Russell County rising senior Hunter Milam proved no match for hitters in 2017. If the left-hander has his way, those performances will only serve as the start of something even bigger.
Milam was a force in his first season at Russell County, striking out 114 batters and posting a 1.13 ERA in 68 innings. With a young team around him, Milam still won seven games as the Warriors reached the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs.
As a result of his play, Milam has been selected as the All-Bi-City 4A-7A Baseball Pitcher of the Year.
Milam entered the 2017 season after his first season playing with the Ohio Warhawks, one of the strongest summer baseball teams in the country. He said during that time, he picked the brains of the older hitters on his squad in an effort to understand their perspectives at the plate.
“When I got back to school ball, it gave me a really big advantage, pitching to more experienced guys at the college level,” Milam said. “I really grew up as a pitcher.”
Milam, who previously played at Smiths Station, credited Russell County head coach Tony Rasmus a great deal for the growth he experienced his junior season.
“Being with coach Rasmus, he helped me design a work ethic to get my stuff done,” Milam said. “The encouragement and the words he’s given us after going through it with his sons and himself, that really helped me out and gave me the motivation and the way to go.”
Rasmus also taught Milam his changeup, which quickly became a new punch-out pitch opponents had to deal with. Milam showed no mercy on the mound and struck out 18 against Stanhope Elmore on March 3 and later notched 17 Ks against Prattville.
“The changeup is really the thing that makes him great,” Rasmus said. “It’s absolutely a swing-and-miss changeup. He throws it with the same arm slot as his fastball, so it’s just hard to pick up for right-handed batters.”
Milam has aspirations of being drafted out of high school, but he has an excellent plan in place if that does not happen. He received a 92 percent scholarship offer from Memphis -- college baseball programs have 11.7 scholarships to split between about 30 players -- after Tigers coaches discovered him at a Warhawks game in Las Vegas last summer. After visiting the school and getting to know the program, Milam committed.
“I really fell in love with the campus and the people there, and (a 92 percent scholarship) really had a big (impact) moneywise for my family,” Milam said. “I love the program and the way Memphis goes about the baseball program.”
Milam is in Ohio again playing for the Warhawks while also working toward the 2018 season. Rasmus said Milam needs to add a few more miles per hour to his fastball, which tops out at 92 mph. Milam said he wants to improve his baseball knowledge while also sharpening his off-speed pitches.
If those things happen, woe to those who dare and enter the batter’s box against him.
“I want to grow up so in my senior year, I can dominate and put up bigger numbers than I did last year,” Milam said.
Milam faced the unusual challenge of playing on a team full of freshmen in 2017, but the result is the majority of the team returns in 2018. With Milam leading the way, there’s hope for something bigger than a playoff berth in the coming season.
For Milam, the objective is much, much bigger.
“I’m aiming for a state championship this year,” Milam said. “I know they’re ready. Last year, they were all ninth graders, so this year they’ll be grown up and more experienced. I’m really set to make ourselves better.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports