Ask AJ Hacker how to grip a baseball for various pitches, and he’ll put on a clinic. Ask him to come to grips with being named the best high school player in Kentucky, and he’ll struggle to process the honor.

“To represent the whole state — because I know there’s so many great athletes in the state — to say I’m on top of that, it means a lot because of all the hard work I’ve done,” Hacker said.

The Rowan County senior is Mr. Baseball. He’s the first 16th Region player to collect the award since Aaron McGlone (Greenup County) grabbed the accolade in 1996. Of 31 Mr. Baseball honorees, Hacker and McGlone are the only two to come from the 16th Region.

Drew Rom (Highlands) and Jordan Adell (Ballard) won the award in 2018 and ’17, respectively. Rom is currently 4-0 with a 1.49 earned run average for the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds of the Baltimore Orioles organization. Adell is on the Double-A Mobile BayBears’ (of the Los Angeles Angels) roster.

“To be compared to those guys like that really means a lot,” Hacker said.

Hacker said he never would’ve envisioned achieving this status when he first began his high school career.

“My freshman year, I was just an average player in the 16th Region,” Hacker said. “I definitely started really showing out my sophomore year. I started getting interest from colleges, and I just kept getting better after that.”

Hacker is a Morehead State signee. As of Tuesday afternoon, he was keeping an eye on the Major League Baseball draft.

“This is a huge decision in my life,” he said. “There’s two completely different futures ahead of me right now. Either way, I’ve got a great setup.”

Hacker will tote terrific numbers into Thursday’s state quarterfinals matchup with McCracken County. The righty will likely get the start.

Hacker has tallied 129 strikeouts in 76 2-3 innings. He’s 11-1 with a 0.55 ERA and a save. Sophomore teammate Mason Moore said he has learned a great deal from Hacker and other fellow hurlers.

“He puts a lot of work into pitching,” Moore said. “I think being around these guys has helped me mature as a pitcher and helped me have more confidence in myself building up to this moment.”

Hacker has been a central figure behind Rowan County’s 31-game winning streak. The Vikings (39-3) depend on his arm as well as his much-improved bat.

The left-handed hitter is batting .461 with nine home runs, 52 RBIs and 43 runs scored. He’s walked 30 times and struck out only 11 times in 144 plate appearances.

The Vikings are aiming for 42 wins and a state title. In their most recent trip to the state tournament, they fell in the first round to Muhlenberg County, 4-3, in a nine-inning affair. Hacker tossed seven innings and allowed just two earned runs.

“We’re excited to be back at Whitaker (Bank Ballpark) to get the full experience that we didn’t get our sophomore year,” Hacker said. “We have a lot of confidence going into this game.”

ALL-STATE SELECTIONS

Mr. Baseball: AJ Hacker (Rowan Co.)

First team: Eric Riffe (Paducah Tilghman), Jonathan Hogart (M’ville North-Hopkins), Brock Lucas (Breckinridge Co.), Ryan Hawks (Warren East), Ryan Kearney (Campbellsville), Will Kroger (Bardstown), Garret Simpson (Bullitt East), Dallas Glass (P. Ridge Park), Andrew Delaney (Eastern), Grant Knipp (Male), Daylen Lile (Trinity), Logan Beard (North Oldham), Austin Reed (Oldham Co.), Logan Castleman (Beechwood), Ethan Kavanagh (Highlands), Trace Willhoite (Scott Co.), Konnor Lewis (Tates Creek), Colin Burgress (Tates Creek), Ethan Wood (Danville), Chase Estep (Corbin), Ryley Preece (J. Central), AJ Hacker (Rowan Co.).

Second team: Jordyn Naranjo (Graves Co.), Jacob Ehling (McCracken Co.), Joe Howard (Bowling Green), Jackson Haga (Bowling Green), Jacob Curtis (Franklin Simpson), Tyler Wood (Central Hardin), Reed Blaszczyk (P. Ridge Park), Kaleb Corbett (Fern Creek), Alex Adams (St. Xavier), Ryan Nicholson (St. Xavier), J.R. Benson (South Oldham), Evan Webster (Ryle), Tad Fisher (Bracken Co.), Andrew Day (Harrison Co.), Ben Snapp (Madison Central), Blayne Deaton (Tates Creek), Charlie Corum (Woodford Co.), Cayden Shaver (Danville), Jeffrey Madden (Southwestern), Kade Grundy (Somerset), Cory Bright (Knox Central), Jackson Feltner (Lawrence Co.).

Third team: Tate Vanhooser (Caldwell Co.), Isaac Humphrey (Owensboro), Parker Newby (Hancock Co.), Braxton Meguiar (Logan Co.), Peyton Back (Russell Co.), Travis Wiser (Marion Co.), Nick Thompson (Trinity), Tyler Wagner (Walton Verona), Travis Smith (Walton Verona), Justin Doyle (North Oldham), John Odom (Beechwood), Blaine Walters (Cooper), Noah Carter (Beechwood), Chris O’Neal (Harrison Co.), Tyler Jacobs (Montgomery Co.), Julius Scearce (Frederick Douglass), Jared Gadd (P.L. Dunbar), Cade McKee (Scott Co.), Andy Baker (Hazard), C.J. Fairchild (Lawrence Co.), Shane Taylor (Rowan Co.), BB Layne (Boyd Co.).

Honorable mention: Colbe Crim (Paducah Tilghman), Drew McGowan (University Heights), Nick Belcher (Owensboro), Nick Dawson (Manual), Trevor Amburgey (Oldham Co.), Caleb Collins (Shelby Co.), Adam Gray (Campbell Co.), Jesus Riera (Campbell Co.), Isaac Fryman (Nicholas Co.), Brady Brooks (Campbell Co.), Cam Baughman (P.L. Dunbar), Javon Hasty (Rockcastle Co.), Ethan Jones (Southwestern), Nate Skidmore (Powell Co.), Evan Dickison (Ashland), Jake Heighton (Raceland).

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asnyder@dailyindependent.com