HARRISONBURG – Fourteen years ago, Sean Hanifee passed up a chance to fulfill a dream to coach at the college level when approached for an assistant position at Delaware State University.
This time, with more confidence in his knowledge of the game and his kids nearly full-grown, Hanifee decided “to take the leap.”
After three seasons as Turner Ashby High School’s baseball coach, Hanifee announced Tuesday he has resigned to be an assistant at Division III Bridgewater under his former coach, Curt Kendall.
“I’m going to try the college level out,” said Hanifee, a 1993 BC graduate. “I’ve really wanted to do it for a while. The opportunity presented itself.”
Hanifee went 46-24 (.657 winning percentage) with the Knights, including 38 wins over the past two seasons with consecutive regional semifinal appearances. He’s the latest winning coach of a baseball program steeped in tradition. Hanifee’s three predecessors – Richie Anderson (115-27 in six seasons), Bill Buracker (44-8 in two) and Ray Heatwole (303-66-2 in 17) – each led TA to the state title game with winning percentages over .800.
The Knights are 860-280-2 all-time (since 1956) and have won a state-record six Group AA championships, including the first one in 1971.
The 43-year-old Hanifee – who expects to work with infielders at BC – said being able to evaluate talent on the recruiting trail was “one of the biggest draws” to coaching in the college ranks, especially after experiencing the showcase circuit with his son, Evan Hanifee, who will play for James Madison next season.
“Coach Kendall has given me some latitude and flexibility to be away from the team to watch Brenan and Evan play,” said Sean Hanifee, whose younger son, Brenan, is a JMU commit and a rising junior at TA. “Flexibility that I didn’t necessarily have.”
Hanifee went 46-24 with the Knights, including 38 wins over the past two seasons with regional semifinal appearances.
TA finished this past season 20-5. After a tough 7-6 loss to William Byrd in the 3A West regional semifinals on a walk-off wild pitch, Hanifee called this year’s Knights unquestionably “the greatest group I’ve ever coached and I’m not sure I can ever even duplicate it.”
Hanifee reinforced that notion Monday, saying that made the decision to pursue his dream of college coaching easier.
“This team I worked with just provided me with a complete family atmosphere,” Hanifee said. “I honestly never felt like I’d have the opportunity to work with and coach a group of high schoolers better than them.”
In the past two seasons under Hanifee, the Knights had 70 percent of their graduating seniors go on to the collegiate level or at least have a walk-on opportunity – three of five seniors last season and four of five this year. This season’s college-bound players included left-handed ace Eric Yankey, who has also signed with JMU, as well as Jordan Elyard and Brian Smiley, who will have walk-on opportunities at Eastern Mennonite and Bridgewater, respectively.
At BC, Hanifee will reunite with two former TA players – sophomore pitcher Jordan Showalter and junior outfielder/first baseman Bay Liskey.
Kendall, who was named the VaSID state Coach of the Year, guided the Eagles to a 36-14 record this past spring, with the most wins in program history.
“He’s where I started learning the game,” Hanifee said of Kendall. “I didn’t have a lot of baseball knowledge coming out of high school. …Having the chance to work beside him 25 years later? I guess you can consider that a blessing really.”