Published 12:00 am Friday, June 7, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — A.L. Brown’s All-SPC catcher Ryan Austin was recruited by St. Andrews as a pitcher.
That will surprise people — unless they’ve seen Austin throw. There was some fairly serious heat being propelled toward second base on steal attempts.
“Defensively, he was the best catcher in our league this year,” A.L. Brown coach Empsy Thompson said. “We had a plus arm behind the plate.”
Physically, Austin doesn’t fit the stereotype for pitchers or catchers. He looks like a shortstop, an upbeat, wiry guy who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs about 140.
“Ryan is not blessed with size,” Thompson said. “But he’s a grinder. When you’re as coachable as he is and you play as hard as he does, you can still have success, and he’s had quite a bit of success.”
The Wonders didn’t have a good season (5-16), but Austin was a bright spot. He showed good speed and bat control as a prototype No. 2 hitter, executing frequently on bunts and hit-and-runs. He also got some work on the mound in relief of workhorses Eldon Peters and Trace Hagler.
Despite the disappointing overall record, the 2013 season wasn’t without some shining moments for the Wonders.
“I didn’t do anything too spectacular, but I had a pretty good year,” Austin said. “Beating Hickory Ridge and beating Mount Pleasant were really big wins for us.”
Austin had a lot to do with putting the April 9 Hickory Ridge game in the win column. Hickory Ridge was in first place. A.L. Brown was in last place. Yet, the Wonders won 4-3 at Veterans Field on the strength of Austin’s bases-loaded triple.
The Mount Pleasant game in the first round of the SPC tournament replayed that scenario. The eighth-seeded Wonders stunned the top-seeded Tigers 8-3.
Austin explained that his recruitment by St. Andrews, a school in Laurinburg (not far from where Thompson played college ball at UNC Pembroke), actually began when he was in Boone.
“I was at a camp at Appalachian State and one of the St. Andrews coaches saw me throw and invited me to the St. Andrews camp,” Austin said. “After that, they started e-mailing and calling, and then they made an offer.”
Austin said he has thrown as hard as the mid-80s.
The St. Andrews Knights played for years in Conference Carolinas with schools such as Pfeiffer, but they began playing in the NAIA Appalachian Athletic Conference last season and turned in a 25-24 record.
“Ryan has a great opportunity to play there,” Thompson said. “I think he could pitch or catch for them, and he could be a two-way player.”
A good student, Austin wants to study exercise science.
“I’d like to become a weightlifting coach and a baseball coach,” Austin said. “I want to stay in baseball as long as I can.”