TERRE HAUTE —
At 18 and 19 years of age respectively, Wayne Newton Post 346 pitchers Damon Olds and T.J. Decker are not too proud to admit they don’t know everything about baseball.
Before the current American Legion season, which finds Post 346 playing in the state finals at St. Leon this weekend, the right-handed Olds and Decker were willing to learn a new pitch to make them more effective on the mound.
That pitch was a slider and both agreed it helped Olds (9-0) and Decker (9-1) take impressive records into Thursday night’s game against St. Leon Post 464.
“My slider’s been working right this summer,” said Olds, who compiled a 1.64 earned-run average and 94 strikeouts in 711⁄3 innings through the Legion regional. A recent graduate of Terre Haute South High School, he’s taking his pitching talents to Lincoln Trail College for 2013-14.
“I just started throwing the slider this spring [during South’s season],” he continued. “My teammate Pete Lannoo showed me the grip on it and I started throwing it.”
Decker, a second baseman when not pitcher, also developed a slider this spring during his freshman season at Olney Central College.
“The biggest thing for me is getting ahead [in the count] with my fastball and then mixing up all my pitches [including the slider],” Decker mentioned, “then I let my defense do the work.”
Before Thursday, Decker owned a 1.62 ERA with 63 K’s in 662⁄3 innings for the Legion season. On July 18, the 2012 Northview graduate threw a seven-inning perfect game — with four strikeouts — in a 12-0 victory for Post 346 over Sullivan Post 139 in the Legion sectional at Terre Haute North’s Don Jennings Field.
“They’ve all pitched well this summer,” Wayne Newton manager John Hayes emphasized while also referring to Austin Hicks (7-3 before Thursday) and Cody Brock (2-1 before Thursday), among others. “They’ve been throwing strikes and making the opposing teams hit the baseball.”
Hayes acknowledged that having experienced pitchers, such as Olds and Decker, should help Post 346 battle through difficult situations that may arise in the state tournament and beyond.
“It’s always important,” the veteran manager said. “They’ve been through it [having been part of Wayne Newton’s 2012 state championship]. They know what it takes … and they help show the younger kids what it’s all about.”
Before Thursday’s double-elimination tournament opener, Olds and Decker sounded confident that Post 346 can stay alive at least a few more weeks. Both are wrapping up their second and final season of American Legion baseball, so they understandably want to go out on a high note.
“The team’s been hitting very well this summer and the defense behind me has been awesome,” Olds assessed. “I think we have the potential to make it to the World Series [this year in Shelby, N.C.]. I think our pitching staff and hitting have improved from last year.”
“I just feel like our team chemistry is really good right now,” Decker added. “Hopefully, it keeps working for us. … Hopefully, we can go to the World Series in a few weeks. I think we’ve got the team that can do it.”
One factor working in Wayne Newton’s favor is that it will serve as host for the Great Lakes Regional — slated for next Thursday through Aug. 12 at Indiana State’s Bob Warn Field — so it receives an automatic bid regardless of how it fares in the state tournament.
But don’t think for a second that Post 346 players and coaches want to take their feet off the gas pedal and lose the momentum they’ve built in recent weeks. They want to capture the state championship — it would be Hayes’ eighth since he became manager — and earn their way into the national regional.
“Our goal [in the state finals] is to keep winning, stay undefeated in the postseason and add another state title,” Decker insisted.
Meanwhile, Olds said it’s important for Wayne Newton players to “stay focused and keep our minds off the national regional.”
Post 346 took a 34-10 record into the five-team state tournament.
Broadcasts of all Post 346 games in the state finals can be heard by clicking on the link at the wabashvalleysports.com website.