COLUMN: Cool Hand Luke lets cats escape

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Thinking of his grandfather, Hawkins saves day in regional final

By John Herndon

Cool Hand Luke might have delivered his biggest escape yet last Wednesday.

You know Cool Hand Luke. Forget that Paul Newman character in the classic movie.

Think Luke Hawkins, who cemented his place in local sports lore one night before he picked up his high school diploma at the Frankfort Civic Center.

His going away present from Anderson County baseball coach L.W. Barnes? How about the bases loaded, nobody out and Shelby County’s biggest home run threat at the plate. Just to make it a bit more memorable, we’ll throw in that the big stick was the tying run in the bottom of the last inning of the Eighth Region championship game.

Hawkins strolled over from third base and performed like a guy who had a pulse rate of about 50.

He sneaked a two-strike pitch past Shelby’s Eric Standafer, an all-region performer, to strike him out looking. After nicking Shelby’s John Hunter to force in a run, Hawkins fanned Matthew Purdom, a good hitter as well, and got Taylor Boone with a routine pop-up to Hawkins’ long-time teammate, Jordan Alves, at second base.

The large throng of Anderson fans found itself able to breathe again.

Hawkins jumped a few inches off the Shelby County mound, then joined his teammates in celebrating their second straight regional crown.

On team loaded with some practical jokers and major league smack talkers, Hawkins often appears to be one of the quiet ones. But Barnes knew there are no more intense competitors than the senior who usually plays third base when not on the mound.

“He just told me to finish the job,” Hawkins said matter-of-factly.

Hawkins had shut down the Rockets back on April 14, scattering six hits and striking out 11. Like the rest of the Anderson staff, he relies on guile, pitch location and baseball smarts to succeed. Standing less than six feet tall and owning a fastball that tops out in the high 70’s, Hawkins doesn’t look the type to fan the big bats.

But the tape can’t measure heart or what might be going through someone’s mind.

Especially when one is thinking about his biggest fan. For Luke Hawkins, that was his grandfather, G.B. Hawkins, a fixture at Anderson County athletic events until his death.

“I was thinking about him out there,” Hawkins said Friday. “When we walked off the field, Jordan’s mom came up to me and said, ‘Your grandfather would have sure been proud of you.’”

Not that G.B. Hawkins needed a save in the regional championship game to do that.

“I just knew what a special person G.B. was,” Stephanie Alves explained. “I knew how proud he was of Luke and all of his grandkids.”

G.B. Hawkins loved the Bearcats, serving as the long-time scorekeeper for Anderson basketball and even helping coach the school’s only state champion, the girls’ track team of 1964. When he died during the 2006 football season, some fans placed a chair in his customary spot on the hill at the west end of the stadium. It remained empty the remainder of that season.

But for Luke Hawkins, the memories were full last Wednesday.

“He came to every game and he always sat just past the right field fence,” Hawkins said. “When I was growing up, we talked baseball all the time.”

Those who knew G.B. Hawkins also sensed something driving his grandson last Wednesday. Often overshadowed because of his quiet nature, Hawkins has been a steady force at third base. Barnes has called him the most fundamentally sound infielder he’s ever coached.

On the mound, Hawkins had a big win against Madisonville in Florida and beat Shelby on April 14. In that one, he had one stretch of striking out seven straight.

But in those games, everyone knew they would be playing again. Last Wednesday, it was for all the marbles. There is no more pressure in the seventh game of the World Series.

“Once he got that first out striking out Standafer, I felt much better,” Barnes said. “That was the biggest strikeout in Hawkins’ career and I’m sure, probably the most pressure-filled moment of his entire baseball career.

“Adding all that together with the fact that it was the bottom of the seventh, regional finals, versus Shelby, the winning run at the plate and still get out of the jam, it was absolutley wonderful to see Luke step up for his team and get the save. I’m so proud of the composure he showed in that situation.”

But really what else can you expect from Cool Hand Luke.

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.