Prep baseball

HILLARY SMITH: L.C.'s Wagoner delivers in the clutch

2012-06-16T21:30:00Z 2012-06-17T00:37:09Z HILLARY SMITH: L.C.'s Wagoner delivers in the clutchBy Hillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
June 16, 2012 9:30 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | Austen Wagoner was a power hitter whose power was MIA this season.

He held his cleanup spot in the Lake Central lineup because he could find a way on base no matter what. He'd take the walk, the hit by pitch, or reach on an error.

Wagoner also held the spot because he has been hailed for his ability to wipe away problems and focus on each at-bat, on each play.

But don't kid yourself, Wagoner knew he needed help.

The senior shortstop spent the week in the cages at Diamond Kings, working with hitting coach Eric Blakeley on how to take his final at-bats at Lake Central.

When Wagoner stepped into the box to bat in the third inning of Saturday's Class 4A state title game against Indianapolis Roncalli, he channeled his Dyer Little League coach Mike Burvan.

"Big-time players step in big time, coach Burvan used to say that to us," Wagoner said.

A single up the middle by Wagoner scored Ryan Burvan, who had singled two batters earlier. It was all the offense the Indians needed to win the championship game against the Rebels.

That the hit came from Wagoner, who had struggled to find his power most of the season, gave Lake Central coach Jeff Sandor a smile.

"I'm really proud of him," Sandor said.

His teammates, always the loving type, wouldn't let him forget that he was a .355 hitter last year and mustering only a .266 average this year.

"He's been something, hasn't he?" pitcher Jimmy McNamara said. "I think we peer-pressured him into getting that hit in the third. We've given him so much crap at practice for the last, I don't know, since the postseason started, we've given him so much grief. Then, he makes all those plays."

Wagoner put his exclamation on the game making the final three outs in the seventh inning as all three balls hit by the four, five and six batters in the Roncalli lineup came right to him at short.

"The ball found me," Wagoner said.

"If a ground ball is hit to Austen Wagoner, we're going to be OK," Sandor said. "Our middle and our infield has played really well all year."

The shoulders that burdened an un-Wagoner-like offensive season now hold a blue medal, one that he can take as much credit for as he wants.

"This whole week I've been working on offense," he said. "One day, (I) worked for an hour, one day half an hour. Calm myself down in the box and not be so rushed.

"It was relief, a weight off my shoulders because I finally helped my team. I got the RBI."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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