Friday, June 10. The players were noticeably smaller than their American hosts in physical size, but proved that does not matter in the sport of baseball. It is the size of one’s heart that matters.
“This is our second tour of North America, and our goal is to win by playing our own style of baseball, with the pride of Shikoku in our hearts, playing baseball to amaze and move the enthusiastic baseball fans at the international matches,” said Miyuki Morimoto, president of the Shikoku Island League. “We also hope to deepen the relationship between the US, Canada, Cuba and Japan through this tour.”
I’m glad they visited our area. Their players were a joy to watch as they put on a clinic as to how the game should be played.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.