When Hagerstown got into a spot behind the plate, the Tigers took a look toward the mound.
Cole Bartlett stepped into a role he hadn’t played since Little League to contribute to his team — and he still managed to use his right arm to pitch his way into Hagerstown’s record books.
Bartlett is this year’s Palladium-Item Player of the Year for baseball, while Union County’s Jeff Mathews is Coach of the Year after guiding the Patriots to their second sectional championship in three years.
Union County also advanced to a Class 2A regional final on the way to a 20-8 record — another strong season in Mathews’ tenure with the Patriots.
“It’s just another building block,” Mathews said. “We’re just hoping to keep on rolling. We’re going to reload and see what happens.”
Lincoln’s Zac Rea led the Golden Eagles to a sectional final, while Union County’s Austin Bourne and Jullian Snyder provided the Patriots with a potent 1-2 punch.
Brad Catey’s Tigers won the Tri-Eastern Conference outright and repeated as Wayne County Tournament champions. Tri-Village coach Jim Maples guided the Patriots to a record-breaking 20 victories.
Bartlett, too, was a record breaker. His 99 strikeouts are tops at Hagerstown for a single season.
“There were some great pitchers before me and it’s just nice to be up there,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett finished 8-3 from the mound with a 2.17 ERA. He also was the Tigers’ leading hitter with a .475 average, 35 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 10 doubles and six home runs.
“I thought for a while there he was going to break the school record with these new bats,” Catey said of Bartlett’s home run total.
“He’s a five-tool player, that’s for sure. He’s also an excellent student as well, a top-notch kid, someone kids in your program can look up to.”
Bartlett was on the mound for both of Hagerstown’s county tournament games as he picked up two victories that day. He tossed a complete game against host Lincoln, then threw the final two innings in a tight victory over Northeastern.
Bartlett once again took the mound against the Knights a few weeks later as Hagerstown wrapped up an outright conference championship.
When he wasn’t pitching, he was still involved in the process behind the plate.
“I hadn’t caught since Little League,” Bartlett said. “They let me have a try at it. I like it pretty well. You just feel like you have a big part in the game.
“I still like pitching, though.”
Bartlett shared the TEC’s Player of the Year honor with Bourne.
Bourne was an integral part of the Patriots’ season. So was a determined senior class that helped Union County win twice on Memorial Day on the way to an overwhelming sectional championship.
The Patriots pounded the ball that day, outscoring their opponents 39-5.
“I’m real proud of the boys,” Mathews said. “We did some things at Union County that we haven’t done in a while.”
They also reached the No. 1 ranking this spring in Class 2A.
Mathews praised past Union County baseball players for their contributions to the program, and for inspiring the younger players to want to be a part of it.
“If you can get to that level for a few years, the young kids want so badly to be a part of that,” Mathews said. “When they get there, they’re willing to work hard to stay where you’re at.
“It doesn’t take nine, it takes 14.”