It was a record breaking year for senior ace AJ Hacker.
Hacker was last year’s strikeout leader and had an impressive 0.70 ERA at the end of his junior season. It was no surprise when Hacker came back stronger than ever on the mound.
Hacker pitched in the season opener against Greenup County. He threw five innings in the mercy ruled 15-0 victory against the Musketeers throwing 11 strikeouts.
Over the course of the season, Hacker threw 137 strikeouts in 82 innings pitched. He led the state in strikeouts for the second year in a row and beat Rowan County’s career strikeout record of 396 strikeouts (259 innings pitched) held by none other than Hacker’s friend and mentor Cam Plank.
“He is one of the best ball players I have ever met and to know that I am even comparable to him, at least on the stats side because I don’t know about everything else, was pretty crazy to me,” said Hacker. “I give him all the credit because I wouldn’t be in the position I am without his help along the way. He took me under his wing my eighth grade and freshman year. I have been working out with him since I was 14.”
Hacker struck out Jacob Feltner for his 397th strikeout during the first inning of the Vikings’ semi-state victory over Lawrence County.
Despite saying that stats were the last thing on his mind, Hacker was proud of his accomplishments. He now holds the career strikeout record with 412 strikeouts (266 innings pitched).
Hacker pitched an incredible season. He threw 18 strikeouts, the most strikeouts he has ever thrown in a game, in a 1-0 win over Bath County.
“It was pretty cool to do, out of 21 outs to have 18 on your own. Two of the outs were by Corey (Binion), my catcher. So, 20 of the 21 outs were by the pitcher and the catcher. You don’t see that happen very much. It was just fun,” said Hacker.
He threw a no hitter in the Vikings’ 11-1 victory over Russell May 11. He also threw shutouts in both the regional and semi-state games.
According to Hacker, some of his most memorable games this season were the regional championship against Ashland and the win over Lawrence County held at Morehead State University.
“We came into this year with the regional title on our minds after losing to Greenup County in the finals last year. That is always our goal though, get to that regional finals, make some noise and win that thing. All year long we fought. We got woke up after we lost to Ashland pretty early in the season but that got our gear moving,” said Hacker.
He said his all time favorite memory from playing baseball with the Vikings was watching Coach Keith Prater walking onto the field his sophomore season after they had won the regional championship for the first time in 34 years.
“Him hobbling out to the dog pile because he couldn’t run is something I will never forget - sophomore year winning region at Boyd County,” said Hacker.
As a pitcher, Hacker ended his senior season with a 11-2 win-loss record and a .60 ERA, and finished his career with a 33-13 record and a 1.37 ERA.
Hacker is ranked on several pitching stats on the KHSAA leaderboards. He is thirteenth in lowest season ERA and tied for tenth in lowest career ERA. He is tenth in career strikeouts. He is tied for fifth in career shutouts with 11 and is tied for third in season shutouts having thrown six shutouts this season. He placed seventh in consecutive scoreless innings having thrown 25 scoreless innings from May 11 to the Vikings’ semifinals loss June 6. He is ranked second in consecutive innings pitched with no earned runs. Hacker threw 56 innings without giving up an earned run.
It was more than just his incredible year on the mound that earned Hacker all three of Kentucky’s most prestigious baseball awards. It was his dedication to his team on both sides of the field.
“I knew I was going to be a pretty dominant pitcher coming into the season, but I really didn’t have any clue I would be the hitter I was. I knew I would have to step it up this year to produce more runs because we weren’t doing as much as we could have last year on the offensive end. It was something I really worked hard on during the off season, hitting hard every week, every night, changing my swing, finding contact, find gaps and when the pitcher makes a mistake hitting it out,” said Hacker.
Hacker improved from a .283 batting average his junior year to a .448 batting average. He had 47 hits in 105 at bats. He had 52 RBIs and scored 42 runs. He drew 30 walks. He led the team in both RBIs and walks.
Hacker also led the Vikings in home runs. He hit 12 doubles, a triple and nine home runs. He hit a 3-run single in the Vikings’ win over Lawrence County that was nearly over the 40-foot fence in right field of the Morehead State baseball field.
Hacker now holds the high school’s season home run record.
“That’s a lot of home runs, but honestly, I don’t care about the record. I just care that I was helping my team win, helping my team score runs. That was nine times I put runs on my own back like that,” said Hacker.
Hacker’s accomplishments with the Vikings’ program this season were well noted. Hacker was voted Kentucky’s Mr. Baseball, Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year and Prep Baseball Report Kentucky’s Player of the Year.
It was the first time in school history that a Rowan County Viking was voted both Kentucky’s Mr. Baseball and Gatorade Player of the Year.
“It really means a lot to me because it almost felt like a unanimous decision having all three of these state recognized awards given to me,” said Hacker.
He added with a laugh, “I am kind of running out of places to put these things with where I am living at right now. But it was really awesome to have a senior year like this, to go out the way we did, the year we had, the team we had.”
Hacker was also voted Colligate Baseball First Team High School All-American, All-State First Team, Semi-State Tourney MVP, All-Area MVP, 16th Region MVP and 16th Region Tourney MVP and 61st District MVP.
Hacker got an offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks during the MLB draft, but decided to turn it down in order to continue with his plans to go to college.