A year ago, Lonoke’s Haven Hunter told new Jackrabbit baseball coach Chris Foor he wanted to play college baseball.
After a year of hard work, that dream will become reality when he heads to Eastern Oklahoma State College in early August.
“I can’t wait,” Hunter said. “I’m just ready to get out of town for a little bit and see some change.”
Foor saw some change in his outfielder/pitcher over Hunter’s senior season. He had met him the summer prior to taking the Lonoke job when he coached a local summer team.
“He was one of those kids that everybody looked at as athletic because he played two sports, but he wasn’t a very refined player,” Foor said. “When I got here, I had a meeting with my seniors and asked them point blank, ‘Who wants to go to college?’ Haven looked at me and said, ‘I want to play college baseball.’ I said, ‘OK, here’s what you have to work on.’
“He did it all. During basketball in the fall, he would meet two or three days a week for our throwing program. During basketball season on their off days, Coach (Dean) Campbell would let him work.”
Foor, who arrived at Lonoke from Sylvan Hills, said Hunter made a big jump in one year.
“When I came in, on a 1-5 scale, athletically he was a 4 or a 5, but putting the skills together, he was probably a 3, 3 1-2,” Foor said. “But when he left, I think he was a solid 4.
“When I talked to college coaches, I told them, ‘You’re getting somebody who, by the time he leaves, is going to make a giant jump as soon as he’s dedicated to one sport.’ I think Haven’s going to make a big jump next year.”
In 100 at-bats during his senior season, Hunter delivered 36 hits (.360 average), including six doubles, two triples and a home run. He had 20 RBIs, 13 stolen bases, 26 runs scored and struck out 16 times. His on-base percentage was .464.
“When the season started, he was straight out of basketball,” Foor said. “The thing I really admired about Haven is you could see him talking to the other players, encouraging them. He continued to be that sponge, trying to learn the game as he moved on.”
He said through the Jackrabbit throwing program, Hunter gained velocity and developed as a pitcher, adding multiple pitches and off-speed deliveries to his repertoire.
In the district championship game at Southside Batesville, “he shut down (Central Arkansas Christian), dominated them for six innings before I had to pull him because of the pitch count,” Foor said. “Since he had a future in baseball, we always watched his arm. He did what was asked and never had a sore arm.”
The Jackrabbits reached the Class 4A state quarterfinals, falling to Nashville, the eventual champion. Their opening-round win over Pottsville was Lonoke’s first state tournament win since 2012.
Hunter will head to Eastern Oklahoma as an athlete — to pitch and play in the outfield. Foor said his ability in the outfield and the strides he’d made at the plate would probably make it hard for EOS coaches to use him only as a pitcher.
Hunter said he started his athletic career in Lonoke playing tee ball and basketball. The two sports complemented each other. He said baseball was probably his best sport. He’s played every position except catcher.
“My favorite is outfield,” he said. “That’s where I’ll be in college.”
But his role as point guard in basketball rubbed off into other areas of his life.
“I had to make sure the team was working together and not playing selfish,” he said. “When my friends have problems, they come to me for advice.”
He’s not an in-your-face leader. Foor said he discovered how quiet Hunter was when they traveled to Joplin, Mo., together.
“He just doesn’t talk very much at all,” he said. “That’s his personality. He’s watching; he absorbs a lot. When I got here, he was one of the first kids I approached to get things going, but before I could call him, he texted me. He started working and doing our throwing program literally the first day after the dead period last year. He started coming up on his own. He really wanted to get better.”
Hunter has played summer showcase ball with the Arkansas Rawlings Prospects. One of his teammates there, Nick Butler of North Little Rock, committed to Eastern Oklahoma first, so that influenced his decision, he said. They’ll move in as roommates Aug. 6.
Hunter was also an academic leader for the Jackrabbits, Foor said.
“Another thing people won’t ever notice is that he is very giving,” the coach said. “He has donated time throughout the school year to causes we as a baseball team support, and he’s always one of the first people there.
“Haven is like a light in the dark. He doesn’t say anything, but somehow bugs are attracted to him.”