To Dillon Hardy’s coaches, teammates and closest friends, he is simply known as “Big.”The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Central Academy of Technology and Arts senior looks more like an offensive tackle, but Hardy has made a name for himself on the baseball diamond as a standout pitcher and first baseman for the Cougars.With his size, stature and the fact that he is a left-hander whose fastball has recently hit the low 90s, Hardy can be an imposing figure.“There’s no doubt that it’s intimidating when you first see him on the mound,” said CATA baseball coach Nelson Rowell, who is in his first year with the team. “You don’t see a lot of pitchers with his combination of size and talent in high school.”Hardy first learned the game from his father, Tim (also 6-foot-6), who starred at Independence High. He says his size is just a part of his game.“I’ve always been one of the bigger kids on my teams growing up, so I don’t really think about it a lot,” said Hardy, who shot from 5-foot-11 to 6-foot-3 the summer leading into his freshman year. “But I guess I use everything I can to my advantage. I always want to go out and give my team everything I’ve got. As a pitcher, I feel like you can really set a tone; if you’re playing well, the team will play better.”After not touching the mound as a CATA freshman, Hardy has worked tirelessly over the past three seasons to develop himself into the Cougars’ ace.Hardy is one of the top pitchers in Union County this season, with a 1.86 ERA and 92 strikeouts. Low run support from the Cougars’ offense has resulted in a 4-6 overall record.Like the rest of his Central Academy team (7-13, 3-7), Hardy, who is also hitting .280 with one home run at the plate, has refused to give up.“It would have been easy for Dillon to hang his head and get frustrated,” said Rowell, whose team has already tripled their win total from 2013 this year. “But he just keeps showing up for work each day with his best. He’s just one of those blue-collar guys that punches in and does his thing.”Hardy’s pitches feature a slider, curveball and circle change-up; he is also working on a knuckeball.“When you watch him warm up, you might not realize just how hard he is throwing,” said Rowell. “You don’t know how hard he is throwing until you get up there and see his fastball. Of course, after you get used to that, he has several other pitches he can go to.” Hardy had some big moments in his final season as a Cougar, tossing a no-hitter against Union Academy in a 3-0 victory on March 6, when he struck out 18 batters and walked only one. He also threw a one-hitter in a win over Anson, where he had 18 strikeouts and was one seventh-inning Anson single from a perfect game. In addition, Hardy led his team to a 4-3 comeback victory over Forest Hills in the first round of the Rocky River tournament May 6, getting the victory on the mound while striking out 11 batters.Hardy also had three-hitters against Mount Pleasant and West Stanly in losses to both teams.“It was really exciting to throw a no-hitter, and it’s something I’ll never forget,” said Hardy, who also threw a no-hitter last year in a 1-0 loss to West Stanly. “But I just try to focus on being at my best every time I pitch. Every time I step on that mound, I put pressure on myself to be even better – especially being a senior and knowing each time could be my last in high school.”In his last regular-season start against Forest Hills on senior night (a 4-2 loss), Hardy called a timeout and summoned his catcher, fellow senior Josh Daugherty, to the mound to soak in the moment.“I just told Josh, ‘This could be one of our last pitches together,’ ” Hardy said. “I wanted to try and stop just for a minute and remember it like that. I know we haven’t won a lot, but we take a lot of pride in what we’ve accomplished together.” That pride has led Hardy to work regularly with younger pitchers on the team, including juniors Austin Bigham and Cameron Bramhall, sophomore Nick Roetts and freshman Isaiah Allen.Rowell says Hardy is so good at helping his teammates that he believes “he will be a great coach in the future.”Hardy, 18, signed with Tusculum (Tenn.) College in November, picking the Pioneers over other schools like Catawba, Lenoir-Rhyne and Mars Hill.With Hardy’s size and work ethic, Rowell believes his best is yet to come.“I really believe he is just realizing how good he can be, and the sky is the limit in college,” Rowell said. “I always tell him that his arm is special, but his future is in his legs.”With that in mind, Hardy has been a regular in the CATA weight room over the past two years, going from “a guy who had never touched weights” to a guy who can now bench 235 pounds, squat 315 pounds and power clean 215 pounds.Hardy gets stronger as the game wears on, according to Rowell.Hardy will also get some extra preparation this summer when he plays in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League with mostly current college players.“I’m really excited because this is just the beginning of what’s next to come for me,” Hardy said. “I hope to have a long career in baseball throughout college, and then, of course, my dream would be to play in the big leagues. But right now I’ve got a long way to go, so my focus is just to keep working as hard as I can every day.”
Tuesday, May. 13, 2014
CATA pitcher Dillon Hardy is making his final pitches count
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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