By Rick Kozlowski, The Journal, for the West Virginia Sports Writers Association
HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. — High school baseball players regularly double up as pitchers and regular position players on the field.
Limited roster numbers force many players into multiple- or double-position players.
Sometimes, it works out like a double play: they serve two positions well. Other times, one position might rank heavily over the other.
Nobody delivered quite the double play during the recently completed baseball season that Chase DeLauter of Hedgesville did.
He batted .500 as an everyday player and won 10 games as a pitcher.
It’s no wonder why the junior can’t decide whether he’d like to concentrate on pitching or playing the outfield in college.
So DeLauter plans to do both: his personal double play.
And he found the perfect school to allow him to pitch and play a position, so DeLauter committed to James Madison University during the fall of his 11th-grade school year.
Before college can happen, though, DeLauter has another season at Hedgesville ahead of him and is being named today as the winner of the John Lowery Award as the state’s baseball player of the year, as chosen by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
He’s the third player from Hedgesville to win the award, joining Baltimore Orioles draftee Jamie Conner and West Virginia signee Daniel Heleine in that capacity.
Both were position-based players, unlike DeLauter — Conner at shortstop and Daniel Heleine at first base. They also won their honors as seniors; DeLauter is a junior.
Baseball became so much easier for DeLauter when he kind of decided to forget about statistics, return to his baseball roots as a very young ballplayer and just go out and play.
He scrapped a statistic app on his cell phone, almost in homage to the days of tee-ball.
Then he teed off.
DeLauter had no idea what his season would turn out to be.
“I didn’t know my stats until the end of the season,” DeLauter said. “I had a feeling I was doing well. Teammates were telling me they were impressive.”
Both on the pitching rubber and in the outfield.
Beside winning 10 games pitching against one defeat, his 64 strikeouts led the Eastern Panhandle. He fashioned a 1.95 earned run average.
“His best position is as a baseball player,” Hedgesville coach Aaron Whitford said.
In other words, DeLauter’s play stands out regardless of where he plays.
“It’s our pleasure to watch him play,” Whitford said. “Every time he was on the mound, we knew we got a chance to win; every time he’s at the plate, there’s a double coming.
“He’s a special player.”
More than half of DeLauter’s 50 hits went for extra bases. He produced 22 doubles, two triples and four home runs.
“He had as many doubles as singles,” Whitford said, marveling at that fact.
Still, matching singles and doubles were not as strange of a set of numbers as are 5-4 and 6-3.
DeLauter entered Hedgesville as a 5-foot-4 freshman; two years later, he stands at 6-3.
“(Former) coach (Dirk) Webb said he was smooth,” Whitford said. “He had a lot of movement on his pitches. That hasn’t changed. His velocity has changed.
“But we knew we had something when he came in.”
DeLauter’s fastball ranges between 82 and 85 mph.
“I talked with the pitching coach at JMU, and he said, ‘By the time he’s done, he’ll be high-80s, lower-90s’ when he gets on their weight program,” Whitford said.
Such a development could change DeLauter’s double-duty in time.
DeLauter, who likes the adrenaline rush of being on the mound and starting every sequence with his pitch, is expected to play some in the outfield and serve as a relief pitcher when he arrives at James Madison two years from now.
“We just hope he stays humble,” Whitford said. “That’s what we’ve talked about. One thing we’re working on is the mental side of the game, that it’s OK to fail and you just get ready for the next at-bat. As good as he is, that’s the part of his game we’re working on.
“But he’s a special kid on and off the field, a special student.”
Others considered for the Lowery Award include Chase Swain of Ravenswood, Brayden Lesher of Bridgeport, Madison Jeffrey of Cabell Midland and Jake Carr of St. Albans.
It belongs to DeLauter after he paired spectacular hitting and pitching numbers.