A small town's golden arm

Friday, May 9, 2008
Chris Patch/Herald-Tribune Hume pitcher Ryan Austin hopes to pitch the Hornets through a district championship for the first time in his student career at Hume.

By Chris Patch

Nevada Daily Mail

Hume, Mo. -- Hume baseball may be a class 1 team without much publicity, but this year an ace pitcher by the name of Ryan Austin has commanded attention by putting up unheard of statistics.

Austin has been virtually unhittable this season, and that's not hyperbole. He has a 0.97 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 37 innings of work. He would have more innings under his belt, but Austin has never pitched a game that hasn't ended in a five-inning run rule. He has three shutouts with two no-hitters.

The 20 hits he has given up have all been singles, no one has gone for an earned extra base. When he's not on the mound Austin is making opposing pitchers pay with a .514 batting average and a .564 on-base percentage. By the way, he's slugging .800.

Austin's statistics are unusual and unreal in high school baseball. Hume has amassed a 108-12 conference record while he has been on the roster. During that time he wasn't always the number one pitcher. Austin was used as a reliever in his freshman year until a pivotal moment in the conference tournament got head coach Scott Morrison's attention.

Hume's starting senior had walked the bases loaded with a two-run lead in the semi-final game with no outs. Morrison had seen enough and decided to see what Austin could do for him.

"I bring Ryan in, he's a freshman," Morrison said. "He walks the first batter. Now we're ahead one run, bases loaded, no outs in the bottom of the seventh and I went and talked to him and told him we need three strikeouts. He struck out the two, three and four hitters to win the game."

Those three strikeouts were the culmination of years of pitching, since Austin was 12 playing for the then-Nevada bombers. Over the years he has developed an effective curveball and sinker, not to mention a fastball, that Morrison said 25 percent of conference batters can make contact with.

"I Just to try to do my best and see how many batters I can strike out," Austin said. "Hopefully my team will help me out. I'd say my curveball and my sinker are about close to the same, how dirty they are."

With 76 victims this season and counting, those pitches aren't getting any easier to hit. Austin was a unanimous pick for the No. 1 pitcher in the division because he is the only hurler who is clearly pitching at a higher level than area offense.

"Really, really good top hitters in high school can hit it but it's never to left field," Morrison said. "But, the other guys, sometimes it feels like they're just closing their eyes and swinging the bat.

"My left fielder will play right field because the ball, they generally don't get around on it. Most of the balls hit the right side of the field when he's pitching."

Statistically, Austin doesn't have any realistic room for improvement. He said he walks more batters than he would like, something we wants to work on this summer playing for the Nevada Red Sox. The batter's box is the only place Austin said he feels the game catching up to him, at least a little.

"I'd like to improve on my batting a little bit," he said. "Hopefully I can get it close to where I was whenever I was a little bit younger. It just seems like the pitching's getting better. It's Impatience. I like to go after it (the first pitch) most of the time."

The litmus test for Austin will have to be this summer when he plays American Legion ball for the Red Sox. Austin isn't shy about throwing against a higher level of competition again. He's played summer ball before, and knows some of the Red Sox staff.

"Well, my cousin will be the assistant coach and the manager, I've played with him for a couple of years now," he said. "He asked me if I'd play for him this year, I said 'yeah.'"

Jim Rayburn is the head coach of the Red Sox and has coached Austin for several years, enough to know what caliber of player he is getting.

"I coached him the last three summers," Rayburn said. "The kid's a stud. Just from playing with him the last three years, without a doubt if he's not the top pitcher in the area, then he's the top two or three.

"We played the competitive leagues with him over the last three years, big time teams, he still did fine."

Austin won't start summer ball until Hume takes care of business this spring. Austin and Morrison have their sites set on a district championship, something that has eluded Hume during Austin's time. Hopefully Austin has one more string of strikeouts in him when crunch time hits in district.