CARY, N.C. — It took three plate appearances and more than 15 pitches, but Carter Kieboom finally got to swing his bat.
In Thursday’s National High School Invitational quarterfinals, the game plan for Chaminade Prep (Canoga Park, Calif.) was clearly to make sure that Kieboom didn’t beat them. In his first two times up, Kieboom saw wasted pitches and breaking stuff on the edges but nothing he could drive.
“That’s normal,” Kieboom said.
All season long, the senior shortstop for No. 16 Walton (Marietta, Ga.) has been the player circled in red on opposing scouting reports. A Clemson commit who is also a candidate to get drafted in June, Kieboom is clearly the most dangerous bat in a loaded lineup.
That means he won’t be seeing anything good to hit anytime soon.
“Right now, the position I’m in, you’ve got to be patient,” said Keiboom, an American Family Insurance ALL-USA Preseason Baseball selection. “You’ve really got to wait for pitch to hit. I’ve been working on being patient, on my approach at the plate. Now it’s pretty much a natural thing for me.”
Kieboom showed off his newly mastered patient approach against Chaminade despite Walton’s 9-8 loss to close Thursday’s action. Blake Solis hit a walk-off two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to send Chaminade to Friday’s semifinals against Florence (Ala.). Florence advanced with a 5-4 win in eight innings against The First Academy (Jacksonville).
In his first two plate appearances, Kieboom worked the count full, taking strikes on the corner instead of popping up or rolling harmless grounders the opposite way.
Each time, Kieboom settled for walks, and each time, he came around to score, punishing the opposing pitcher for the timid approach.
Finally, in the fourth inning, Kieboom came to the plate with two runners on. After working the count to 2-2, Kieboom’s patience was rewarded.
Not wanting to load the bases in a tie game, Chaminade’s pitcher threw a strike.
For the first time in the game, Kieboom swung the bat. He drove a rocket to left center. The ball hit at the base of the wall for a go-ahead, RBI double.
If Kieboom’s plate discipline seems mature beyond his years, that’s because he’s the third brother in the family to earn a Division I college scholarship.
“They’ve introduced me to so many people, and they taught me to play the game the right way,” Kieboom said of his two older brothers. “They’re definitely the reason I am where I am right now in baseball.”
Both of his older brothers signed with Clemson. Spencer is a catcher who was drafted by the Nationals in the fifth round of the 2012 draft after starring for the Tigers. He’s currently working his way up through the Washington farm system and was chosen for the Arizona Fall League this past offseason.
Trevor is an outfielder in his junior year with the Georgia Bulldogs — he transferred from Clemson after missing two years recovering from shoulder surgery.
“We talk all the time,” Carter said of his brothers. “Spencer’s great. Trevor’s doing well in Athens. I go watch him play once in awhile. I don’t get to see Spencer play a lot, but I definitely follow him.”
Carter plans to become the third Kieboom brother to head to Clemson, next fall. “I grew up going there,” he said. “I was watching games there all the time. Baseball means something there.”
It’s no surprise that the Kieboom would appreciate an environment where baseball is valued, like Clemson. By the time the quarterfinal was over, he’d managed to play a part in half of Walton’s runs, scoring three times and driving in one. He also turned a tough double play to end the sixth inning.
With the tying run on third and the runner headed home, Kieboom fielded a hard grounder up the middle, backhanding the ball behind second base. He hit the brakes and returned to the bag to force the runner coming from first, then threw across his body to retire the batter and preserve Walton’s lead.
In addition to a lethal bat, patience at the plate and strong glove work, Kieboom is a team leader. He was the first infielder offering support and advice to the Walton pitcher during tight situations, and, when Chaminade won the game, Kieboom rallied his distraught teammates and led the handshake line.
That’s not to say that the youngest Kieboom is entirely old school. With a mischievous grin, he admitted that he’s ambidextrous and able to throw with both hands. “It’s not a lot of use for me now,” he said, “but my freshman year, I pitched a little bit, and it helped a lot back then.”
He’s not sure if he’ll ever get the chance to show off his skill at Clemson, but just in case the moment arises, he’s ready. “I still have my six-finger glove,” he said.
And, as opposing pitchers are learning, Carter Kieboom is willing to wait for the opportunity to use it.