By Andrew Stark
It was understandable that Butler baseball player Malachi Hanes was pressing perhaps a little too much early in his senior season. Six starters had graduated from last year’s team, and the Bulldogs’ success was going to hinge, in large part, on Hanes’ performance.
With that added pressure, Hanes went hitless in his first two games, prompting a change in his approach to the game.
“I had to change my mentality,” Hanes said. “I was trying to do too much at the plate and I just had to relax. I was trying to lead by example by getting base hits, and I was probably a little too focused on that.
“Normally when I’m at the plate I try to relax my mind. When I finally started to relax, I started hitting the ball better.”
After Hanes started hitting the ball –going 9-for-11 in his next three games – he never stopped.
For the season, Hanes batted .484 with seven doubles, four triples, a home run and 15 RBIs while posting a 2-3 record on the mound, including 49 strikeouts in 30 innings.
For his efforts, Hanes was named to the ultra-competitive all-Southwestern 4A team and is the Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2013 Matthews-Mint Hill Baseball Player of the Year.
While Hanes’ ascension as one of the area’s best players took a fortuitous path, the road leading to his success is what he’s most proud of.
As a sophomore Hanes appeared in just one game on the mound and recorded eight hitless at-bats as a reserve, mostly sitting and observing the nuances of the high school game.
Last year the waiting began to pay off. He went 4-1 on the mound and hit .298 with nine extra-base hits – including two home runs – while helping the Bulldogs to a winning record.
“It helped me out a lot,” Hanes said of his sophomore season spent on the bench. “I was able to see the speed of the game and see what I needed to do. It was a good learning experience.”
Although Hanes had a standout senior year, the Bulldogs’ collective inexperience showed. They went 7-16 on the season and missed the playoffs, but Hanes remained undeterred.
“I’m proud of how the year went,” said Hanes, who will play baseball and football at Salisbury’s Catawba College next year. “I’m happy that people can see that I’m playing my heart out every time I step on the field.”
With his senior season now complete, Hanes said he can look back on his career with pride.
“Baseball is such a mental game, and that’s the hardest part,” he said. “I had to get my mind-set right to start the season, and it was difficult to go through some of the losses.
“But I know that I played as hard as I could and we played as hard as we could as a team. We played our best every time we stepped on the field and that, sometimes, is all you can do.”