Hurricane's Williams leads Best Under The Sun team

Jonesboro’s Jake Henry Williams is the Best Under The Sun Player of the Year after producing a .472 average and 51 runs batted in for the Class 5A state runner-up Hurricane.

JONESBORO — Jake Henry Williams began his senior baseball season at Jonesboro High School in March with high expectations of himself.

Looking back, Williams is comfortable that he achieved them.

Williams, the Best Under The Sun Player of the Year, was one of the leaders in a fearsome lineup that took the Hurricane to the Class 5A state championship game. He ended the year with a .472 batting average, 51 runs batted in and 19 extra-base hits, including five home runs.

“I was really pleased with the season. I didn’t play much as a freshman or a sophomore, I didn’t even travel my freshman year,” Williams said. “Coach (Mark) Dobson and I talked about this and I think I changed as a person as much as I did anything from that time to this year. The biggest thing for me was knowing I could come to the ballpark every day and nobody would outwork me. That made me feel comfortable and that’s why the numbers are the way they are.”

Williams and his teammates regularly rolled up big numbers on their way to a 28-6 record.

Everyone in Jonesboro’s regular starting lineup had a batting average of at least .329, with four hitting .431 or better and six driving in 34 or more runs. Dobson has described the 2021 Hurricane, which featured multiple college signees and prospects, as the best team Jonesboro High School has had.

And when Williams made contact with the ball, Dobson could hear a difference.

“It’s just louder than everybody else’s. When you’re inside in the cage or wherever else, it’s just an explosive sound,” Dobson said. “It’s just different than anybody else.”

Dobson described one of Williams’ home runs as probably one of the longest he’s ever seen, a blast that sailed well beyond the tall trees behind the left field fence at Woodland Field.

“It cleared those trees and we picked it up the next day over on Hester Street,” Dobson said. “It cleared the houses. He just has some unbelievable power.”

While that blast showed Williams’ power when he pulls the ball to the left side, it’s not indicative of his approach at the plate.

A right-handed hitter, Williams is glad to take the ball up middle or to the right side.

“Contrary to a bunch of power guys, I try to stay in the right-center gap, try to hit everything there,” Williams said. “Most of my hits came there this year and when I pulled it, I pulled it for power. I just thought right-center gap and anything that came inside, I just pulled it and let the bat do the work.”

Dobson said Williams’ approach works well.

“He can hit everything really and he can go the other way. He’ll go the other way, he hits up the middle,” Dobson said. “You’re going to have to mix it up and change things up. I don’t think he has a whole bunch of holes in his swing.”

Williams split time between a couple of positions in the field, playing first base when Josh Hyneman was on the mound and right field on other occasions. He also pitched in a few games, earning the victory over Sylvan Hills in the Hurricane’s state tournament opener.

Last fall, Williams and Jonesboro teammate Brennan Payne signed to play junior college baseball at Connors State (Okla.) College, where coach Perry Keith has won more than 1,700 games. Williams said Connors has talked to him about playing some at third base, something he has done since the season while playing with the Arkansas Prospects.

Williams said his father also went to Connors before going on to play at Central Arkansas. He hopes to earn a place on a Division I roster, a goal Dobson believes is attainable.

“Bats will always play,” Dobson said. “People are always looking for people who can hit and I think he’s going to continue to hit. I think at a Division I level it’s becoming harder to recruit hitters out of high school because they’re not seeing the pitching that they’re going to see. Somebody might hit fantastic in high school but may not hit Division I pitching. A hitter, I think, is harder to go after as a D-I out of high school. After you see college pitching and prove yourself against some of that, I think that becomes a little easier.”

Williams had 50 hits, a team high, and his .755 slugging percentage was also the team’s best. Catcher Rhett Hosman had a team-best .476 batting average and third baseman Ty Rhoades drove in a team-high 53 runs. Leadoff man Dawson Wagner scored 57 runs and designated hitter Sawyer Bentley belted six home runs.

“All of our guys could hit, every single one of them. There were different kind of hitters all the way through,” said Williams, who hit 13 doubles and batted fifth in the order.

“We had some power in the bottom of the lineup, had some power at the top, had contact hitters scattered throughout. When Brennan Payne is your eight-hole hitter and Will Barre’ is your nine-hole hitter, you’re going to give people fits because they can hit with the best of them. That’s a testament to our team and what we did this year.”

Williams drove in five runs during Jonesboro’s state tournament victories over Sylvan Hills, Texarkana and Greene County Tech. He had the Hurricane’s only extra-base hit in the state championship game, a fifth-inning double, as Van Buren ace Connor Johnson limited Jonesboro to four hits in a 12-1 victory.

The state final is still on Williams’ mind.

“I think about it all the time. It kind of drives me now; I wonder what we could have done differently,” he said. “But in the grand scheme of things, I played baseball with my best friends this year and I love every single one of them like brothers. That’s what’s going to matter, that’s what I’m going to remember 30 years down the road.”