CHARLOTTESVILLE — Opponents pitch to him carefully. They know the damage he can do.
Many elect to stay away from him because they have seen what happens when he is allowed to pull the ball.
Others throw him nothing but breaking pitches because they know what happens to the fastballs he catches up with.
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They all pitch to him carefully. But it doesn’t matter. For four years, Cole Fout had made them pay for pitching to him at all.
Take, for example, the Eastern Hancock senior’s game against Northeastern earlier this week.
In his first at-bat, the sweet-swinging lefty yanked a line shot through the right side of the infield for a base hit. He walked in his second plate appearance. In his third, he cracked a towering fly ball that landed safely in center field for a double.
Finally, for his third and final hit of the day, Fout launched an opposite-field blast off the top of the left-field fence, mere inches away from adding another to his Hancock County-leading eight home runs. Instead, he had to settle for another double.
Three hits — one to left, one to center, one to right — and a walk. On Monday, Knights pitchers found a way to retire Fout only once. They shouldn’t feel bad, though. He has been torturing pitchers like this for four years.
And the numbers have begun to add up.
With just a few games to go in his senior season, Fout, a four-year starter, already boasts a horde of career program milestones.
His 118 hits, 67 walks, eight triples and career .423 batting average all are Royals bests. His 34 doubles rank second all-time, and his 85 RBIs and 95 games played are third.
This year, his numbers once again are video game-esque. Along with his eight home runs, Fout also sports a .464 batting average, 30 RBIs and a .589 on-base percentage in 23 games.
“He’s been a rock for us,” 10-year Eastern Hancock coach Chad Coughenour said of the two-time all-Hancock County player. “He is absolutely one of the greatest Royals of all time.”
Despite the elite numbers and myriad accolades, there still is something Fout has never accomplished as a Royal: Playing for a winning team.
In his first three years at Eastern Hancock, the Royals won a combined 19 games, the low point being a two-win year in 2013.
Those seasons in which the Royals went 19-51-2, Coughenour said, weren’t about winning. They were about restoring Eastern Hancock to respectability. There were about grooming young players to become physically and mentally capable of eventually winning ballgames.
Worthwhile goals, but for a seasoned player like Fout, who was ready to win from Day 1, those years, especially 2013, were difficult to endure.
“That was bad,” Fout said of his sophomore season. “That was just a tough year (to be a Royal).”
This year has been much easier.
Not only are the Royals a winning team, but they are on track to become the winningest team in program history.
On Tuesday, Eastern Hancock defeated Triton Central, marking its 13th victory of the season. Only the 2010 Royals (13-15) team can boast as a high a total.
No team has won 14 games.
With a pair of regular-season contests and the state tournament left on the schedule, the Royals (13-10) are preparing to become the most successful team in school history.
“You don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your own numbers or records or anything like that,” Fout said. “But you’re always thinking about wins. We want that record. … This has been the best year of my career.”
That’s true for Fout both in the win column and in the batter’s box — but also behind the plate.
Fout has grown immensely as a catcher, Coughenour said, especially calling pitches.
Look no further for evidence than Tom Barton’s no-hitter against Blue River Valley and Caleb White’s perfect game versus Edinburgh. Fout was crouched behind the plate for both.
“He’s a really smart catcher,” said Barton, a junior. “It’s nice to be able to just throw instead of having to worry about what pitches to throw.
“I’ve probably only shaken him off three or four times in our three years together. He deserves a ton of credit for (my) no-hitter and (White’s) perfect game.”
He deserves credit for more than just those games, too Coughenour said. Fout has been the foundation from which the coach has been able to rebuild his program.
Even during the down years, Fout did not just bank on his natural talent to post elite numbers. He worked to get bigger, faster and stronger and in doing so, provided an extraordinary example to the younger players around him.
That is because he doesn’t want his legacy at Eastern Hancock to be just the numbers he leaves behind. He wants to be remembered as a central figure it helping turn the Royals into annual contenders.
Coughenour said Fout has been instrumental is turning the Royals back into consistent winners.
“They all work extremely hard. They are all very motivated,” the coach said. “They push each other in the offseason. They push each other during the season. They don’t let somebody get to the point where they can let the team down.”
That’s the team the Royals are now. That’s the team Fout has helped create.
When he is told Coughenour called him one of the greatest Royals of all time, Fout looks down and smiles shyly.
Slightly embarrassed by the praise, he said he has not thought about his legacy much. Maybe later. For now, he’s just happy to be doing the one thing that has eluded him his whole Royals career. Winning.
Name: Cole Fout
School: Eastern Hancock
Primary position: Catcher
Jersey number: 2
Future plans: Attend Purdue University next fall to study business; try to walk on to Boilermakers baseball team.