By STEVE KRAH
Hagerstown (Ind.) High School has enjoyed plenty of diamond success over the years, particularly in the past 15.
Since 2006, the Tigers have earned six sectional title and one regional crown racked up many victories.
Hagerstown was ranked No. 1 among IHSAA Class 2A teams for much of 2019 and wound up 28-2, losing to Indianapolis Scecina Memorial in the semifinals of the Park Tudor Regional.
With two young daughters, Tigers head coach Brad Catey opted to vacate the head baseball post and concentrate on softball.
New head baseball coach Jay Hale, a 2006 Hagerstown graduate, looks to keep program momentum going by emphasizing organization, discipline and fundamentals just like his high school head coach Lloyd Michael, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.
“He taught the fundamentals of baseball better than anybody,” says Hale, who expects to have eight players back who dressed for varsity in 2019.
A left-handed pitcher, outfielder and first baseman when he played for the Tigers, Hale was part of a team that won 26 games with sectional and regional titles his senior season.
Catey was a Hagerstown assistant in 2006.
“I was always hitting my spots,” says Hale of his pitching. “I had four pitches in high school and college.
“I always adjusted to my scenario.”
Hale pitched two years at Vincennes University for head coach Jon Adams. Ted Thompson, who is now head coach at Tecumseh High School, was a Trailblazers assistant and Hale credits him for teaching him much about catching.
“He taught me more about staying focused, being relaxed and having fun with the game,” says Hale of Peyton for whom he pitched sidearm as a senior to get more playing time. The two have stayed in-contact. “I take a little bit from all the coaches I’ve played for or coached with.
“I have to put the puzzle together and figure out what works. Some don’t respond to a mellow voice. Some crawl into the turtle shell when you yell. Those are the things I have to work through.
“I knew this opportunity was going to arise. I had to step up my game. There are so many different techniques.”
Hale’s goal the past two years is to focus on hitting fundamentals.
“There’s always something knew,” says Hale. “Those old-school guys stick with what they’ve known for years and it still seems to work. Hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
Hale notes that most high school pitchers want to throw outside so he will encourage his hitters to go the other way if that’s where they are pitched.
“We’ll play small ball and hit-and-run,” says Hale. “We’ll spread out (in our stances) and work on firing that back hip over the top of the plate and not pull out the front side. We’ll be more of a linear hitter and try hit the ball up the middle.
“It’s all about timing, balance and making good contact. We’re pounding those three things. We’re aiming to put the ball in play and hit line drives from gap to gap. We’re focused on the fundamentals of the lower half.”
With pitchers, Hale breaks it down into three sections: lower half, middle with the shoulders going last.
“A lot of kids want to leak that front shoulder and hip open,” says Hale. “You’re losing that energy.”
That’s where hitters lose power and pitchers give up velocity.
Hale’s coaching staff features varsity assistant Andy Senese, pitching coach Danny Davis, junior varsity coach Jared Ward and assistant/scorekeeper Kelly Bicknell.
The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Centerville, Northeastern, Shenandoah and Union County. Hagerstown has won 11 sectional titles, including six since 2006.
Hale has been to vice president the past couple years at Hagerstown Little League, where Shawn Lieberman is president. Lieberman was part of Hagerstown’s IHSAA Final Four team in 1999.
A few years ago, the Hagerstown Tigers travel team began as an 8U squad and are now up to 10U. Nate Logston, a member of the 1999 team, and Patrick Vinson, who coached Major division state champions in 2019 and the father of recent graduate Grant Vinson, run that squad made up of all Hagerstown players.
“We want to keep the kids together and grow the third, fourth and fifth graders,” says Hale.
Jay and Abby Hale have three boys — fourth grader Jaxon, third grader Jonah and kindergartener Jace.
A construction management major major at NKU, Hale works as a project manager for Duke Energy.
A 8U Hagerstown team was Coach Pitch district champions in 2019.
Hale umpired Major division games at Hagerstown Little League and got to know some of the junior high players.
The Jeff Combs-coached Hagerstown Heat 14U team has been together since players 8 or 9. This year, they will play in a junior high league in east central Indiana.
“We’ll see if we want to start a team at the school level,” says Hale. “The gap now is to keep junior high schoolers involved.
“The idea is to develop and challenge them for the next level.”
Jay Hale, a 2006 Hagerstown (Ind.) High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater.