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Baseball: With many scouts looking on, Central's Ethan Hankins makes season debut

BUFORD — Two pitches into his first outing of the high school season, a field umpire pulled Forsyth Central's Ethan Hankins off the rubber to tell him how he could position himself before delivering a pitch.

"You're going to tell him what way to line up, when he's number one in the dang prospect (rankings)?" shouted a spectator at the top of the Bulldogs' bleachers. "You don't think he knows?"

A player with status like that draws a crowd. Central played its opener on Tuesday night at Buford, and athletes from area schools like South Forsyth, Mill Creek and Mountain View came out to see the 6-foot-6 righthander, who donned the Bulldogs' red-on-black pinstriped uniforms with white cleats and his characteristic high socks. When Hankins left the dugout after his outing to fetch ice from the concession stand, he shook the hand of an awestruck pre-teen in Wolves gear.

And then there were the scouts, roughly 15 of them, bunched along a railing behind Buford's backstop, raising their Stalker Pro II radar guns when Hankins began his delivery and scribbling notes in the breaks between pitches. Hankins starts his senior season as one of the top high school prospects, according to every publication that ranks them – he's No. 1 in Baseball America, specifically – and could draw a gathering like Tuesday's at every one of his starts. As the MLB Draft gets closer, those crowds could get bigger, not that Hankins would care much. 

"I don't really pay attention to them whatsoever," Hankins said. "It's something that I've grown to get used to, but I don't feel any pressure whatsoever while I'm out there."

Hankins dominated the Wolves on Tuesday, but the outing was also somewhat ordinary, at least compared to the bar the senior Vanderbilt commit set with his huge summer of 2017. He threw three innings, struck out six Wolves hitters and retired the other three, with Central second baseman Greg Tasos saving a potential hit with a strong backhanded scoop-and-throw. 

Hankins' first pitch of the game registered at 93 mph on one scout's gun, and he ended the first inning by whiffing Buford's Noah Ledford with a 95 mph hitter. Hankins' fastball velocity settled in the 90-92 mph range in the second and third innings, and he showed more of the biting curveball that he flaunted during the showcase season. He threw one changeup that he "didn't really get on top of." He didn't constantly toy with his timing and tempo like he did during the summer, mainly because he didn't need to.

"I felt pretty good," Hankins said. "Arm felt good, threw lots of strikes."

The night didn't go as well for the rest of the rest of the Bulldogs. Central lost 4-0, managing just four hits against the Wolves and striking out 13 times. Greg Wozniak and Jonathan Bergmoser had doubles, but the hitters that followed them couldn't drive them in.

There are still 12 games scheduled for the Bulldogs before region play starts, which Hankins and Wozniak see as time for the team to get situated and ramp up its intensity. 

"I thought we did pretty well," Wozniak said. "4-0, that's still in the game. I think we'll be okay."

And Wozniak, who caught Hankins' start, confirmed what even the most casual spectator could see.

"He good," Wozniak said.