By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – For those who don’t know, the back story to Sergio Lira Ayala’s arrival and rise to baseball stardom is stuff of legend. In the past week, the legend of Lira Ayala has only continued to grow in him being named an Indiana North-South All-Star.
In 2019, Lira Ayala stepped onto the scene as a sophomore at NorthWood after a freshman campaign at Bethany Christian. It was from there that he began to emerge as one of the budding baseball stars in northern Indiana. His numbers as a sophomore didn’t set the area on fire, Lira Ayala batting just .217 with 10 RBI and 16 runs scored in 24 games.
After a junior year lost to COVID, and even a slow start to his senior season in dealing with some off-the-field issues, Lira Ayala quickly emerged as a baseball force.
His first game as a senior was April 23 in a home contest against Wawasee, and Lira Ayala immediately went 2-for-3 with a double, walk and two runs scored. It just went from there, as Lira Ayala homered in three of the next five games, including a moon shot against Warsaw rumored to have traveled well over 400 feet.
His impact and value as a complete player was well on display at the Wawasee sectional, where he was intentionally walked twice in the championship game, and on more than one occasion, showed off his cannon arm from right field. His intentional walk in the seventh inning of a one-run game by Wawasee in the championship game showed the immense respect they had for Lira Ayala, who concluded his high school career by reaching base four times and driving in a run in the biggest game of the season.
Asked about being a North-South All-Star, Lira Ayala had to pause and admire the moment.
“When all the hard work, the blood and tears, all the days when I didn’t want to lift or go to the field, I pushed myself to keep going and chasing my dream. It actually pays off,” Lira Ayala said. “It makes me to want to keep working hard. I’m really excited for this event. This is a great accomplishment for myself and my family. The journey keeps going, this is just the beginning.”
Lira Ayala wrapped up his senior season hitting a robust .529 with a .643 OBP. He clobbered six doubles and six homers among his 27 hits in 70 at bats, adding 15 walks and 20 RBI in 18 total games. Within the Northern Lakes Conference, Lira Ayala batted .500 in 13 games, where all six of his homers were hit.
“Everybody knows his incredible journey to get here,” said NorthWood baseball head coach AJ Risedorph. “He’s had incredible challenges in his life, and much of it was out of his control. That’s the process of growing up. He has had to be so involved in facets of his life that most kids around here don’t have to worry about. Just playing baseball is simple for him. When you tell him hey, you’re a North-South All-Star, it’s like he can be a kid again. Not have to put so much pressure on himself. You can see all of the work that he’s put in with his game, and that shows in the All-Star spot he earned.”
Sergio is the third North-South All-Star for NorthWood since 2017, joining Matt Dutkowski in 2019 and Vince Herschberger in 2017. He announced in the winter his intentions to continue his baseball career with Des Moines Area Community College, a Division II Junior College.
“I’ve changed mentally, even this spring and baseball season, I feel like I am becoming more of a man,” Lira Ayala said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself when I was younger. I needed to get more mature, and I still do. I feel like an award like this shows there is more reward for being a good teammate and being a good leader. I can’t just go out and play the game by myself and expect to get far. I have to keep getting better, keep respecting the game and working to be better every day.”