By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
LAPEL, Ind. — The moment the ball leapt off Brady Cherry’s bat, there was no doubt about its final destination.
Wabash High School is justifiably proud of the dimensions of its baseball diamond. And before the Class 2A regional there earlier this month, a radio broadcaster asked Lapel coach Brad Lantz how his team would adjust to playing in a big park.
Lantz smiled and said his boys were accustomed to large fields and would do just fine.
Now, here was Cherry — the five-tool sophomore shortstop — changing the game with a single swing. His three-run homer in the second inning easily cleared the fence in centerfield and was lost in the trees some 420 feet from home plate.
It nearly erased the six-run deficit the Bulldogs dug for themselves in the first inning, pulling Lapel within one run, but top-ranked Northfield ultimately held on for an 8-5 victory. A few weeks later, the Norse won their second consecutive state championship.
With Cherry leading a loaded class of juniors-to-be, the Bulldogs now believe they can compete with any team in the state.
“I thought we improved a lot as the season went on,” Cherry said. “We had a lot of young guys. This year, to win sectional, it was a lot more than I expected. But we’re only losing two seniors, and we feel really good about the guys we have coming back.”
Cherry is at the heart of that group.
Batting in the No. 2 hole this season, he hit .395 with six home runs and 26 RBIs. Lantz said he would have added three of four dingers to that total except for his habit of consistently hitting the ball to the deepest part of the field.
His speed helped Cherry add 10 doubles and three triples to his totals, and he had a team-high eight stolen bases.
Add it all up, and the sensational second-year star has been named The Herald Bulletin’s 2013 Baseball Player of the Year.
“He’s always early,” Lantz said, remarking on Cherry’s leadership. “He’s always working hard. He’s very composed for a sophomore. He gets along with the guys well. He keeps the guys loose.”
Lantz said a loose dugout was key as the Bulldogs overcame a slow start and rallied late in the season. Lapel entered tournament play with a losing record but wound up getting revenge against Wapahani — who won last year’s sectional final by one run — and knocking off rival Frankton to reach its first regional in six years.
Cherry became a more vocal leader as the season wore on, but his biggest impact came from his day-to-day routine. His teammates saw his commitment, watched the results it produced and copied what they could for themselves.
But following in Cherry’s direct footsteps isn’t easy.
He’s a gifted all-around athlete who might be the leading scorer next season for the Bulldogs basketball team.
“He can do about anything,” Lantz said. “Obviously, I’ve seen him play baseball. With the way he runs, and the way he throws, I’m sure he could start on the football team. He could probably start and play any sport he wants to.”
Ever since he was a young boy playing with friends at Shadyside Park, however, baseball has been Cherry’s first love.
He said he knows he’s found a groove when he’s hitting the ball as often to the opposite field as he’s pulling it. And nothing feels better than getting good barrel on a pitch and sending it to straight away center.
As for that at-bat in Wabash, Cherry was sitting on a curve ball. When he got it, he knew exactly what to do with it.
As the months slowly pass until next spring, that same anticipation will be applied to his junior season.
“It’s really exciting,” Cherry said. “I’ll be thinking about it as soon as summer ball is over.”