High School Sports Awards: Texas’ Hagen Smith demonstrates post-surgery dominance on the mound during his senior year

Bullard (Texas) High School senior left-hander Hagen Smith logged an 11-0 record and fanned 169 batters in 73 innings en route to seven no-hitters. (Photo: Submitted)

In Major League Baseball's modern era, the record for no-hitters delivered in a single season is seven, which has occurred three different times.

Bullard High School (Texas) senior fireballer Hagen Smith met that record during the 2021 season. And if that fact isn't astounding enough, pair it with Smith executing such dominance on the heels of missing his entire junior year because of surgery. 

The USA TODAY High School Sports Awards celebrates the best in high school sports. Smith will be highlighted in the Texas state show July 15. If he wins, he will also be a part of the national show Aug. 5. 

Smith, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound lefty possesses a 95-miles-per-hour fastball that he paired with an elite curveball to help propel the Panthers to a 28-8 record. He finished the year 11-0 and logged 73 innings — yielding a beyond-pedestrian seven hits while notching 169 strikeouts versus 21 walks. 

"Obviously, the success we had, Hagen was an intricate part of that," Bullard High School Head Baseball Coach Robert Ellis said.

Ellis spent 20 years in professional baseball, including 16 years as a player and four as a coach.

"He was our guy. I knew about Hagen two years ago. He was a sophomore pitching in the Area Code Baseball Underclass Games. I had a scout friend of mine tell me 'this guy is really good. He lives right in your backyard. You ought to see about potentially working with him.' Right after that he had to have Tommy John surgery," Ellis said. 

More formally known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, Tommy John surgery repairs a torn ulnar ligament inside the elbow. 

Smith said he sustained the injury while delivering his first pitch during the Area Code Baseball event, but throughout the rigorous 18-month recovery process, the resolve remained.  

"I didn't really think anything bad about it," he said. "I kind of thought about it as getting it out of the way. I love every second of pitching. When I'm on the mound I really try to make sure that my fastball command is on. And at least one secondary (pitch). I think that's the most important thing about pitching. If you have all of your stuff working, then you can be really deadly. Every time someone comes up to the plate, you want to beat them." 

Ellis, who had Tommy John surgery twice himself, said he admires the manner in which Smith addresses adversity. 

"He's the same guy if he gives up a hit or doesn't give up a hit," Ellis noted. "He had a pretty phenomenal season for a high school pitcher in the state of Texas at the 4A level. And the teams that he pitched against were really good ballclubs. The toughest game of the year he had was against Lufkin Hudson — and he gave up three hits in that game. So three of the seven hits he gave up all season came in one game, but he still shut them out. The resiliency and the way he goes about his work — it's just incredible to watch. He has a bright future in this game for sure. He's hands down the most gifted pitcher that I've had the opportunity to be around." 

Smith attributed the number of no-hitters recorded in MLB to pitchers working to their strength. This is something he has embraced with his approach.  

"I had trouble with command in the past and I think cleaning up my delivery and mechanics helped a lot," he said, adding his goal is always to be the best. The challenge will continue at the University of Arkansas next year.  

"I went to a scrimmage and there were like 5,000 fans there and the coaching staff was among the nicest people I've met," Smith said of the decision to join the Razorbacks.  

Prospect Select's Class of 2021 National Rankings List for high school baseball players places Smith 35th and he is widely considered to be on the radar of teams that will be making selections during the Major League Baseball Draft in July.

"I think it would be really cool," he said. "But I really don't have any expectations. I really don't know what's going to happen." 

His coach said Smith is a unicorn in the game.  

"The things that stand out for me — he's a great mover," Ellis said. "He moves extremely well and is a good athlete. And two, he has exceptional feel for the baseball. You don't see many guys that throw 95, 96 miles per hour that have that type of feel. He's the most gifted thrower I've ever seen. To do what he's doing, coming back from surgery 18 months later at 17-years-old. There are guys that are 25-years-old that aren't doing this type of stuff." 

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