At one time, Keaton Hamilton, Austin Albrecht and Bailey Perdue were all on track to be future Lafayette Jeff infielders.
All three were fixtures on the left side of the infield while coming up through the Broncho feeder system. But all three eventually drifted toward the fences to make their varsity impact.
During Lafayette Jeff’s state tournament run to Saturday’s Class 4A South Bend Semistate, the outfield of Hamilton in left, Albrecht in center and Perdue in right has set the tone both offensively and defensively.
“We’ve been out there for a long time together,” said Albrecht, a junior in his second full season starting with that trio. “We know everything we’re doing, where we’re going with the ball. Our communication’s real good.”
Each member of the group has contributed at least one defensive highlight during the postseason.
Hamilton made a diving catch to help preserve a sectional semifinal victory over Logansport. Albrecht delivered a clutch outfield assist as McCutcheon attempted to rally in the seventh inning of the championship game. Perdue threw out a runner going for third for the final out the regional championship victory over Homestead.
“The pitchers all say to us, they trust us out there,” said Perdue, a junior. “They’ve never had an outfield where they’re thinking a ball is going to get down and we go out and catch it. They always believe in us out there and think we can get it done.”
Before the season, members of Lafayette Jeff’s track team tried to recruit Albrecht to run on the 400 relay squad. That squad won a state championship in school-record time last Friday.
That speed gives Albrecht more range in center and makes him an asset out of the leadoff spot. He’s converted his on-base skills (17 walks, 12 hit by pitch) into a team-best 11 stolen bases and 24 runs.
Perdue hits behind Albrecht and provides another discplined bat, drawing nearly as many walks (14) as strikeouts (15). A .300 hitter, Perdue converted to the outfield between his freshman and sophomore years and immediately siezed a lineup spot.
“When you go Albie and Perdue, those two probaly have better eyes than half the umpires and they can probably call their own game,” McTagertt said. “They do a great job of making pitchers pitch. They don’t chase things until they get two strikes. They battle. You don’t see them strike out.”
At one point, Hamilton batted third behind his fellow outfielders. But with so many teams pitching around Peter Ripke, McTagertt wanted to give the Vincennes-bound slugger some protection.
Now batting fifth behind Ripke and Griff Clark, Hamilton bats a team-best .324 with a pair of home runs. The senior’s 17 RBIs and 25 runs scored are second only to Ripke.
“You usually come up in some of the clutchest spots with guys on base,” Hamilton said of the so-called ‘five hole.’ “You’ve got to produce from that spot, and it’s difficult at times, because when you’ve got a couple of outs and a couple of guys on base, it’s not easy. But I like the role. I like the pressure it brings and I try to do my best every day.”