Richmond Hill High School senior Justin Henle’s baseball career took another step Tuesday, when the All Region 3-AAAAA honorable mention catcher signed with Darton State College, a two-year school in Albany. Call it the next leg of a journey he expects to carry him far. .
“My goal is to go D1 right after my sophomore year and try to get in the SEC or an ACC school, and then try to go pro after that,” Henle said. “That’s my main goal, to go pro.”
Wildcats coach Stacy Bennett won’t be surprised if Henle fulfills his goal.
“He’ll succeed this year, just like he has in the past,” Bennett said. “He’ll succeed at Darton, whether that’s one or two years, and then he’ll succeed at a four-year school, and at pro baseball, because that’s the kind of drive, focus and determination he has.”
Bennett recalled Henle, whose family moved to Richmond Hill from Fayetteville, N.C., before his freshman season, from the outset constantly trying to show what he could do.
“He was an eighth grader, just a little guy, and he was out there working, and all he wanted to do was show me what he could do,” Bennett said. “He just kept on and on and on. ‘Coach, I can do this.’ He worked and he worked, so hard, and he was so relentless, and that’s never changed. A lot of times that fizzles out as they get older, but with Justin that never changed. “
Henle has one more season with the Wildcats, who won 20 games last season and advanced to the second round of the AAAAA baseball tournament. A fan of St. Louis’ Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina – “The way he plays the game is just unbelievable,” said Henle, who he hopes to help get the Wildcats farther down the playoff road in 2015.
After that, it’s on to Darton, where he’ll major in physical therapy and minor in business management, a step in the direction of not only chasing a pro career, but also of eventually going into business with his dad, Michael Henle, and brother, Justin Henle, and running “a little baseball academy.”
In the meantime, getting to Tuesday’s signing ceremony didn’t happen without help.
“I’ve got thank my parents, (Michael and Stacey Henle). They’re the reason I play baseball,” Henle said. “My dad has coached me since I was 3. I’ve had a bat in my hands since I was 2, and Dad’s the biggest idol I have in baseball.”
Henle also learned from Bennett, who was drafted by the New York Mets and spent two years in the minor leagues before going back to Armstrong Atlantic State University to get his degree, and RHHS assistant Scott Strickland, a former college pitcher at Armstrong himself.
“Coach Bennett instilled two things in me, selflessness and character, and I’ve lived by that code since we moved to Richmond Hill,” Henle said. “And coach Strickland is a good coach. He’s taught me a lot, he helps me in the cage, helps me catching wise.”
Bennett said there’s never a doubt about his senior catcher’s heart or drive to be the best.
“He just has a real clear vision,” Bennett said. “And nothing has ever got in the way of it. I can’t say enough about him and the example he’s given our younger kids. His effort, it’s never in question.”