AKRON — If you’re looking for Tippecanoe Valley senior Lucas Walters, you’ll likely find him in one of two places — on the baseball diamond or out fishing.
The lanky left-handed pitcher splits his time between the two passions, and he sees some parallels between those intervals on the mound and on the pond.
“There are a lot of parallels. In baseball when you’re pitching, you work every single pitch to make sure you hit your spot and get the pitch to work like it should. Then in fishing you’ve got to make your good cast every single cast,” said Walters. “If you make a bad cast you just kind of blow it off, don’t worry about it. If you miss a pitch, you just kind of blow it off and go for the next one.”
After seeing somewhat limited mound time in the Vikings rotation last spring, Walters is set for a breakout senior season. The Manchester University signee got the start in Valley’s opener with Fairfield Thursday, striking out 12 batters while walking six and giving up just one earned run in the sixth after five shutout innings. Ask him, and he’ll tell you being a southpaw is his biggest asset on the hill. Ask his coach, and he’ll tell you it’s his experience and leadership.
“With a lefty you’ll have a natural curve with your ball,” explained Walters. “You can get some more movement with it. And your arm is coming out of a different side.”
“Last year he threw quite a bit for us. He’s played varsity since he was a sophomore. With kids like that on your team and in your lineup, it makes me feel more comfortable,” said Valley head coach Greg Prater.
Walters’ dual passions of baseball and fishing couple well together, and, as it turns out, it’s a pairing of interests that he shares with a number of players in this year’s Valley lineup. Several Vikings spend time outside of baseball angling together (although Walters maintains with a laugh he’s definitely the best of the team’s fishermen), and that time away from baseball has helped bring players closer together.
“There’s probably a good seven or eight kids that go, and we just try and get out and go whenever we have a free weekend or something just to kind of get away from baseball,” Walters explained. “It bring us a lot closer, and it’s something besides baseball that we can talk about. It’s just another thing that we can talk about on bus rides or have some fun with.”
And that shared interest and shared time together outside of the classroom and their sport has helped the 2019 Vikings gel together, which is something Prater notices and appreciates.
“It’s pretty fun to watch. From the time they’re in the locker room after the class bell rings to the time we get to the field and get the field ready for practice, they’re cracking up with each other and talking about they just had a fishing tournament they held on their own. It’s fun to listen about that, and they talk about a lot of different things and they just enjoy each other,” he said.
Valley baseball tries to keep it fun even on the diamond. For example, the Vikings scrimmage at the end of each practice. It’s an idea Prater picked up from former IU coach and current Mississippi State skipper Chris Lemonis at a coaching clinic a couple years back, and it’s one that’s stuck.
“A couple years ago, me and my assistants, we all went down of course to the state clinics down in Indianapolis, which is usually held at the end of January. We’ll spend three or four days down there and listen to all sorts of different level coaches and just get ideas on how to do things,” recalled Prater. “I believe it was the Indiana University coach — who is no longer there, I believe he’s at Mississippi — but that was something he showed us that they did. Of course it’s competitive. We compete every day against each other, whether it’s varsity against varsity or JV versus varsity. It’s kind of a controlled scrimmage but yet you’re still getting some live pitching, some live at-bats, base running situations and also we work on all of our signs and all of that stuff.”
When it’s time to work, however, Prater’s players are all business, he says.
“We go by a schedule every day. They have things they need to accomplish before practice even starts. They do a really good job. They’re always on time. When it’s time for practice, I’ve got their full attention.”
Walters will be one piece in a solid Valley pitching rotation this year. Another next-level pitcher joins him in fellow senior and Ancilla signee Ethan Yates, while junior Tanner Trippiedi and sophomore Lane Prater will also get their starts. Lane returns the most mound experience from last season with 31 innings pitched but is currently serving as the Vikings’ starting catcher. When junior Russ Paxton rejoins the lineup in April, it’ll free Lane up to pitch, though, and fellow junior Nate Heckaman will spend some time behind the plate, too.
With only four seniors on this year’s roster in Walters, Yates, Wes Melanson and Cameron Parker, it’s a young but fairly experienced team with a number of returners back from last spring’s 7-17 campaign. The Vikings finished 3-6 in the Three Rivers Conference in that span, but Coach Prater thinks his team has the pieces to make waves in the TRC this year.
“I think it’s going to be good competition all the way through,” he said. “Last year you had Northfield that went far into the tournament; they’re still going to be somewhat solid. Every team in our conference is going to be somewhat solid. It comes down to who is healthy, time of playing and how deep your pitching is. Of course you’ve got to be able to hit the ball. I feel confident in my guys. I think we’re hitting the ball well. I think we’ve got the pitchers to get it done, and I think we’ve got bench players that can get it done if needed.
“I’m really excited.”
Valley won’t play again until its doubleheader at Triton Saturday, April 6.