Baseball notebook: Austen Wagoner delivers at right time
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or email@example.com June 16, 2012 11:12PM
Lake Central High School Indians' Austen Wagoner fires a throw to first base after fielding the grounder in the infield. Lake Central High School Indians defeated the Roncalli High School Rebels Saturday, June 16, 2012, at Victory Field in Indianapolis in the 2012 IHSAA Class 4A Baseball Championship game 1-0. | Doug McSchooler~for the Post-Tribune
Updated: June 16, 2012 11:18PM
INDIANAPOLIS — Lake Central cleanup hitter Austen Wagoner knew he should have been insulted last Saturday when Zionsville intentionally walked Chase Fieldhouse three times — with runners on base — to get to him.
But the truth is, he couldn’t blame them. And he couldn’t make them pay any of those three times.
“I haven’t really done much all season for our offense,” said Wagoner, who entered the game with a .278 average, but 26 RBI — second most on the team. “They’ve been walking Chase all season, and I’m surprised they didn’t do it more.”
But Wagoner stepped up big in the biggest game of them all.
With two out in the third inning of Saturday’s Class 4A state championship game, Lake Central got a single by Ryan Burvan. Roncalli pitcher Colin Hawk walked Fieldhouse — not intentionally, but he wasn’t giving him anything to hit — to bring up Wagoner.
And Wagoner laced a single up the middle to score Burvan with what proved to be the only run of the game.
“I came up big when I had to,” he said. “A 1-0 game, and I get the RBI — it feels pretty incredible.”
Wagoner said he spent all week working with hitting coach and former RailCats slugger Eric Blakely.
“At the plate, I’ve been frustrated all year,” he said. “I couldn’t get it together. I kept trying to work on it in practice, but I couldn’t figure it out. This week, I’ve been really focused on hitting — staying composed, nice and calm in the box. I found a good pitch and just smoked it.”
As he ran to first base, Wagoner had one thought: “I was just pumped. I was just like, ‘Thank God. Thank God.’ That’s all I was saying.”
To top it off, Wagoner made all three putouts in the bottom of the seventh — three tough throws from shortstop.
“It’s an out when it’s hit to him,” LC coach Jeff Sandor said. “Hit ground balls to Austen Wagoner, and we’re going to be OK.”
Ace in the hole: Taylor Lehnert knew the deal. Despite his 11-0 record, despite his 0.69 ERA, despite his 111 strikeouts in 70 innings, he knew that if he entered the state championship game, it was a bad thing. It meant Jimmy McNamara was in trouble.
Tough situation for a Division I pitcher — he’ll be joining McNamara at Central Michigan next year — to be in.
“I wanted to get in, but I also knew with Jimmy starting, that he was capable of going seven innings,” Lehnert said. “I knew that if I had to go in, it was going to be in a tough situation just like last week (in the semistate). I was going to be ready.”
Sandor sent Lehnert out to the bullpen a couple of times to warm up.
McNamara — who will be Lehnert’s roommate in the fall — noticed.
“I kept seeing Taylor warming up and I wanted to have the swagger to look at him and tell him to go sit down,” McNamara joked. “I got this, Tay.”
Sandor said that, if Roncalli’s Cincinnati-bound leadoff hitter Colin Hawk had come up in the bottom of the fifth with the Rebels threatening, he was considering bringing in Lehnert for just one batter, then putting McNamara back on the mound.
It didn’t come to that. But the Indians don’t get this far without Lehnert, who was simply spectacular all season long.
“That’s one of the most painful things, if there is a painful thing about winning a state championship,” Sandor said. “Taylor Lehnert deserved to be on this field in some capacity. But for the betterment of the team, I thought we had to stick with Jim.”
Lehnert understood. Sure, the hard-throwing righty would be the undisputed ace on almost any other team in the state.
But he’s a state champion. Not a bad trade-off.
“I have no problem with that,” he said with a smile. “No problem at all.”
Pulling rank: Sandor spent most of the spring downplaying the lofty position Lake Central held in every conceivable poll — state, Midwest, national. Didn’t want his players to get caught up in it and lose focus.
But now that the season’s over?
Bring ’em on.
“Now I’m going to say I’m excited to see where we fall,” he said. “ESPN has one more poll coming out, and we were ninth nationally coming in. In USA Today, we’re 12th. USA Today’s comes out on the 20th, ESPN’s on Tuesday. We’re the only team left in those top spots, the only ones still paying, so there has to be a little bit of a climb. I’m pumped up to find out. ”