Prep Baseball: East's Austin signs with UNC Wilmington

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — You’re judged by the company you keep, so it’s obvious East Rowan first baseman Andy Austin is a terrific player.
UNC Wilmington head coach Mark Scalf recently announced 11 early signees, including Austin.
Four of those new Seahawks were ranked among the top 50 in North Carolina in the Class of 2012. Two are ranked among the top 500 nationally.
There are scouts who believe this aggregation of 90-mph throwers and lefty swingers is the best signing class in Seahawks history.
Austin, a sweet-swinging lefty with a golden glove should fit right in with guys he’s already friends with like Huntersville Hopewell outfielder Joe Bertone.
“Every scout who came by to see us wanted to see Bradley (Robbins) throw and then they wanted to see Andy hit,” East coach Brian Hightower said. “Swinging from the left side is such an advantage for him, and he’s the total package. His defense is great, he throws very well and he runs well enough that you could put him in right field and he’d be real passable out there.”
Austin understands being part of such a banner recruiting class could mean a future battle for playing time, but he also understands that it means the Seahawks should be good for years to come.
“I know I’m going to have to work to play there,” Austin said. “But I wanted to play with good people. I wanted to go where there’s a chance to go to Omaha.”
Austin knew from the first day he visited the Wilmington campus that he wanted to be Seahawk. Since then, he’s kept refining his baseball skills and he’s gotten good news in his academic efforts.
“I’ve kept my GPA up and I was able to get my ACT and SAT scores where I wanted them, so I could sign early,” Austin said. “Its an honor to be part of the UNC Wilmington program.”
Austin sang the national anthem — and did it well — at an American Legion ballgame last summer, so he can do more than hit. Still, his diamond dedication is legendary. He’s got a lot of talent and a 6-foot-2 frame, but it’s his baseball work ethic that’s made him a Division I guy.
“He’s in his fourth year in the program now, and when we’ve run, he’s run and when we’ve lifted, he’s lifted,” Hightower said. “When we’ve hit, he’s hit. I don’t think we’ve done anything as a team the past four years that Andy wasn’t there. This is a baseball kid, pretty much a 24/7 baseball kid.”
The baseball kid’s 2011 season as East’s cleanup hitter was very good on the surface — .410 batting average, 28 runs, 23 RBIs — but looking inside the numbers it gets even better.
His on-base percentage was .516, and he drew 16 walks while striking out only six times. He was 10-for-11 on steal attempts, including a four-steal game.
He had hits in 23 of East’s 27 games and reached base with walks in two of his four hitless outings.
The stats say his glove was as good as it seemed. His fielding percentage was .987, and he turned in 26 errorless outings. He logged nine assists and he frequently discouraged opposing coaches from bunting in his direction.
Austin only hit two homers, but both were against quality teams — Northwest Cabarrus and West Forsyth. Ironically, both his clouts came on the road and came in losses.
Austin knows his best position is first base, and that’s a position that college coaches count on for RBIs. Even with the new, toned-down bats, which are far less likely to turn a fastball into a guided missile, first basemen are still expected to provide their share of extra-base knocks.
To enhance his chances of producing future doubles and homers, Austin works diligently to add weight and muscle to his frame.
Bryan Aycoth, the former West Rowan athlete who accomplished quite a bit throwing the javelin for Livingstone, has a wealth of strength and fitness knowledge and is working with Austin.
“I’ve already gone from 175 pounds to 185,” Austin said. “The workouts are helping already, and they should really pay off by baseball season.”
East lost a strong senior class — Justin Morris, Will Sapp, Luke Thomas, Will Johnson, Avery Rogers — but Austin is confident the Mustangs will be fine.
“We plan to kick butt and take names same as always,” he said with a smile. “Nothing less than a state championship is acceptable.”
Hightower doesn’t mind his guys being confident, and he’s looking for one more big year from Austin, who has already given East’s varsity two great seasons filled with 66 base hits and 52 RBIs.
“Andy works so hard at baseball that he’s just gonna keep progressing,” Hightower said. “I expect to watch him playing for Wilmington in two years, and I expect to see him playing at 6-foot-4 and 205.”