Leader Blues

Monday, April 02, 2007

SPORTS >>Southpaw sensation

IN SHORT: Panthers pitcher Justin Haas is headed to Iowa to play baseball for Clark College, but says his heart will stay in Cabot. The senior visited the NCAA Division III school last week and came back with the offer.

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Every school longs to have student athletes who perform on the field and in the classroom, and if they become leaders in their community, it is considered a bonus. If that is the case, Cabot High School hit a record lottery with senior pitcher Justin Haas.

Haas has been the ace pitcher for the Panthers since his sophomore year, and has been vital to the basketball program as well. When he was interviewed for this feature on Thursday afternoon, Haas had just come back from Iowa. His trip to Clark College in Dubuque, Iowa, was a productive one, landing a full athletic scholarship for baseball at the soon-to-be NAIA program.

“They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Haas said. “There are new coaches there, and they want me to come in and help them rebuild their program.” The new coaches will give Haas an Arkansas connection right off the bat. Former University of Ozarks coaches Chad Harris and Justin Jennings are now over the baseball program at Clark.

One’s first impression of Haas is the curiosity of how a young man with that small a stature can pitch effectively, but Cabot High School assistant coach and head legion coach Andy Runyon says the southpaw’s technique is second to none.

“There are a lot of kids who can throw well, but he knows how to pitch, which is becoming a rarity nowadays,” Runyon said. “He throws three pitches consistently. He’s not the type of player who will throw it by a lot of guys, but he can catch them with a fast ball a lot of times when they are ooking for the breaking ball.”

Haas was named to the 5A-East All Conference first team last year, and will most likely grab the same accolade in the 7A this year. His GPA stands at 3.3. He intends to major in either education or journalism, leaning slightly toward education. Haas wants to someday return to Cabot, and fill the shoes of current head coach Jay Fitch whenever he retires or moves on to other endeavours.
“Maybe (CHS athletic director) Johnny White will read this and save me a spot,” Haas joked. “Cabot is my home. I love the people, the size of the town, just everything about it. It’s going to be kind of weird going up to Iowa, but hopefully it will be worth it.” He was quick to acknowledge the help of not only Fitch, but also Runyon and basketball coach Jerry Bridges as people who have helped shape who he is as an athlete and individual.

Haas is also a part of one of the closest-knit groups of students at any school seen in quite sometime. Along with teammates Colin Fuller, Corey Wade and Justin Free, the groups has participated in athletics together since grade school.
He believes the closeness of the players at Cabot gives them an instant advantage when it comes to facing some of the 7A-Central’s larger programs.

“I believe that it’s the X-factor,” Haas said. “If you have great team chemistry, you have a pretty good idea of what everyone is going to do. We all know that Cory is for speed and Free is for fundamentals, and so on. Some of the Little Rock schools, they are just meeting each other when they join the team. I have known a lot of these guys since the first grade, so I absolutely think it gives us an edge.”

Although he did not mention it on his own, Haas is very involved in the community. Runyon was not at all hesitant to brag on the activities Haas takes on in his spare time, including working with special children.

“We went to Northside Elementary a few weeks ago to read for some of the kids,” Runyon said. “And Haas was one of the first people I thought of to take. He had a good time, and the kids had a good time. It was a successful day, and we will probably do it again in the future.

“He comes from a great family background. His brother, Cody, has special needs, and he comes out with him to a lot of the stuff they do during the summer. Those are two quality young men, right there.”

As for life after Cabot High School, Haas says his absence from the town will most definitely be only temporary.
“My roots are here,” Haas said. “This place is all I know. Shoot, I can even see myself running for mayor one day.”