ONWARD AND UPWARD: Hutchins to play Division I softball

Published 2:30 pm Monday, January 4, 2016

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS NEXT LEVEL: Haley Hutchins high fives teammate Chaleigh Baynor during a game last year. After helping lead the Pam Pack to years of success, she hopes she can do the same at the Division I level with Radford.

NEXT LEVEL: Haley Hutchins high fives teammate Chaleigh Baynor during a game last year. After helping lead the Pam Pack to years of success, she hopes she can do the same at the Division I level with Radford.

When a Division I school comes knocking, you don’t say no. Washington softball alumnus Haley Hutchins and her parents agreed on that, which is why she is headed to Radford University to join the Highlanders this spring.

Hutchins garnered attention from college recruiters as a standout pitcher and batter for the Pam Pack. As a senior, she went 16-5 on the mound with a 1.38 earned run average and an astounding 175 strikeouts. At the plate, she batted .423 as a senior. She had 22 hits, batting in 18 runs and scoring 27.

“I felt like I did fairly well throughout high school,” Hutchins humbly said. “I think that it helped me to understand myself as a player more. Through high school is how I learned to figure stuff out on my own and fix what I need to fix. Also, playing with different girls. Every year, you have new girls coming in … You have to learn them and feel it out.”

Even with the attention, Hutchins’ overwhelming desire to stay close to home landed her at Pitt Community College.

“It’s different,” she said of her college softball experiences thus far. “You definitely work harder with getting up early for workouts and having three-hour practices in the afternoon. It’s a lot more conditioning and being more in shape rather than solely fundamental softball.”

College softball came with a handful of adjustments for Hutchins. Beyond the schedule and routine, she had to get used to stronger competition and a different role. She excelled as a starting pitcher because it would take her about an inning to settle in.

“It doesn’t matter how long I warm up. It has to be like an inning when I come into the game,” she chuckled.

Coming in as a middle reliever or closer was a little less comfortable.

HOLDING IT DOWN: Haley Hutchins mans the mound during a game in her senior season with Washington.

Before deciding on Pitt, Hutchins had been in talks with Louisburg College. Hope Creasy, who was the head coach at the time, had recruited her. Creasy has since become an assistant at Radford. Hutchins stood out at a recent fall game at NC State. She hit a home run in the game, which also proved to be a home run on the recruiting front as a call from Creasy followed just days after.

Ironically, Hutchins felt Louisburg was too far away at the time. It worked out in the long run, though. Now Hutchins can take her game to the Division I level and play for a coach she is familiar with, even if it is far from home.

“We got to talking and I said, ‘I wonder if Coach Creasy has been keeping up with you,’” said her mother, Wendy. “Two days later, I got a phone call from her. She said, ‘I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but if she’s not happy…’ It’s very interesting how it worked out.”

Highlanders pitching coach Travis Owen had gone to see Hutchins’ work in Raleigh. The recruiting process moved rapidly from there.

Hutchins still has reservations about being so far from home. She’ll be about five hours away at Radford, which is her biggest concern.

“I think that’s essentially what I’m most nervous about,” Hutchins said. “It’s because I’m picking up and going. My intention was to play Division I ball eventually. I just didn’t anticipate it would be in my second semester of my freshman year. So, I think that’s the scariest part about it.

“I’m looking forward to ball, so I won’t be as focused on how far away I am.”

The team — from the coaches to the players — has done a great job to make Hutchins feel welcome. With the Feb. 19 season opener against Penn State at the Dolphin Invitational in Jacksonville, Fla. quickly approaching, joining the team at this point can be intimidating. However, the Highlanders have one goal in mind: winning. If Hutchins can help make that happen, which she plans to do, they will welcome her with open arms.

“It’s an already established team,” she said. “But all the girls have welcomed me … I think one of the things I was worried about was, OK, I’m leaving home. But not only am I leaving home, I’m coming into a team that isn’t really cool on an outsider coming to be part of their team.

“While I’m there, that team is going to be the only family I have there. It’s really nice to know that they’re really supportive of me.”

Other than her prowess on the mound, Hutchins is hoping her hitting style will fit in with the Highlanders. She’s powerful at the plate. In her senior season with the Pam Pack, 14 of her 22 hits were for extra bases: seven doubles, two triples and five home runs.

Outside of softball, Hutchins looks forward to excelling in the classroom. Radford has been selected as one of the best schools in the southeast in the Princeton Review. She isn’t sure what she wants to study yet. She’s tossed around professions from teacher to sports medicine chiropractor, but hasn’t settled on anything yet. She has time to decide and Radford is a place to her to find plenty of academic, professional and athletic success.