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Fox Lane’s Hillis Wins 400th Game and Hearts of All

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By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays

Fox Lane baseball Manager Matt Hillis will tell you his 400th career win on Saturday is just a byproduct of the talent he’s been surrounded by over the course of his 23-year career in the Fox Lane dugout. But there are more than 1,000 current and former Foxes who’d beg to differ.

Fox Lane baseball
Members of the Fox Lane baseball program pose with Manager Matt Hillis after earning his 400th career win Saturday.

“Coach Hillis is THE BEST coach in Section 1, period,” junior Fox IF Logan Provost said after the Foxes took care of business with an 11-9 win over mighty Suffern. “There’s no other coach out there working as hard as he does to make us the best team in the section.”

Junior Will Rudolph went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBI to pace the Foxes in the milestone victory, several years after Hillis earned No.300 on May 2nd, 2019.

It’s an unusual pace for victories, one that few in NYS can compare to. Since taking over the Fox Lane job in 2002, Hillis has been an inspiration to his players and the community. With his ‘surfer-dude’ mien still intact, and his never-say-die attitude always in play, Hillis has manufactured victories and produced postseason success that has earned the respect of opposing players and managers. His insight and his willingness to grow the game and pay it forward is striking.

“One of the perks of coaching is getting to meet guys like Matt,” said John Jay EF Coach and longtime friend Eric Frink. “We are a brotherhood unlike any other and through baseball we’ve become family. I love Matt and his family. In today’s day and age it’s almost unheard of, but you can’t find anyone to say a disparaging thing about him.

“He’s truthful and brutally honest, but that’s just another thing to love about him,” Frink added. “He’s not always going to tell you what you want to hear. He’s going to tell you what you need to hear, and he’s going to do whatever he can to help you improve: Not just as a coach or player but as a human being. He played the game at a very high level and he knows what it takes to make sure his teams are always in contention and they always are.”

Whether he’s dealing with his own players, opposing players/coaches or members of the media, there’s just something special about Coach Hillis. There’s a mutual respect, an affable vibe he gives off, an aura of esteem, an attentiveness to detail and everything about sportsmanship and competition.

“He’s given me the keys to access everything in his head and I take full advantage of that,” Frink said. “He’s super smart and constantly evolving and teaching his kids the nuances of not just baseball but life, and that goes for everyone, not just the Henry Davis’, the Aaron Winklers and the Richard Slenkers.”

His impact on the aforementioned all-time greats is vast, but remains just as boundless for the last kid on his bench: The kid working overtime to show Hillis he belongs.

“Definitely way more of a “WE THING”, not so much a me thing,” Hillis said of the keys to his success. “To all the amazing players, coaches, boosters and parents that I have the pleasure of working with, thank you for making 400 possible.”

Be it ever so humble, that’s just his way. Hillis was named League Coach of the Year eight times (2002, 03, 06, 09, 11, 13, 14, 18). He was named Section 1 Coach of the Year twice (2003, 2018). Coach Hillis led the Foxes to 14 league titles (2002, 03, 06, 09-14, 16-19, 22), plus numerous sectional Final 4’s and championship appearances. He led the Foxes to two Section 1 championships (2003, 2006) and one NYS Final 4 (2003). The only thing standing between Hillis and Section 1 championship history is perennial powerhouse and reigning NYSPHSAA Class AA champion Roy C. Ketcham, arguably the finest program in the state, with whom the Foxes have battled tooth and nail time and time again over the years. Fox Lane has had its way with many others, though.

Fox Lane high school
Fox Lane the high school baseball and softball teams hosted youth players from both sports to enjoy a day of clinics. Almost 100 “future foxes” from Bedford, Mount Kisco and Pound Ridge participated in various drills to prepare for the upcoming season. Opening day of Mount Kisco baseball is next Saturday, including the annual parade down Main Street to Leonard Park.

“About 25 of those wins came at Byram’s expense, you’re a true class act. Thanks for helping show me the ropes along the way,” Byram Hills Coach Scott Saunders posted.

“Hands down, Coach Hillis is the best hitting instructor in Section 1,” said Yonkers A.D. Rob Webb, who served an early stint under Hillis. “It’s not even close.”

Contributions to win No.400 came from many Foxes (3-1), including  Logan Mammola (two-run triple). Logan Provost stroked an RBI single and got the save on the mound. Brad Patterson had two RBI off a pair of hits. Cooper Furst added an RBI single while John Czernyk and Zach Goldman each had two hits.

St. John’s commit Tyler Renz earned the win on the mound, allowing three earned runs and seven strikeouts.

After reaching the Final 4 last year as a No.12 seed, the Foxes have their eyes on a wide-open Class AA prize in 2024. Expect Hillis’ Foxes to be among the best of the lot, if not hoisting the hardware when all is said and done. It’s what we’ve come to expect.

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