Vikings’ Hadley has a handle on clean-up spot

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PARIS —With his long hair and point guard frame, Cody Hadley looks more like Tim Lincecum than a big, intimidating clean-up hitter like Alex Rodriguez. But the Oxford Hills senior is so versatile that he has some of the qualities of both, and a few that are uniquely his own.

It would be misleading to say the Viking shortstop has emerged this season. A three-year starter, he’s long been regarded as a multi-talented athlete in the KVAC. But with more heralded teammates such as Matt Verrier, who has earned a scholarship to play at the University of Maine, the accolades haven’t gone beyond the conference.

“He’s kind of flown under the radar a little bit,” Oxford Hills coach Shane Slicer said. “Maybe it’s because he’s played different positions and Matt’s always got the headlines, but I think people have taken notice.”

They have taken notice when Hadley has been standing in the on-deck circle when Verrier has been in the batters box. Slicer moved Hadley to the clean-up spot this year to give Verrier more protection and he has delivered with remarkable consistency.

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Through the Vikes’ first six games, he has driven in 15 runs and led the team with a .579 batting average. His impact is evident beyond the numbers, Slicer said.

“Number one, he’s letting Matt hit,” he said. “There aren’t many guys in the state that can do that. He’s having the type of year that Matt is getting as many pitches to hit as Cody because (pitchers) don’t have a choice. He’s perfect for us in the fourth spot. He can do everything — hits with power, has great speed, runs the bases well and is aggressive.”

Hadley also leads the team in home runs (3) and slugging percentage (1.211). With his combination of athleticism, command of the strike zone and bat speed, he is tough to throw a fastball past. As the season has unfolded, pitchers have been less willing to even try.

“Lately, it’s been curveball, curveball, curveball, slider, change-up,” he said. “I don’t see as many fastballs as I used to.”

Oxford Hills pitchers feel confident throwing virtually any pitch when Hadley is playing behind them. Originally groomed as a center fielder, his range and strong arm forced Slicer to put him at shortstop.

Once Hadley took over at shortstop for Ryan Yates, Slicer considered changing Hadley from a side-armer to coming more over the top.

“I don’t change a thing now,” he said. “His ball doesn’t tail too much and our first baseman is used to it. It’s strong coming from any angle. I think that helps him get rid of the ball quickly in the infield, especially turning two and in the hole,” he said.

Hadley’s glove is so important to the Vikings that Slicer opted this year to use him out of the bullpen after having him start last season.

“He probably would be our ace if we pitched him every day, but then it would make our defense a little bit weaker. And he has one of those arms that can pitch every day,” Slicer said. “His role is to come in in tight games, throw strikes and get guys out.”

Hadley relishes his new role and has been lights out so far with a win and a save.

“I like it a lot better than starting right now,” said Hadley, who was an all-conference guard on the basketball team. “The last couple of years, I’ve started, and it seemed rough for me. I threw a lot of strikes so I’d get shelled. Relieving seems to come easier. I get put in a position to win the game or shut down that game and that feeling pushes me.”

Just as his fellow infielders never know what angle the ball will be coming from when he is at shortstop, hitters often have trouble picking up the ball out of Hadley’s right hand when he’s on the mound. To take advantage of his deceptive motion, Hadley added a sidearm slider to his fastball/curveball repetoire.

“You don’t know what his arm slot is going to be, and that makes him effective,” Slicer said. “He can throw different pitches from different spots.”

Add in the fact that Slicer considers Hadley’s leadership critical to the Vikings’ success and you have about as well-rounded a player as there is in the state. One would think college coaches would be knocking down Hadley’s door, but his plan right now is to follow Verrier to the University of Maine and try to walk on for baseball.

“I’m going to try out. I’m going to work hard this summer, get better, get a little bigger, hit the weight room,” he said.

If he hits the weight room as hard as he hits a baseball, he may even start to look like a clean-up hitter.

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