Sam Cherry could make a case for being one of the most improved players in Hillgrove baseball history.
Coaches were uncertain of the right-handed pitcher’s potential when he joined the program his freshman year. Three years later, he was promoted to the starting rotation after spending countless hours in the weight room and working on technique with pitching coach Wes Ellis.
Under the guidance of Ellis, Cherry developed into a solid off-speed pitcher who kept walks to a minimum.
After pitching sparingly in the bullpen in 2019 for the Class AAAAAAA runner-up, Cherry continued making improvements. His role was extended in 2020 to being a closer early in the week and a starter late in the week.
A month into his senior season, Hillgrove was 9-5 overall and had just swept Kennesaw Mountain in a three-game series to start Region 3AAAAAAA competition. The Hawks were in the midst of a six-game winning streak after losing five of their first eight games to start the year.
During that stretch, Cherry was 2-1 with two saves, a 2.38 ERA and walked only four battlers in 17-plus innings.
“He really made a lot of strides from his freshman year to his senior because he learned a lot about work ethic,” Hillgrove coach David Richardson said. “I don’t think he got a lot of coaching outside of our school. He’s gotten tougher during his four years. He’s got talent, as you can see, and he started to buy into work ethic, teamwork and accountability.”
However, neither Cherry nor his senior teammates were unable to complete their journeys at Hillgrove as schools were forced to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was hard on me,” Cherry said. “This year was the best opportunity for me. I’ve grown mentally and physically (at Hillgrove), and it paid off. As a senior, it’s hard for me to know that it’s gone.”
Cherry knew he was not going to be a power pitcher, with his fastball averaging in the low 80s. He said he experimented with throwing both overhand and sidearm while trying to find his niche before settling on pitching at a 45-degree angle.
According to Prep Baseball Report, Cherry’s fastball does has movement. He can also induce outs with both his slider and curveball.
“I’m the type of guy that, when you put me on the mound, I’m going to get you strikes,” Cherry said. “That’s been the big thing for me and the coaches this year. They had trust in me because they know I’ve worked my butt off. I couldn’t be thankful enough for all my coaches.”
Cherry is eager to play baseball in college, but he has yet to make a decision. He said he is deciding between Piedmont College, Volunteer State Community College and South Georgia State College.
“I think there are plenty of schools that will give him an opportunity to pitch,” Richardson said. “I’m proud of Sam and the progress he made.”