High school baseball: 100th win for Hatley comes in state championship game

Published 10:27 am Sunday, June 2, 2024

By Mike London

HOLLY SPRINGS  — Brett Hatley’s 100th win as East Rowan’s head baseball coach came in storybook fashion — in the state championship game.

East’s 11-3 walloping of South Central at Ting Park on Saturday to sweep the 3A Championship Series was emphatic, dominating and historic.

There’s no better way to reach a milestone such as 100 coaching wins than doing it surrounded by championship plaques and banners, grinning players and delirious fans.

“This was not about me, in any way,” Hatley said. “This is about a great team, a group of guys. This about having a great staff that knows the game and a great administration that eliminated all the worries outside of baseball. This is about the great mentors like Jim Gantt and Chris Cauble that I was lucky enough to have as a player at West Rowan, at Catawba and with the Rowan County Legion team. And this is about my family and all of their support over the years. But I was aware before this season started of how many wins I had and  I did know 100 was possible because this team is that special. They took me on a great ride.”

Hatley officially is in his fifth season as East’s head coach, although his 5-1 debut, when he had Charlie Klingler and Wayne Mize destroying baseballs, was stopped by COVID after a handful of games. His second season (13-3) was actually only a half season with a delayed start as the NCHSAA finally moved on from the pandemic. In Hatley’s full seasons, it’s been 25-5, 23-6 and now a phenomenal and record-breaking 34-2.

You don’t go 34-2 in baseball. No NCHSAA team in any classification ever had won 34 games — well, not until now.

Hatley is 100-16 for his career. His teams shared conference championships with strong county rivals in 2021, 2022 and 2023 before winning an outright title this season.

“Honestly, I think this group of players started thinking about a state championship when they were about 5 years old,” Hatley said. “They started thinking about winning a state championship when Coach (Kelly) Sparger and Coach (Brian) Hightower were still tying their shoes in the dugout on their youth teams. They’re amazing guys. When we lost the first game of the West Championship Series against Tuscola at home, I came to practice the next day ready to get all over them, and they were smiling. I was like, ‘What the heck are you guys so happy about?’ They told me, ‘Coach. we’ve got this. Don’t worry.’ They knew they what they needed to do. They were still very confident they could do it. Then they went out and did it.”

It’s East’s third NCHSAA state title. This team will be forever compared to the East state title teams of 1995 and 2010. All three were great, as was the 2008 team that lost to Rocky Mount and finished as 3A runner-up.

East has been a terrific baseball school for many decades. East also won three championships in the old Western North Carolina High School Activities Association and was runner-up three more times.

Hatley came really close to winning a state championship as a player 20 years ago. The 2004 West Rowan Falcons, coached by Cauble, finished 29-5 after losing two out of three to West Brunswick in a 3A State Championship Series played at NC State. West Rowan ace Patrick Adams was in control in the opening game when a lightning delay hit. Adams struggled with his control when  he returned to the mound. West Rowan lost that game and also lost a decisive third game. Wade Moore won the middle one.

“When we played at Tuscola in the second game of the regional series, we ran into a weather delay,” Hatley said. “A friend texted me and wanted to know if that was bringing back any bad memories of the West Rowan days for me. But it really didn’t because we had a 7-0 lead when we had the delay, and I knew our guys would finish the job.”

They did finish the job on Saturday and Hatley has his 100th win as a head coach. East is 40-4 in the competitive South Piedmont Conference the last three seasons.