This past winter, Bryar Hawkins committed to play baseball at Clemson, a program at once rich with tradition and on the rise in today's college baseball landscape. And this spring, he had to face the consequences.
Hawkins was already a known threat in the county, but he hadn't seen as much craftiness and trickery from opposing pitchers as he did this year. Even South Forsyth's Landon Sims, a hard-throwing Mississippi State commit, pitched Hawkins backwards, going at him mainly with breaking balls.
But Hawkins was determined to make his senior season at West Forsyth a productive one and to represent Clemson well.
“There was a little pressure maybe at the beginning,” Hawkins said. “But that didn't last long.”
He succeeded on both counts, at the plate and on the mound. For that, he has been named the Forsyth County News 2017 Baseball Player of the Year.
West put Hawkins at the top of the order – either leading off or in the two-hole – to get him as many at-bats as possible, and his versatile offensive game proved the value of that.
He was by far the Wolverines’ best hitter this year, with an OPS of 1.075, almost 400 points better than the next-best figure on the team.
“He kind of was the everything for us,” West head coach Mike Pruitt said.
Hawkins had 14 walks to 15 strikeouts, led the team in hits, doubles, home runs and RBIs and was a steady defender at shortstop. West struggled mightily to score runs for much of the season, but Hawkins helped the team stay afloat on the mound, recording a 2.18 ERA in 45 innings.
And when the Wolverines’ bats did break out in their first-round state playoff matchup against Norcross, Hawkins came right along, stroking three hits and walking twice as West took two games from the Blue Devils.
That series win, a reversal of the unexpectedly early exits the Wolverines had seen in past years, was Hawkins’ greatest source of pride from this season.
“This year, we not only got past the first round, but we swept,” Hawkins said. “That was big.”
Hawkins didn’t take the loud, intense leadership role that some seniors do, but Pruitt said his strong dedication to baseball set an example for the rest of the team to follow. Baseball is the only sport Hawkins plays, and he’s a regular presence at the indoor facility that his father owns.
Hawkins said he expects to be primarily an infielder at the next level, but his funky submarining style on the mound has brought him success in high school, and he could come out of the bullpen in college if it translates there.
And if Hawkins again finds pitchers tiptoeing around the zone when he’s at the plate, it’ll be a sign of his success, just like it was this year.
“I had to show them at least that I could hit the ball for them to pitch around me,” he said.