COAL CITY – Last season, even though he was just a freshman, Coal City's Payton Hutchings made himself recognized on the Illinois high school baseball scene. He helped the Coalers win their first Class 3A regional championship and made the Morris Herald-News All-Area first team.
This season, he wanted to continue to make himself known.
He certainly accomplished that, as his has become one of the better-known names in state baseball circles. Pitching a seven-inning perfect game with 21 strikeouts will do that. So will putting up numbers like he did. The sophomore left-handed pitcher wnt 8-2 with a 1.40 ERA for the Coalers, who finished with a 34-5 record. In 65 innings pitched, he struck out 128 batters and walked just 17, allowing 34 hits. At the plate, he hit .347 with 12 doubles, three triples, a home run, 18 RBIs and scored 38 runs.
All of that, plus leading his team into the Class 3A Supersectional, got Hutchings named the Morris Herald-News Player of the Year.
"Coming into this year, I hoped to improve from last year," Hutchings said. "I wanted to prove that I wasn't just a one-year person, that I am going to be here for four years and people should notice that."
People got the message.
Hutchings, who is the son of Coal City athletic director and head football coach Dan Hutchings, also started as the quarterback of the Coalers' varsity football team and point guard for the varsity basketball team. Even though his future is in baseball - he has already committed to play for University of Illinois - he doesn't plan to forego the other sports.
"I will play all three sports until I graduate," he said. "My college coaches love that I am a three-sport athlete. Doing that puts you in a lot of different competitive situations and you learn from them."
Early in the season, Hutchings made his mark by throwing a perfect game with 21 strikeouts in an 11-0 win against Beecher, putting him in the spotlight.
"All of attention was a little overwhelming at first," he admitted. "But after a while, it was good. I knew that everybody had heard of me and would be bringing their best whenever they played against me. I love that challenge. I want to compete against the best and see what I can do."
During the summer, when he isn't at basketball camp or 7-on-7 drills for football, Hutchings will play for the GoPro travel baseball team based in Plainfield, along with Coal City teammates Jack Bunton and Tyson Spencer.
"We have guys from all over on the team," he said. "Besides us from Coal City, there are two from Oswego East, one from JCA, one from Plainfield Central, one from Thornton and one from Lyons Park.
"We will get to see different competition than we see in the high school season. We travel a lot. We will go to Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Florida and Georgia. There is really good talent at the tournaments we go to."
Seeing that competition is what Hutchings hopes will propel he and his team to even greater heights than they have reached in his two years. He helped the program win its first Class 3A regional championship last season and advance to the Class 3A supersectional this season, where they suffered a tough, 6-5 loss to St. Ignatius.
"The overall goal is to win the state championship," he said. "I still have two years to play, and I really want to win a state title in those two years.
"After the supersectional, it still feels unfinished. We made a good run, but we feel like we can still do better."
Besides the perfect game, Hutchings had other games that stood out in his mind this season, such as a 16-strikeout no-hitter against Manteno, a 14-strikeout effort against the same Manteno team in the regional championship, and a 7-3 win over Joliet Catholic Academy to win the Ottawa Sectional.
"The no-hitter I threw against Manteno was big," he said. "That was a big conference game and helped us win the conference title. And, the regional championship against Manteno was a big one.
"The JCA game was a really fun game to be in, too. That was one to remember."