EW PALESTINE — For more than a half an hour, Keegan Watson gave the diplomatic answer.
The New Palestine sophomore attributed hard work to his development and cited it as the only true means to improve. He credited his teammates and coaches for his success, including being named the 2015 Hancock County Player of the Year.
He was a ballplayer, through and through.
But a few minutes before leaving, the topic of next year’s county player of the year came up, and for the first time, Watson elected to speak from the heart rather than the head.
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When the names of challengers to his new claim atop the county throne were laid before him, the words sprang from his lips faster than any of the preconceived answers he had given before.
“Bring them on.”
In that moment, the competitive fire burned in his eyes with the same ferocity he uses to strike fear in the hears of opposing pitchers. It was impossible not to believe Watson would reclaim the title of county’s best player for the next two years.
Because no one wants it more than him. But even more, now that he has the title, losing it is not an option.
Watson is driven by competition. His cutthroat nature is what he uses as fuel for greatness.
That nature is what drove him to a county batting title his freshman year, when he hit .491.
It is what drove him to hit .449 this year, while leading the sectional-champion Dragons in on-base percentage (.552), extra-base hits (18) and runs scored (38).
And most importantly, it’s what drives him to enhance those few areas that need improvement.
During his freshman season, Watson struck out twice as many times as he walked (10:5). He was rung up once every 6.4 at-bats.
Angered by this, Watson made the necessary changes to improve his pitch selection.
This season, Watson reversed the trend, instead walking twice as many times he struck out (22:11). His overall strikeout rate plummeted to once every 12.2 at-bats.
“I love competition,” Watson said. “I thrive in competition. I want to beat the best. Beating the rest just doesn’t feel as good. It doesn’t mean as much.”
This attitude can be held directly responsible for his success in the postseason, where competition is at its peak.
In his first two postseasons as a prep player, Watson owns a .400 batting average with a .538 on-base average. In 11 games, he has driven in 11 runs and scored 10.
New Palestine coach Shawn Lyons is fond of saying, “Big-time players step up in big-time moments.” With his pair of walk-off hits during the regular season and his late, game-tying home run in the sectional semifinal against Bishop Chatard, Watson has proved he is primed for the brightest lights on the biggest stage.
And that is precisely where Watson wants to do. He not only has ambitions of leading the Dragons to state glory next season, but he also envisions playing Division I baseball and/or even being drafted less than two years from now.
For those things to happen, though, both Watson and Lyons know there are areas both inside and outside the diamond the 16-year-old needs to improve.
While Watson’s competitiveness fuels his motivation and desire, Lyons said, it also can occasionally blindfold him to the bigger picture.
“He just needs to remember not to put too much pressure on himself, the fourth-year Dragons coach said. “He can’t try to do too much. Try to carry the team himself. He has to remember he is a kid, and it’s just athletics. He is only 16, and there are going to be some frustrations along the way.”
However, Lyons said, if he continues to work on his game, to harness that competitive fire that gives him his edge, his future is limitless.
“His ceiling?” Lyons said.”His ceiling is the sky. But his development will depend on a few questions: How hard is he going to work? Will he still love the game after all that work? And will he stay focused? If the answers are yes, yes and yes, then we’re really talking about the sky being the limit.”
In his first two season at New Palestine, Keegan Watson already has done some serious damage:
Longest hitting steak (games);10;18
Runs batted in;19;30
Games with 2+ RBI;6;9
Games with 2+ R;4;8