NEW PALESTINE — Shawn Lyons had a pretty good idea of what he had with his sophomore slugger last year.
Despite only pitching four innings the entire 2017 season, the New Palestine coach knew Jack Walker was going to be something special on the mound.
Depth kept Walker mostly out of the Dragons pitching lineup last year. Lyons didn’t want to have him pitch for the JV team, as that would have removed Walker’s impressive bat from the daily varsity lineup.
This year was Walker’s chance as a regular both on the mound and at the plate, and the junior delivered in a big way, leading the county in countless stats and helping the Dragons come within a half inning of a sectional championship.
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After a dominant junior year, Walker is this year’s Daily Reporter Baseball Player of the Year.
“I always strive for success no matter what it’s in,” Walker said. “Going into this season I knew that I was going to be one of our top players, but I just kept working hard and the success came with the hard work. Now, for this next year, I have to get all these guys together and we’ve gotta go as far as we can.
“Losing in sectionals three years in a row has left a bad taste in my mouth.”
At the plate, Walker led the county in batting average, RBIs and doubles. On the mound, he led the county in strikeouts and wins and had the second best ERA, at 1.94.
His numbers made him the top vote-getter for the all-Hoosier Heritage Conference team. He was a vital part of New Palestine’s 16-0 start and overall success this season.
“He’s a two-way player, which makes him really valuable. He can pitch for us on Friday nights, he bats third in our lineup,” Lyons said. “He does a great job with balancing both pitching and hitting and working on his defense as well. He had 40 RBIs, which is unheard of in high school baseball. His work ethic, we identified him at an early age coming to our clinics, we knew he’d be a pretty special player.”
Walker earned Player of the Year and HHC honors despite not being the Dragons’ No. 1 pitcher. He said he knew coming into this year that he’d pitch much more than his sophomore year, but with a No. 1 position likely locked up by senior Kyle Gardner, he figured to probably split time with Jacob Garrison, another senior.
A season-ending arm injury to Gardner before the season changed the team’s plans slightly.
Garrison took the mantle as the ace pitcher. Walker slotted in behind him as the No. 2.
Garrison said after the Dragons’ sectional semifinal win that he believed his teammate was probably a better pitcher than him — high praise from the all-county senior.
He also believed having Walker as a second pitcher gave New Palestine a big advantage in conference doubleheaders.
“It was always good to have him going Game 2 in conference, because primarily Game 2 of conference is usually easier pitching,” Garrison said. “That was the complete opposite. Teams would get their hopes up after Game 1, then have Jack sit them down 1, 2, 3 in the first inning. Once Jack works out a few kinks he will be unstoppable and feared throughout the state.”
Work in progress
Walker has been driven by the recruiting process. He recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of his, verbally committing to Indiana University.
During the summer of his sophomore year he started to get into contact with colleges, which he said motivated him to get better. Once he touched base with IU, he said he knew he had to keep working hard to make his dream come true.
When he got to New Palestine, Walker started off with basketball and was coached by Danny Collier in his first season. Collier, a New Palestine graduate who played on the 2004 state championship baseball team, didn’t know that Walker also played baseball.
Once he found out, the pair started working out together. They haven’t stopped since, whether in the weight room or working on pitching or hitting.
They work out together at Fishers Sports Academy. While Walker credits New Palestine basketball coach Trent Whitaker and baseball coach Lyons for their support and help, he said he believes Collier has played a critical part in his development.
“He’s kind of molded me into what I am today,” Walker said. “I can’t think of a better man to do that. He’s kind of my guy I always go to with everything. I talk to my parents first, and then I call him, and then I call Coach Lyons.”
Having his college choice made already is pushing Walker forward into his senior year. He’s maintaining a good food regimen, keeping up with his workouts and trying to improve on a daily basis.
Next year the competition gets better. After that it can increase exponentially if he keeps reaching his goals.
“There’s going to be so many good guys out there in the Big Ten that I’m going to have to play against,” Walker said. “Every day I try to do something to get better. Even when I get to IU I know I’m not set. I’m always working for my ultimate goal of getting drafted and playing in the big leagues. It’s been a dream of mine since little league.”
The next step
Up next for Walker is a senior year that will see him step into a new role with the team.
With Garrison and Gardner graduating, he projects to be the Dragons ace.
“This year he deferred a little bit to our seniors, but you could already see him start talking about next year,” Lyons said. “I think the torch was passed — the leadership at the senior level was amazing to where chemistry was perfect, leadership was great, and it took us to places a lot of people didn’t think we could get to.”
Being a senior, Walker knows he’ll be looked at as a leader. He’s ready for that challenge. He’s looking forward to it.
He’s already making plans around it. He doesn’t want to repeat the feeling of a season ending too soon.
“Obviously this past few weeks have been tough with the Cathedral loss in the sectional final,” Walker said. “I’m going to take that as motivation for next year and kind of get my teammates together. That’s the fire that we’re going to work from. I told Coach Lyons that, too. I’m going to have these guys get together and we’re going to be stronger than ever.”
Lyons said Walker has a handful of things to work on, namely on the defensive side and on the mound, improving his command and repeating his delivery.
Walks were a weakness in Walker’s pitching game this year.
But facing Walker was already a daunting task for opponents. Next year, it could be downright scary.
“He’s going to be number one on everybody’s scouting list and he’s going to have to try to perfect his craft even more, both at the plate and on the mound,” Lyons said. “If he gets those things ironed out he can go up even another level, which is a scary thing.”
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A look at the entire all-county baseball team. Page BX
COMING THIS WEEK
Still to come this week in the Daily Reporter, we have a look at where the power in New Palestine’s softball team comes from along with the release of the New Palestine softball championship magazine.