When the coach arrived on the Hector High School campus a few years ago, the Wildcats baseball team had not seen much success for a while. Now, the Wildcats are getting used to postseason play under the tutelage of coach Jeff Haralson.
While Hector finished 9-14 last season, many of the team’s losses were to schools in higher classifications. The team tallied a 5-1 mark in 2A 4 East Conference play, good enough for second. That led to a second-place finish in the district tournament and a first-round loss in the regional.
While Haralson credits the players with those victories, he is quick to admit that the season-ending loss rested squarely on his shoulders.
“I made kind of a stupid play,” he said, noting that he had scouted the Wildcats’ first-round opponent and mistakenly believed he could rest his pitching ace that first game. While Haralson also made a similar mistake about a decade ago, the coach vows that a third time won’t occur.
Looking to this season, Haralson said that 36 players tried out for the squad. “We’re down to 22, and that’s what we’re going to keep,” he said. “We’re going to be young, not necessarily agewise, but by experience.”
Backing up that statement, Haralson said he has five seniors, but only two who’ve played a great deal. The junior class presents a similar picture.
Undaunted, Haralson said, “We’re going to compete, though.” He then added, lamenting his preseason preparation in February, “I’ve got a bunch of them in basketball, so I’m waiting on those guys. It affects us all like that, I guess.”
Haralson said that he and the kids look forward to the 2013 campaign. “They’re ready for something different than what we went through last year, and they’re excited. They want to show people we can win more and that it’s not like the past.”
That excitement is not tempered in the slightest by the productive plate game Hector possesses. “We score a lot of runs. That’s big for us,” Haralson said, noting run totals around 200 in recent seasons. “The things we do hittingwise put the kids in position to be successful at the plate. We struggled some last year, but this year will be better.”
Coach: Jeff Haralson, three years at school with all as head coach, 14 years overall
Assistant coach: Lucas Kemling
Conference: 2A 4 East
Record: 9-14 in 2012, while Haralson has a 25-23 record at Hector and an overall mark of 149-129
Postseason performance in 2012: Runner-up in conference play and district tournament, lost in first round of regional tourney
Recent postseason success: District tournament runner-up in 2011, made first round of state tournament
Team strengths: Pitching depth, catcher position and team speed
Returning pitchers: Bryant Haralson, senior, RHP; Chandler Stanek, junior, RHP; Jordan Chisum, senior, LHP; and J.W. Mackey, junior, LHP
Additions to the pitching staff: Ben Lusk is a 6-1, 240-pound southpaw. The senior “returns from shoulder surgery that kept him off the mound last year. He will be called on to be the No. 2 pitcher.” Haralson also listed freshmen Rustin Hays and Colton Foster, a pair of 6-foot-plus youngsters with “live arms.” Coach Haralson also emphasized that Shawn Lusk, a junior, returns behind the plate after a full season there. He is “stronger and has better understanding of dealing with pitchers,” the coach said.
Team weaknesses: Inexperience at defensive positions. “We will need for players to be in different positions than they were last year.”
How 2013 team compares to one from 2012: “2013 should have more run production, along with better outings on the mound.”
Best hitter for average: Mackey, a 5-11, 155-pounder who hits left handed and finished 2012 with a .383 average, a .453 OBP and 18 hits. He has “decent power to go along with an ability to spray the ball around.”
Best power hitter: Chisum weighs in at 170 and is an inch shy of 6 feet tall. The lefty had a .450 slugging percentage, 5 doubles and 2 triples last season. “He has power to all part of the field.” Coach Haralson also mentioned junior Karson Lee (5-10, 230) as a possible for the 4 or 5 hole in Hector’s batting order. “He worked hard on mechanics in his swing and has added power going into this spring.”
Best speed: Hunter Davis sat out last year but brings his wide-receiver speed back to the bases and the outfield for Hector in 2013. At 5-8 and 140 pounds, Davis has a “quick first step and a good glove” and “will definitely be an asset to the team.” Also worthy of mention is junior Eric McGowan (5-10, 140). After “working his way into the everyday lineup last season, McGowan’s ability to get a quick read off the bat and good acceleration enables him to track down a lot of balls that would normally fall for hits.”
Best fielder: Stanek has “soft hands, good range and a strong arm.” At 6-1 and 145 pounds, he can play any position in the field and will be a mainstay in the middle infield because of his ability to turn double plays.
Best arm: Bryant Haralson is the coach’s son. The 6-0 175 pounder has a fastball of 87-89 mph and a Division I slider, according to many college scouts. He was the No. 2 strikeout pitcher in the country in 2012, according to MaxPreps, finishing with 8 wins, 7 complete games, a 1.66 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .162. With 282 strikeouts over the last two years, he was named all-state in both seasons and has signed to play collegiately with Crowder College in Neosho, Mo.