DOBSON — Hope Hinson might have drawn college interest in another sport if she’d so desired, but the Surry Central two-sport standout’s first love has always been softball.
The senior, who earned All-Conference honors in both tennis and softball during her athletic career for the Lady Eagles, will continue her sports career right next door, after signing a letter of intent to join the Surry Community College Lady Knights for their upcoming season.
“I’ve always wanted to play some sport on the college level,” said Hinson, who signed in a ceremony at the school on Tuesday afternoon. “Softball has always been my favorite sport, and Surry is close to home. I talked to a couple of (other) teams, but they were too far off or too expensive, and Surry was the best fit. I’m really excited.”
Hinson, who started at third base for Central this spring, had a remarkable senior season in which she hit .434 with 13 runs scored and 13 RBI in 17 games, Her eight extra-base hits tied for first on the team, and she was first or second in nearly every other batting category on the Lady Eagles. In her junior season, she had been nearly as dangerous, hitting at a .365 clip.
More importantly to her coach, Hinson was a team leader on a 2017 squad which was breaking in several inexperienced players. Surry Central was 3-7 at one point in the season, but improved down the stretch and earned a state playoff berth for the second year in a row.
“She was the glue of our team this year, really kept our team together, and she’s just an all-around great kid,” said Lady Eagles softball coach Whitney Joyner, who saw the program rise from sad sack to competitiveness during Hinson’s three varsity seasons.
Much of that had to do with the fearlessness of her third baseman. The position is often known as the “hot corner,” because a lot of hard-hit line drives end up going in that direction. A player playing third has to be on their heels at all times, and also able to recover quickly and make the throw to first if their first effort can only knock the ball down.
“Hope is one of those athletes who can play any position you want her to, but she’s got the heart of a third baseman,” Joyner said. “She’s not afraid of anything at third. She will stand halfway up the line regardless of who’s up to bat, and you have to have that in a third baseman.”
She committed just three errors all season as a senior, and none in her final eight games.
For her part, Hinson says that she hopes to earn the nod at the hot corner for the Lady Knights next season, but will be happy in a utility role if she begins in that slot.
For all her success in softball, Hinson might be better known locally as a tennis player. During her four years with the Lady Eagles, the team went a perfect 40-0 in Western Piedmont Athletic Conference play. As a sophomore. Hinson was the team’s No. 5 singles player. She ascended to No. 3 as a junior, and was No. 2 behind Sarah Wyble as a senior. Despite Central playing a schedule that resembled a Who’s Who of local tennis powerhouses, she was 24-10 in singles during her final two seasons, and was All-Conference both seasons.
Her swan song in tennis was a tribute to just how good Central tennis has become. In the WPAC Tournament, the Lady Eagles decided to enter their top two doubles teams. Hinson and Wyble beat teammates Hannah Pardue and Anna Senter in the finals. All four went to regionals, where their teams finished second and third, respectively, to advance to the state championships. Hinson’s tennis career ended as a state quarterfinalist in the doubles.
A few days later, she hit the diamond for her final season and immediately started crushing softballs the same way she had tennis balls. In her first game, she went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored as Central defeated North Wilkes. In her next game, she had a hit, walk and two RBI against East Surry and Northwest Conference Player of the Year Autumn Lawson. Two more hits, one a double, followed in the next game against Alleghany. In her last two games, against powerhouses Forbush and R-S Central, she smashed three doubles.
Along the way, she earned Surry Central Player of the Month honors and finally made All-Conference after settling for honorable mention in 2015 and 2016.
Hinson said that after playing two seasons with the Lady Knights, she hopes to transfer to a four-year school to study criminal justice, while playing sheriff at the hot corner for two more years.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.