Ole Miss

Teams won’t pitch to this Coast senior, but his rise as an MLB prospect hasn’t slowed

Hayden Dunhurst received baseball’s ultimate sign of respect in Game 1 of the second-round playoff series at West Harrison on April 26.

With two out and nobody on in the top of the third, the Hurricanes chose to intentionally walk the Ole Miss signee.

“Sometimes I don’t even want to bring a bat up,” Dunhurst said with a grin. “I just want to go ahead and walk to first, but you always want to stay mentally ready to hit and attack the fastball and do whatever is best for the team.”

The next man up, Mason Treat, made the Hurricanes pay for their decision with a triple, allowing Dunhurst to score from first as the Blue Devils rolled to a 10-5 win in the opener and an eventual 2-1 series victory.

Dunhurst walked four times in the opener, once in Saturday’s game and had four intentional walks in Monday’s 10-5 series clincher.

With nine walks during the West Harrison series, Dunhurst leads the nation in with 43 total, according to MaxPreps.com.

With an on-base percentage of .614, it’s no wonder that Pearl River Central head coach Neil Walther has consistently put Dunhurst in the leadoff spot.

A better approach

Dunhurst has a .398 batting average, 11 home runs, 36 RBIs and 46 runs scored.

For a batter who rarely sees a pitch to hit, those are noteworthy numbers.

Walther has watched Dunhurst show better patience than he did a year ago when opponents walked him 37 times. He had a batting average of .348, six homers and 30 RBIs.

“(He handles it) a lot better than he used to because when they did finally pitch to him he’d chase stuff,” Walther said. “He lays off. He makes them throw strikes. We’ll go ahead and take walks. It’s easier to accept that and take those walks if you trust the guys behind you.”

Dunhurst has long been considered a solid top prospect as a strong defensive catcher, but that maturity at the plate has allowed his stock to rise for the MLB Draft.

“It’s probably the most patient I’ve been in the last four years,” Dunhurst said. “It’s tough having 3-0, nobody on base and they’re throwing me curve balls in the dirt. It’s just the maturity level and you have to respect it. They know what you can do so you take what the game gives you.

“I’ve felt confident in my defensive skills all of my high school career. I think I’ve matured with the bat a lot this year, just using the whole field and hitting things besides fastballs.”

Learning the process

In late March, Dunhurst checked in at No. 149 in Baseball America’s rankings of the top prospects for this year’s MLB Draft. That was the highest among South Mississippi prospects with George County senior pitcher Trevor McDonald following close behind at No. 158.

With the strong likelihood that he will land in the first four or five rounds of the draft, MLB scouts have watched closely as Dunhurst has gone through his final year of high school baseball.

“There were probably (scouts) at almost every single practice during the fall and coming into the spring,” Dunhurst said. “They still come almost every day, even if we don’t play. The team kind of gets hyped up about it. Nobody puts it down as a negative. There’s a lot of appreciation because it’s kind of a lot of stress on me to deal with all that.

“At the same time, you’re in high school, you’re 18 and still trying to live out your life and you’ve got all this pressure. But it’s baseball, it’s the same game I’ve been playing since I was 3 years old. It hasn’t changed.”

Dunhurst handles his media interviews with ease — a product of dealing with the spotlight since early in his high school career.

He committed to Ole Miss as a sophomore after grabbing the attention of many of the top college programs in the Southeast — a process that has conditioned him well for the wringer that comes with the MLB Draft.

“I don’t want to say I’ve become used to it, but I’ve been dealing with it since my freshman year,” Dunhurst said. “The pressure and all that has definitely helped me, being recruited by SEC schools. That’s helped me stay within myself and take what the game gives me.”

Pearl River Central will take on North Pike in the third round of the Class 5A playoffs with the first game set for 7 p.m. on Thursday in Carriere.

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.