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All-County baseball: Carson’s Hales is Pitcher of the Year

The top mound ace in the county

JON C. LAKEY/SALISBURY POST …
Carson’s Cole Hales

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The big individual jumps are almost always made in the off-season, and the rise of Carson’s Cole Hales occurred when no one watching.

His growth took place in weight room sessions and in batting cages.

“I knew the coaches needed me to be good as a senior and our team needed me to be good,” Hales said. “I made up my mind that no one was going to out-work me.”

The Patrick Snider Memorial Award winner as the 2019 Rowan County Pitcher of the Year, Hales pitched just two innings for Carson as a junior and got shelled for a loss in one of them.

But as a senior, he broke the school record for wins with 11 and posted 92 strikeouts, the second-highest total in school history. Owen White had 101 as a senior in 2018.

This is the ninth “Snider Award,” which is given in remembrance of Patrick Snider, the North Rowan High and Rowan County American Legion pitcher who lost his courageous fight with cancer in the summer of 2010.  Carson hurlers have been winners or co-winners of five of those awards. Dillon Atwell and White won two apiece.

“Being able to look at it from the inside, Cole wasn’t a total surprise because we could see the work he was  putting  in and we also got to see him pitch in summer and fall ball,” Carson coach Chris Cauble said. “This is a guy who had an absolutely stellar summer on the mound (10-0) when Carson Junior Legion went to the state tournament in 2016, so we knew he would succeed on the mound and we knew he would hold his own. But did we expect the senior season that he gave us, well, there was no way to anticipate him being as good as he was. Not only was he and outstanding pitcher and hitter, his leadership for  his team was just astronomical.”

Hales, who is 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, started growing later than his classmates and bloomed so late physically that he was still pitching for Carson Junior Legion last summer.

“He was playing showcase baseball last summer, but he wasn’t getting to pitch, at first, for his showcase team, so he was doing some pitching for the Junior Legion,” Cauble said. “By the end of the summer, he was getting to pitch showcase innings.”

A lot of people were shocked when it was announced back in the fall that Hales was signing with Coker College, a Division II team in the South Atlantic Conference. Coker recruited him as an infielder, but it appears that the Cobras will now take a look at him on the mound as well. Hales has gained almost 10 miles per hour in the last year.

While his mound appearances were rare as a junior, Hales was Carson’s regular third baseman.

“He’d always been a second baseman and shortstop, but we had those positions taken care of and we needed a third baseman, so I asked him to try third base,” Cauble said. “He’d never played there, and, at first, he thought I was kidding. When he saw I was serious, he accepted the challenge, did extra work every day. In batting practice, he was right there at third base, playing in close, and without fear, fielding every live ball that he could. He became as good a third baseman as I’ve ever had, and he was great there for us this year when someone else pitched. And that tenacity that he took to mastering third base, he took that same tenacity out to the mound.”

The numbers that Hales put up as a senior were pretty incredible.

“The key was getting strike one,” Hales said. “Get ahead of the hitters and stay ahead of the hitters. I had a great catcher in Garrett Alewine, so I could throw any pitch I wanted in any count. And if we got ahead, I could bring out the curveball and finish off a lot of guys.”

As a senior, Hales, who batted .350 with 32 runs scored, was the North Piedmont Conference Player of the Year.

On the hill, he faced 315 batters and allowed only one homer.  He fired 1,129 pitches and hit only one batter.

He did the little things. He fielded bunts superbly. For a right-hander, he was adept at holding runners on base. Only four bases were stolen against him all season.

In 76 2/3 innings, Hales posted 92 strikeouts, while walking 20. If he walked you, it was probably because he wanted to, either to set up a double play or because he preferred to pitch to the next guy.

He threw six complete games. He had a save. His 11-1 record — the loss was on opening night in February — came with a 1.37 ERA. Hales was undefeated in county games and conference games.

He had two wins against East Rowan, the first in a head-to-head matchup with the Mustangs’ dominant young right-hander Jake Hunter and the second in relief in the North Piedmont Conference Tournament championship game. He also produced two league victories against West Rowan, the team that tied East for second in the NPC.

In the 3A  state playoffs, he won three times, beating Central Cabarrus 2-0, topping Southwest Guilford 3-1 and holding off a potent Marvin Ridge team 6-3 in the first game of the regional championship series. He allowed 12 hits against Marvin Ridge, but he still went the distance. Wild horses couldn’t have dragged him off the mound.

“He’s just such a competitor that he always had that little edge,” Cauble said. “His fastball was usually coming in there at 82 or 83, but he just had this belief, this confidence that he could throw the ball by you. And a lot of times, he did throw it by people. He did a phenomenal job.”

East sophomore Hunter (6-1, 0.32 ERA, 102 strikeouts) had numerous tough no-decisions that held down his wins total, but turned in unreal numbers. He threw a no-hitter in the first round of the 3A playoffs and was North Piedmont Conference Pitcher of the Year. Salisbury’s UNC-Wilmington-bound lefty Jack Fisher, runner-up for Central Carolina Conference Pitcher of the Year, and Hales’ teammate, Deacon Wike (9-2), were the other leading candidates for the Snider Award.

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