July 7, 2013

The payoff

Clem perseveres through knee injuries, earns top honor

By Beau Wicker

---- — Having gone through five knee surgeries during his young lifetime, Lewis Cass’ Austin Clem stuck with it in baseball and persevered.

All of his hard work and determination has paid off, as he posted a huge senior season for the Kings baseball team.

Clem batted .419 with four home runs and 35 RBIs for a Kings squad that went 18-7. And he is the 2013 Loganland Baseball Player of the Year.

“It felt really good. I worked really hard in the offseason. I kept rehabbing my knee because I had surgery after last year, too,” Clem said. “It was 24/7 in the cage and fieldhouse.”

Clem, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound first baseman, is getting a full tuition paid academic scholarship to play baseball at Huntington University. He said he might move over to third base in college.

Clem led the Kings in hits (31), doubles (7), home runs and RBIs this season. He scored 18 runs. He fielded at a .976 clip at first base.

“For all that has happened to him, most guys wouldn’t be playing,” Cass coach Greg Marschand said. “The enthusiasm, energy and passion he brings to every practice ... we haven’t had too many guys like him.

“He picks up others around him. He’s’ a special kind of guy that doesn’t come around too often.”

After having five surgeries on his right knee, Clem injured his left knee playing in the Cass alumni game this summer. He doesn’t yet know the seriousness of the injury and is awaiting word from his doctor next week.

“So far it’s not too bad. We’ll see,” said Clem, who hopes to avoid another surgery.

“I had my first knee surgery in the fourth grade. ... They’ve all been freak accidents, all due to sports.”

Clem said the surgeries have ranged in seriousness.

“Some have been more serious. Nothing has been easy with a knee surgery. It’s three to four months of rehab,” he said.

His youth has helped him during his recoveries, as well as hard work.

The Kings went 5-2 in Mid-Indiana Conference play this spring. They lost to Western in a close ballgame. Western went on to win a regional in Class 3A and will move up to Class 4A next season due to the IHSAA’s new success factor. The Kings’ other MIC loss was to Hamilton Heights in a game they would surely like to have back.

The Kings drew a tough draw in the sectional, facing Class 2A defending champion Northfield and star pitcher Ryan Keaffaber in the sectional. The Kings made good contact against Keaffaber but came up short in a 3-0 ballgame.

“If we could have got past Northfield the sky would have been the limit for us the rest of the way in the tournament,” Clem said.

The following are capsules of the rest of the All-Loganland team in alphabetical order by last name.

Connor Adams, P, Cass

The big right-hander went 5-4 with a 1.69 ERA for the Kings his senior season. He struck out 61 and walked 17 in 58 innings pitched.

“He pitched a lot of the more difficult games for us,” Marschand said. “I’m proud of what he gave to us. He gave us what he had. We knew when he was on the mound we had a good chance to win.”

Adams shut down No. 1-ranked Northfield for the most part in the sectional game.

“He pitched well eight to win,” Marschand said. “Keaffaber averaged 15 strikeouts per game and we struck out just four times. We put the ball in play but hit it right at them. Connor didn’t give up any earned runs. We made some errors or it probably should have been 0-0 in the eighth inning. He did his job.”

Caleb Baldwin, 1B/C, Caston

Baldwin led the 17-11 Comets with a .402 batting average and 31 RBIs. He added six doubles, three home runs and 18 runs scored.

“Caleb had a great year for us,” Caston coach Blake Mollenkopf said. “He’s a very good first baseman and when Corey [Moss] pitched we needed him to shift behind the plate. He played two of the toughest positions on the field and fielded at .981 this year. He did a nice job defensively, and he hit well again, hitting over .400 again with big RBI numbers. He’s a nice baseball player and has been a very, very good one for us over the last four years.”

Tommy Corcoran, RF, Logansport

The senior speedster posted a big senior year for the 17-10 Berries. He hit .333 with a .462 on-base percentage. He led the team in hits (30), triples (3), stolen bases (13) and runs scored (26). He added one home run and eight RBIs from his leadoff spot in the lineup.

“He led our team in hitting. He was a real spark plug,” Logan coach Jim Turner said. “The kids voted him as our MVP. He had an outstanding season, I thought.”

Clayton Frye, 1B/P, Logansport

Frye hit .314 with a team-high four home runs and 21 RBIs for the Berries. He added four doubles and one triple and struck out just eight times in 86 at-bats.

“Clayton is just starting to figure out the hitting part,” Turner said. “I thought he showed power. He’s just beginning to find his potential as a good power hitter. If he’s maybe more selective he’ll put up big numbers next year.”

Frye has been a solid pitcher for the Berries ever since he shut down a strong Harrison team at Steinman Field his freshman campaign in his varsity debut.

Frye went 3-2 with a 2.50 ERA this season. He fanned 24 and walked 11 in 33 2/3 innings pitched.

“He knows how to pitch. He’s just a pitcher’s pitcher,” Turner said. “He’ll throw a changeup when he’s behind in the count; he’ll throw what we call backwards if he needs to. He’s got a real good sense about him when he pitches.”

Cody Graf, P, Logansport

The senior right-hander filled the Berries’ closer’s role and did so admirably, closing out a number of big wins. He still finished third on the team in innings pitched (31 1/3) and went 2-2 with a 2.68 ERA.

“Cody in my mind was like a coaches’ security blanket. We knew we always had him,” Turner said. “He’s a really good, competitive kid. We appreciate his work ethic and attitude and ability to handle pressure situations. It was a real calm feeling for me to know we had him in the wings when we needed him. The other pitchers knew, too, that we always have Cody. For him to take that role showed his unselfishness and team spirit.”

Chris Jones, C, Logansport

Jones is a solid defensive catcher for the Berries.

“He’s a fireball. You’ve got to love him behind the plate,” Turner said. “He’s a tireless worker. He caught every game and he was on base all the time. He’s a joy to coach.”

Jones, a junior, hit just .217 but had an on-base percentage of .433. He had one home run and eight RBIs and had the game-winning hit at Lafayette Jeff in the regular season.

Kyle Jordan, P/SS, Logansport

The junior right-hander came on strong at the end of the season. He shut down a high-scoring Huntington North team on the road and then got the ball in both of the Berries’ sectional games. He shut down Harrison in an 8-0 sectional win and then was a hard-luck loser against Lafayette Jeff in a 3-1 loss in which the ball did not bounce the Berries’ way. Jeff went on to make it all the way to the semistate, where the Bronchos were defeated by eventual Class 4A state champion Elkhart Central 2-1.

Jordan went 3-2 with a 2.24 ERA. He struck out 27 and walked nine in 34 1/3 innings pitched.

He led the team in innings pitched and opponent’s batting average (.210).

“Kyle’s got a real nice arm,” Turner said. “He really had outstanding control on the season. He threw 63 to 67 percent strikes. He has outstanding control and a really good curveball.”

Connor Looker, P, Logansport

The senior left-hander stepped onto the varsity scene as a sophomore when he shut down a Taylor squad that went on to make it to the semistate in Class 2A.

His senior season Looker went 2-1 with a 3.58 ERA. He struck out 22 and walked 14 in 29 1/3 innings pitched.

“He has outstanding stuff,” Turner said. “He wasn’t quite as consistent in the middle of the season as he was early and then late. But he has a good arm, a real live fastball, good stuff.”

Turner added that if the Berries would have gotten past Jeff in the sectional semifinal, Looker would have gotten the ball against McCutcheon in the final.

Zach McCoy, 2B/SS, Cass

Last year’s Loganland Player of the Year was hampered by a hamstring injury through part of this season.

He still managed to hit .367 with 20 runs scored for the Kings. He struck out just four times in 60 at-bats.

“McCoy is as good as gold. He’s another guy who’s a coaches’ dream who doesn’t say a whole lot and always gives you 100 percent on the field. He’s just as good off the field and he is on the field,” Marschand said. “We won 18 games this year and a lot of them were without him. It’s just unfortunate he got hurt his last year. But there was never any pouting or sulking. He helped the younger guys develop into better players and that was neat to see. He’s an ultimate team guy.”

McCoy was named a Gongaware Scholar by Indiana State and is receiving full in-state tuition to attend school there.

Corey Moss, P/C, Caston

The big right-hander was a workhorse for the Comets, going 5-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 64 innings pitched. He fanned 64 and walked 15.

“He had a 1.86 ERA and threw in a lot of big games,” Mollenkopf said. “He’s one of those players who was the heartbeat of our team. He worked as hard as anybody and was another coach on the field. He threw so many important innings for us.”

When he wasn’t pitching, Moss was the Comets’ starting catcher. He hit .300 with a .491 on-base percentage. He added 16 RBIs and 18 runs scored.

“Behind the plate defensively he’s as sound of a catcher that I’ve coached,” Mollenkopf said. “He’s not the quickest or the fleetest of foot, but his work ethic makes up for it. He’s a hard worker, a great kid. He’s left his mark over the last four years on our program.”

Travis Palmer, CF, Logansport

Palmer bounced back strongly this spring after a life-threatening car accident that occurred on July 19, 2012.

In his first full varsity baseball season, Palmer hit .333 with six doubles, one home run, 13 RBIs and 19 runs scored.

He was the Berries’ primary center fielder, but he also spent some time on the mound and went 3-1 with a 0.55 ERA in 12 2/3 innings pitched.

“He’s a real team leader,” Turner said. “He tied for our hitting title. He’s a real catalyst. When he’s going well our whole team seems to go well, too. He’s a good defensive player, very versatile.”

R.J. Phillips, OF, Cass

Phillips batted .358 with 10 stolen bases, 11 RBIs and 11 runs scored his junior season.

“R.J.’s a guy with a ton of talent,” Marschand said. “Depending on how hard he wants to work at it, he could be one of our better ones. He has tremendous speed. If he buys in, look out, he could be one of the best we’ve had. He’s picking up thing quickly. I look for good things from R.J.”

Josh Rankert, P, Cass

The sophomore left-hander went 5-1 with a 0.78 ERA, allowing just six earned runs in 54 innings pitched. He fanned 56 and walked 28.

“Josh Rankert has all kinds of talent,” Marschand said. “How good he will be will be determined on how hard he wants to work. He plans on going to a pitching ranch in Texas in the early fall, and that will help him tremendously. With Rankert, if he wants to work at it, the sky’s the limit on how good he can be. As a sophomore he was pretty special.”

Caleb Rowe, 2B/P, Caston

Rowe batted .388 with a team-high .550 on-base percentage and 37 runs scored his senior season. He also led the team in home runs (5) from his leadoff position. He added seven doubles, 22 RBIs and was 14 of 15 in stolen bases.

On the mound the right-hander went 4-4 with a 2.43 ERA. He fanned 53 and walked 18 in 46 innings pitched.

“Caleb Rowe, he’s one of those silent, hard-working kids who’s a great kid. I’m glad he had a huge year for us,” Mollenkopf said. “He did some special things. He threw a no-hitter against Pioneer in a conference game. That was neat for him. In the last game of the year against Argos he hit three home runs in a game. He threw well. He played an excellent second base. He had a great year and wound up a great career.”

Cory Rozzi, 2B, Logansport

Rozzi hit .316 and had an on-base percentage of .451. He had six doubles, two home runs, 14 RBIs and 14 runs scored.

“Cory after getting off to a bad start really finished strong,” Turner said. “He ended up hitting .316 and was on base about half the time. He was second or third in RBIs. He got a lot of key hits.

“He was a solid performer for two years. We knew he was a good hitter and he didn’t let us down.”

Zach Shidler, SS/P, Winamac

Shidler led the 9-17 Warriors in batting average (.354), on-base percentage (.535), stolen bases (13), RBIs (17) and doubles (6). He added one home run, one triple and 11 runs scored.

On the mound the senior right-hander went 3-6 with a 4.12 ERA. He struck out 61 and walked 34 in 54 1/3 innings pitched.

“He has good baseball smarts. He’s been around for awhile and understands the game,” Winamac coach Tony Carroll said. “He’s a good player, good athlete. He was hitting a little above .400 before he went into a slump the last six games and ended up at about .350. He came on really well in his last three or four starts pitching-wise. We knew we were going to be in most games as long as he was starting. We played against some good small-school teams and were right there with them.”

Tucker Waddups, P/SS, Pioneer

The freshman right-hander had five of the Panthers’ nine wins this season. He finished with a 1.36 ERA and fanned 61 and walked just 11 in 72 innings pitched.

At the plate he led the 9-12 Panthers with a .348 batting average and .467 on-base percentage en route to earning All-Midwest Conference honors.

“He takes baseball very seriously and works very hard at it. He’s going to be a good one,” Pioneer coach Dick Farrer said. “We only had three seniors on the team this year and next year we’re just going to have a couple. We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing. I think things are looking pretty good in the future, and he’s going to be probably a main cog in that.

“He was our MVP. He was our No. 1 pitcher and leading hitter. Frontier beat us 4-2, and he gave up three unearned runs against Frontier. He’s going to be good; he’s just a freshman.”

Beau Wicker is the sports editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5113 or