0615henry1udFlowery Branch's Patrick Henry talks about his team's early success and his coaches' impact on his career.
When the game or season is on the line, great athletes rise to the occasion.
Regardless of the pressure or what might happen if they fail, great players know when and how to turn it on and propel their teams to victory.
That’s what it means to be clutch. Clutch athletes want the outcome of the game, or in some cases, the season, in their hands.
In the world of prep baseball in 2008, no athlete was more clutch than Flowery Branch’s Patrick Henry, The Times 2008 Baseball Player of the Year.
Whether it was taking the mound for a critical region game or his two-run home run in the seventh inning that advanced the Falcons to the second round of the state playoffs, Henry was clutch.
“It got to the point late in the year when we just shook our heads,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Lawler said of the senior’s late-game heroics. “When it was crunch time with people on base, he would come through.”
While not knowing a specific number, Lawler estimated that Henry “hit close to .700” this season with runners in scoring position.
“He just had a tremendous baseball season,” said Lawler, who has coached Henry since he was an eighth-grader playing on the high school’s junior varsity team.
Henry’s tremendous senior season was a result of his determination to overcome a junior year in which he hit .371, an average he considered to be rock bottom.
“Last year I underachieved at my personal goals in hitting,” Henry said. “My main goals this offseason was becoming more of a select hitter. I think I got myself out a lot last year swinging at pitches I probably shouldn’t have.”
With a more selective approach at the plate, the 6-foot, 200-pound Valdosta State signee hit .554 his senior year, with 10 home runs, 52 RBIs and 40 runs scored.
A true team leader according to his coach, Henry attributes those offensive numbers to a talented Falcons lineup that averaged eight runs per game.
“Having guys one through nine that were able to mash the ball all over the park was a big thing,” Henry said. “That definitely took the pressure off me.”
Not only was the pressure to perform on a game-to-game basis gone, but since he signed with Valdosta State prior to his senior season, there was no added pressure of trying to land a college scholarship.
“I knew where I was going preseason, which helped me relax,” said Henry, who along with spending countless hours in the batting cages and weight room at Flowery Branch, spent the offseason training with Atlanta Braves minor leaguer Jon Mark Owings and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Micah Owings.
“Just from them being at that level, I have someone to look up to,” Henry said of the training’s impact. “I’ve always kind of looked up to Jon Mark and after what he did in high school, I listened to everything he said.
“I’ve never been one to not listen to a piece of advice that someone gives me.”
One word of advice that he especially took heed to was the use of weight training.
“Patrick is by far one of the hardest working baseball players I’ve ever worked,” Flowery Branch strength and conditioning coach C.J. Stockel said. “He’s a great example of what the weight room can transpire to on the baseball field.”
According to Stockel, who has been teaching weight training for 20 years, Henry can back squat more than 400 pounds and clean 275 pounds, which helps him at the plate.
“He works his tail off in the weight room,” Lawler said. “His work ethic in the weight room let him become the player he was this year.”
Not only at the plate, but on the mound as well.
“We knew he was going to be really tough on the mound,” said Lawler, who admitted that he tried to pitch Henry against better competition. “Any time we put him on the mound we knew we were going to get a win.”
In most cases that was true, as the right hander led the Falcons with an 11-2 record and 89 strikeouts.
His most impressive outing of the year came in his second start, when he struck out 11 Lakeview Academy batters en route to his third career no-hitter.
That one game was a preview of what the Falcons pitcher was capable of. He won 11 straight starts and did not lose a game until he came on in relief of Cody Ackerman in Game 2 of the Falcons’ first-round playoff series against Riverwood.
Despite suffering his first loss of the year, Henry redeemed himself in the pivotal Game 3 by hitting a two-run home run in the seventh inning to keep the Falcons’ playoff run alive.
“That was probably the biggest thing to happen to me in my four years of high school baseball,” he said after the game.
That moment may have been the best thing Henry did in high school, but it was an event that occurred two months earlier that had the biggest impact on not only Henry’s senior year, but his life, as well.
Henry and two of his teammates were suspended for three games following an off-the-field incident involving underage drinking on March 30. For the first time in his life he was unable to step on the field and help his team win.
“It hurt him, not being able to play,” Lawler said of the suspension. “He felt like he was letting his team and his coaches down.
“That incident took something he loved away from him and that was baseball,” Lawler added. “It scared him, and it won’t be a problem again.”
As he looks back on the incident leading up to the suspension, the 18-year-old realizes that he made a poor decision and hopes that the mistake he made can be a lesson for other area youths.
“In being an athlete and role model in the community and speaking to young guys coming through our program, or in school in Hall County or anywhere in the state, just think before you act,” Henry said.
“Don’t go out just because your best buddy’s going out or just to fit in. Just do what you think is right.
“If you have a bad feeling about something then it’s probably better to not do it.”
As an athlete, he knows that incident could have derailed what he hopes to be a long and successful baseball career.
On Aug. 12 he will report to Valdosta State to continue that career as a member of the Blazers baseball team where he could pitch, play the infield or play the outfield; he really doesn’t know.
“If I had to choose one or the other I’d have to choose being able to hit,” he said. “Based on what I did this year and having the confidence in myself knowing that I can hit or make contact with anybody out there.”
That attitude has the young South Hall resident already thinking beyond college and about one day playing in the Major Leagues.
“I don’t want to fall short of being a professional baseball player,” he said.