By R. Alan Richardson
When baseball coach Merritt Ainslie was asked about Hunter Lane’s career, he told this story, “In his first game as a freshman on Feb. 17, 2016 at Jackson High School, he did not start. I brought him on in relief in a tight game with the bases loaded and no outs. Most freshmen would have folded under that kind of pressure. Hunter had ice water in his veins and showed no anxiety or nervousness at all. He got us, out of the jam and we went on to win the game 17-5. It was like he was telling me, ‘Give me the ball and I’ll get us out of this’.” That’s when I knew I had a ballplayer and was excited for the next four years with him. He’s been a model of consistency over that time.” This week the senior was named 8-AAA’s Region Player-of-the-Year and rightfully so. He batted a lofty .480, hit four homeruns, stole 13 bases without being caught a single time, and pounded out 38 RBI’s along the way. During his career he has over 30+ wins as a starting pitcher and was voted the Region Pitcher-of-the-Year in 2017. Lane has been a first-team Region nominee for the past three seasons and is headed to Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City, Alabama to continue his career next season. One other important stat is that he carries a 4.2 weighted GPA and is a highly gifted student!
Here’s what the third baseman and pitcher said about the award, “It’s a great honor for me. I’ve worked hard for four years at this. For the other coaches in the Region to vote for me and decide to award me this honor is a blessing.” Each coach gets one vote, but cannot vote for anyone on their own team. Lane beat out some outstanding players for the award like UGA-bound Jefferson shortstop Lane Watkins.
Ainslie couldn’t say enough about his All-Star. “He’s a phenomenal player and even better teammate that gets others to play to their potential because they respect his leadership and playing ability. He really respects the game and approaches it the right way every day. You don’t know if he’s having a 4-4 or 0-4 day at the plate. That ability to keep his emotions in check and stay on an even keel is just part of what makes him a special player. You know what you’re going to get out of him every day when he shows up at the park whether it’s a game or practice. It’s hard when you’re expected to do well, but he lived up to all the expectations I had for him and even exceeded those expectations. If you want to know how special he was, just about every coach on the opposing teams made comments about him. They were appreciative of how he played the game and his being a class act on the field. That says a lot about him.”
Even though the coaches were appreciative of how he played the game, you don’t get votes for Player-of-the-Year for being a nice guy or just playing hard. “You have to have the stats to back it up,” said Ainslie. “They’ve watched him for four years now and his consistency impressed them. This is the third year in a row that the honor has been awarded to someone that was not on the Region Championship team. Hunter Lane can hit with any high school player in the country. He understands his swing and isn’t scared of anybody. I don’t know what I’m going to do next year after automatically putting his name on the scorecard for four years.”
If you dig a little deeper into Lane’s love for the game, you could go to the backyard of his youth. He says he remembers those early days of tossing around the ball and taking batting practice with his father (Kerry Lane), but didn’t really get serious about it until the age of 12. “I started playing travel ball then and that’s what I’ve done ever since. That’s where I started really working and developing my work ethic and habits. It’s when I made a commitment to the game.”
His mother, Stacie Lane, said, “I’m just a very proud Mama. It’s kind of sad. I cannot believe it’s over. It seems like just yesterday he made the varsity team as a freshman. He’s been so blessed with such great teammates and coaches for many years. Hunter loves this game. He loves baseball. It’s all he’s ever known and wanted to do. I hate to sound cliché, but he’s a great student and highly respectful kid. I couldn’t be prouder of the young man he has become and can’t wait to see what the next level brings out in him as a baseball player and person. When Hunter found out he had won the award, he was ecstatic. His college Coach (Hunter Vick) even called him. Can you believe they already knew? That’s crazy.”
Mrs. Lane went on to say, “Merritt has done an amazing job with the baseball program. I told him that he has poured so much into Hunter over these past four years; it’s made him a better player and person. He has such a presence about him and the boys respect him so much. Thank you Coach.”
Lane closed with these comments, “It was a letdown losing to Redan. I wish I was still playing, but we had a really good senior season winning lots of games. My teammates were great. They encouraged me throughout the season and that made me just work harder. I didn’t want to let them down. I want to thank them, the coaches, my parents, and fans for pushing me to be where I am today.
To Coach Ainslie, I want to thank him for not only being a great baseball coach, but also for acting as a mentor for the entire team by teaching us life lessons along the way. I am going to miss it. The best memories of my life came on that field.”