By BOB STRICKLEY
PDT Sports Editor
WHEELERSBURG — There is a saying in coaching parlance that a player should seize any opportunity that comes their way.
When Austin Hall was a sophomore catcher for Wheelersburg, he capitalized on the opportunity for early playing time and on Wednesday he cashed in that experience for a baseball scholarship at the University of Dayton.
Hall joined his family, friends, coaches and teammates Thursday afternoon to sign his letter of intent. It was the icing on the cake for a four-year career guiding his pitchers, dictating the defense and slugging in runs.
“I think the leadership he has given us as a senior from behind the plate is embodied by what his coaches tells him,” Wheelersburg coach Michael Estep said. “Leadership on the defense starts from behind the plate and I think he has embraced that and knows how important it is to come out each and every day and lead this team on defense.”
As a sophomore catcher, Hall had a chance to showcase his abilities and Estep thinks that was where the idea of collegiate baseball transitioned into a real possibility.
“We always talk about being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of opportunities,” Estep said. “Our senior catcher was hurt that year a little bit and Austin stepped in and played a crucial role for us in some big games. He made the most of that opportunity and during some tournaments some college coaches came around to watch our older guys and took notice of Austin as a sophomore.”
Hall turned his first impression into a lasting one as he honed his skills and immersed himself in the local baseball community. On top of his time working with the Wheelersburg coaching staff, he followed the advice of local coaching titans Tim Martin of Minford and Dean Schuler of Valley.
“I think this is a testament to coach Estep and the way he coaches as well as the players,” Hall said. “I’d like to express thanks not only to the coaches here at Wheelersburg but also coach Martin at Minford and coach Schuler at Valley for helping me in the recruiting process.”
His coach said the senior’s secret has been dedication.
“Austin spends a lot of time on his craft in the off-season. He goes out to coach Martin’s place and catches just about everyday of the week and after his catching responsibilities he is out there swinging the bat every day,” Estep said. “He’s become a nine-month baseball player and that’s what it takes to achieve this.”
Hall also credited his success to a baseball name with which many area sports fans might be familiar.
“I’d also like to thank Mr. Gene Bennett. He allowed me to be in his company and brought me up on baseball,” Hall said. “Without him I don’t think this would be possible.”
What has become possible is a run by Hall and his senior teammates that has given them a chance to graduate as the winningest group of seniors in Wheelersburg baseball history.
“We were talking as a group with the seniors and it seems like it’s a good thing to be able to say to each departing class, but these guys as a unit, they have the potential to be the winningest class in Wheelersburg baseball,” Estep said. “For him to be a part of that and cap his four years in that manner is tremendous.”
When Hall’s four years at Wheelersburg come to an end, it will be time for a new beginning in Dayton. A number of appealing characteristics drew the catcher to UD.
“First and foremost the tradition that Dayton has and the size of the school was big but the level of competition they play and the atmosphere was a fit for me,” Hall said. “They care about the game and the coaches care about their players.”
Hall described his new coach, Tony Vittorio, as very energetic and said the Flyers are looking to use his skills behind the plate right away.
“They do a two-catcher system and they are graduating a senior this year and have a junior college catcher right now so I would be catching quite a bit as a freshman,” Hall said.
In the classroom, Hall plans on studying history as an undergraduate and attending law school afterward. He says his father, Scioto County Sheriff’s Capt. David Hall, might have had a factor in his plans to study law.
“Growing up in that environment and being around law probably has something to do with it,” Hall said. “Dad and I have had some long talks about law so I guess you could say family has played a part in that.”
David Hall said the admiration his son has for Estep, a history teacher, could have played a role in his son’s decision to pursue history.
“I think he wants to study history because of coach Estep,” David Hall said. “I always say this jokingly but if coach Estep coached ping pong, Austin would play ping pong.”
No matter the influences, everyone attending Thursday’s signing agreed the Wheelersburg community played as big a hand in Hall’s commitment to Dayton as anything. Kendra Hall, Austin’s mother, and David Hall described the day as emotional.
“He has had some great coaches and great people around him,” David Hall said. “This is a great testament to the community.”
Austin agreed with his father’s assessment.
“For the community, I think it sets us apart,” Hall said.
Estep said the attitude Hall will carry with him to the next level will be a reflection of those he left behind in Wheelersburg.
“I’d like to think that coming from our program he would come out as kind of an old school, throwback player,” Estep said. “We might not always play great but we are going to out-work everybody in the process and we are going to play the game the right way. Austin has a great love for what we have done around here and I’m thrilled that he is able to cap this senior year with this accomplishment.”
Bob Strickley may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 203, or email@example.com.