Millbrook’s Hartigan brothers push each other to be better

Posted: April 16, 2014

Millbrook freshman left fielder Conor Hartigan (right) and his brother Ryan, a junior center fielder, are a big reason why the Pioneers are off to a strong start with a 7-1 overall record, including a 4-0 mark in the Northwestern District. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Ryan Hartigan (left), who bats fourth for the Pioneers, is hitting .500 and leads the team with three stolen bases, and his brother Conor, who bats fifth, is batting .391 with one home run and a team-high 12 runs batted in. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — In the interest of maintaining harmony, Millbrook freshman Conor Hartigan says he’ll sometimes let older brother and Pioneer junior Ryan win at video games.

But backing down from a challenge in baseball? That’s something neither is willing to do.

And it’s their desire to challenge and help each other to be the best possible players they can be that’s made them — and their team — winners in a big way this spring.

Thanks in large part to its two fastest players chasing down everything in sight while playing next to each other in the outfield and hitting everything in sight while hitting next to each other in the middle of the lineup, the Millbrook baseball team is off to a 7-1 start and is the only unbeaten team in the Northwestern District. The Pioneers have defeated each district foe once and are off to a 4-0 start.

“[The Hartigans] play off each other and feed off each other,” Millbrook coach Brian Burke said. “It’s constant competition, and it’s healthy competition where they’re pushing each other.

“I think Ryan would be the first to tell you that he wants what’s best for his brother before himself. And while it’s something that you would assume the big brother would take the lead on, Conor give as much advice to his older brother as Ryan can give to Conor.”

Ryan Hartigan — Millbrook’s No. 4 hitter and center fielder — is hitting .500 as a result of 13 hits in 26 at-bats. He’s also slugging .654 and has seven RBIs, nine runs, and leads the team in stolen bases with three and is the co-leader in doubles with four.

Conor Hartigan — Millbrook’s No. 5 hitter and left fielder — is hitting .391 as a result of nine hits in 23 at-bats. He’s also slugging .696 and has a team-high 12 RBIs to go with two stolen bases and one home run.

Pretty impressive numbers to be sure, but nobody at Millbrook is the least bit surprised about the success of the two right-handers.

Ryan (6 feet, 2 inches, 169 pounds) — has been starting on the varsity since the beginning of his freshman year (he played right field his first two years). And Ryan and Millbrook junior second baseman Bruce Keenan have long thought that Conor (6-1, 177) could come in and make a varsity impact right away when he became a freshman at Millbrook.

But the reasons why no one’s surprised is because the two brothers prepare as if success isn’t a given.

Ryan said the Hartigans are definitely a baseball family. The one time that Ryan and Conor actually played on the same team together before high school was when they were 8 and 6 on a team their dad coached, and Conor said it’s always been their dad’s dream to see them play together.

Teammates since they were 9, Keenan added Ryan’s commitment to the sport has definitely been evident over the years.

“He didn’t always start when he was 9 years old,” Keenan said. “But he worked better than anyone else on the team.”

And that work ethic is how we was able to stand out right away as a Millbrook freshman, when he hit .298 with nine RBIs and 18 runs.

“I knew that I needed to step up, and I knew that I needed to mature quickly,” Ryan said. “I got myself into the mind-set of a mature adult and tried to really focus on baseball.

“Baseball is a sport where you can’t lose your mind, and you need confidence. I went through slumps, but I worked hard and got through them.”

Ryan’s work ethic helped him raise his game to an even higher level as a sophomore. Hitting in the cleanup spot, he led the Pioneers with 24 RBIs, a .388 batting average, and a .506 on-base percentage.

Of all players selected to the All-Northwestern District first team, Ryan was one of just two who weren’t a senior or junior, and all of the players selected to the All-Region II first or second team, Ryan (second team) was one of just three who weren’t a senior or junior.

Burke and Keenan said a big part of Ryan’s hitting success is his ability to take the ball to the opposite field. It was Ryan’s line single to right field with no one out and the bases loaded that lifted the Pioneers to a 7-6 walk-off win over Sherando on April 3.

Ryan takes pride in situational hitting and his ability to read defenses, and against Sherando he took what the situation gave him.

“We love playing Sherando, because it’s good competition,” Ryan said. “I had complete confidence in that situation because we had the meat of the order coming up. I wasn’t worried. If I didn’t get the job done, my brother would do the job, or Mattie Hendershot would have done the job, so we would have been fine.”

Burke said Ryan — who praised Keenan in his comments after the Sherando game for getting the seventh-inning rally started — is always thinking of his teammates, and sometimes, his future teammates. Burke said Ryan made a point of talking to the JV team last year after a rough game to get them back on track.

With Ryan’s mind-set, it’s no wonder that Conor has exploded onto the scene as a Millbrook freshman.

“I’ve been preparing for him to come up for two years,” Ryan said of Conor. “I knew he was going to be on varsity as a freshman. I always kept in the back of his mind that he needed to work hard. I wanted him to be the best that he could be.”

Ryan made it a point to be more active with lifting weights when he was a freshman, and he was glad that Conor followed suit as well this year as a result of his role on the football team, where Conor played for the varsity.

The two have since become inseparable as weight room partners, and it works out well when all you need to do is poke your head around the house to find someone to lift with at 11 p.m.

“We both help each other be the best we can possibly be,” said Ryan, whose 60-yard time of 6.87 seconds in second on the team only to Conor’s 6.86. “We help each other in the weight room, we help each other get faster, we help each other in the batting cage. It’s like having a best friend with you at all times.”

Conor said, “Ryan’s helped me with a lot of hitting stuff, like taking it the opposite way, and I’m a lot stronger than I was in eighth grade through lifting. In the outfield, we’re always looking at each other right before the batter gets up, deciding which way to shift and which way the ball is going to go.

“We’re just trying to make each other better baseball players.”

One thing that Ryan would like to add is a little more power, a quality that Conor prides himself on.

Though he’s not concerned about hitting home runs, Ryan has yet to hit one in high school. Conor hit his first high school home run Monday against Skyline, a shot to left field that was still rising as it clipped the net at Bing Crosby Stadium.

“He’s a stud, for a kid that just turned 15 years old ... people would love to have his physical stature,” Burke said. “They both work so hard at the gym.”

Things sometimes get a little intense between the Hartigans. Conor said Ryan “is crazy” when it comes to video games because he has to win no matter what.

Ryan said they will try to one-up each other when it comes to lifting weights.

Burke said Conor has also said he lets Ryan win their impromptu wrestling matches.

Keenan said the Hartigans preferred mode of communication and encouragement on the field is to just shout at each other, which the team finds humorous.

But at the end of the day, their competitive relationship can only be described as good-natured. And for as long as the Pioneers have them both on the team, they’ll be happy.

“They’re just two great kids, and they’re absolutely hilarious to be around,” Burke said. “The healthy competition and the way they push each other to be the best for their team, it’s a privilege to be around both of them.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at  rniedzwiecki@winchesterstar.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1