Watkins Memorial players helping power Post 283 Juniors

Watkins Memorial players helping power Post 283 Juniors

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Watkins Memorial players helping power Post 283 Juniors

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Each season, Mike Schmidt is apprehensive about how each of his pieces will fit the puzzle.

The Pickerington Post 283 Juniors coach, however, has not needed to worry about shortstop. Watkins Memorial’s Austin Slatzer grabbed the position early in the season and has not given it up.

Slatzer, who will be a senior this fall, is in his second season with the Juniors. The experience paid off as he has been one of the team’s top performers both in the field and at the plate.

“Austin has really taken that spot and really developed,” Schmidt said. “At the plate, he has been up and down like most players are. … Lately, he has really driven the ball well. We expected him to be one of our top guys, and he has not disappointed us at all.”

Slatzer filled in at second base and third base a year ago. With fellow Watkins player Liam Leonard moving up to the senior team this summer, Slatzer took the challenge to fill Leonard’s spot at shortstop.

While Schmidt, who has a smaller team than usual, has had to mix and match at several positions, Slatzer has given him no concerns at arguably the defense’s most critical position. Slatzer often leaves opponents shaking their heads.

“He has a great arm. Some of the plays he makes going into the hole capture your breath a little bit,” Schmidt said. “He is so much stronger than he was a year ago and will really surprise you with how much he will beat base runners on really difficult plays.”

The Post 283 Juniors have two other Watkins players — Jason Bucknor and Hunter Scott, who each will be juniors this fall. They begin play in the state tournament at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Beavers Field against Zanesville Post 29.

The 16-team tournament is a single-elimination format, concluding with the semifinals and finals Saturday, and fingers are crossed simply for good weather. Post 283’s game Monday was the 22nd postponed by rain this summer.

Scott could be a key figure for Pickerington this weekend as he has emerged as one of its better pitchers. Scott, who also plays third base and outfield, was a late addition to the roster and a godsend for a team that needed depth on the mound.

“He has a good arm,” Schmidt said. “He is still working on throwing the curve ball and throwing it really well as far as putting good spin on it and getting sharp break on it, but he has a good arm and can throw hard. If he harnesses that, he can be a dominating pitcher at times.”

Schmidt said Bucknor draws comparisons to recent Watkins graduate Doug Connor because of his enthusiasm and confidence.

“He has a motor that doesn’t stop,” Schmidt said. “He will talk to anybody on the field whether it’s an umpire or an opposing player. He knows no strangers.”

If Bucknor can produce like the Conner, an all-Licking County League performer, all the better. Bucknor is splitting time at catcher and in center field and is a strong hitter.

Schmidt said his youthful exuberance can get him into trouble on the bases, but base running will improve as he gains experience at the varsity level.

“It’s picking up the teeny-tiny things that are going to give you an advantage to make you a better baseball player,” Schmidt said.

ksnyder@gannett.com

740-328-8556

Twitter: @newarkurt

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