Junior infielder Will Whitaker has led the Hannibal baseball team with his standout season at the plate and charismatic attitude.
Will Whitaker makes it a priority to set the table for the Hannibal baseball team from his leadoff spot in the lineup.
The junior has proven a knack for doing that and more.
Whitaker stroked a .375 batting average during the regular season to go along with a school-record 32 runs to lead the Pirates to 15 wins and counting on the year.
Not your typical leadoff man, the third baseman has also belted a pair of home runs and delivered 19 RBIs.
“I just try to get on base,” Whitaker said. “I like to get on with more than a single, but I just try to get on base for the people up next.”
Hannibal coach Ian Hatton approached Whitaker before the season about the idea of hitting atop the batting order, something he had never done before.
The standout was up for the challenge.
“I've never batted leadoff in my life,” Whitaker said. “Besides this year, I've always batted third. But I was willing to take on the role and just get on base as much as I could for my teammates.”
Batting Whitaker first is perhaps one of the best tactical decisions Hatton has made in his first season steering the program at his alma mater.
Sparked by Whitaker, the Pirates have matched the school record for victories in a season.
“Will has really found a home in the leadoff spot,” Hatton said. “He's got great power, great speed, and he's a great contact hitter, and that's why we want him there. He's got game-changing potential and he's been nothing but consistent.”
Whitaker erupted for 10 RBIs over the weekend at the Palmyra Tournament.
The standout followed that with a 3-for-3 showing with two RBIs during a 10-2 romp Tuesday over Clarence Cannon Conference champion Highland.
“It's looking like a beach ball,” said Whitaker, who is on a 12-game hitting streak. “It looks pretty good. I just try to put a good swing on it, and thankfully it's going where I need it to go.”
Whitaker's breakthrough season at the plate has been helped by the bottom of the Pirates lineup, which consistently has put runners on base for him to drive home.
Braden Schlueter, Gary Culp and Lucas Brown have been formidable forces in the bottom third of the order.
"When the bottom of the lineup does their job, it makes Will even more dangerous," Hatton said.
Whitaker makes an impact for the Pirates with his leadership that spills into the dugout and practices.
His charisma has helped him develop into a vocal leader.
“I just to try to influence people in a good way and try to motivate them,” Whitaker said. “If they make a bad play, bring them back up. Everybody is gonna make mistakes, and it's alright. We just stay positive.”
Hatton mentioned Whitaker has been a key to Hannibal's winning culture on and off the field.
“He has been a source of comic relief all year, no doubt,” Hatton said. “He does a great job of keeping things loose and the mood light. He helps everybody out with that, and obviously his play speaks for itself.”
There remains unfinished business for Whitaker and Co., as the Pirates head to Wentzville on Friday to take on Timberland in the first round of the Class 5 District 8 Tournament.
Whitaker would like nothing more than to continue this special season.
“It's awesome,” he said. “It's great to do it with this group of guys. It would be great to just keep on going, make the school wins record hard to beat and make it a competition for the people after us.”