TERRE HAUTE —
When Wayne Newton Post 346’s American Legion baseball team approaches its sectional in mid-July, its goal will be the same as it’s always been — to win the state championship.
So far this season, there have been times when manager John Hayes’ crew looked as if it could contend for the program’s 13th state title since 1951, such as this past weekend’s Paducah (Ky.) Tournament.
And there have been occasional times when Post 346 looked as if it shouldn’t even be thinking about a state title.
One of those times was a 10-6 loss to Logansport in the first game of a doubleheader June 23 at Terre Haute North High School. The bad part isn’t that Post 346 lost, but it’s that Post 346 committed seven fielding errors in the process.
“Seven errors will not win you any ballgames whatsoever,” emphasized Cody Thornton, a 2012 West Vigo High School graduate playing his third and final season with Wayne Newton. “That goes back to the whole mental-focus, mental-approach thing.”
Thornton, one of six Post 346 regulars batting above .300, had mentioned those problems last week when reflecting on the team’s 8-7 setback against Clinton on June 20.
“That was a tough loss,” he admitted. “We just didn’t show up to play that night. It was one of those nights where we didn’t have our minds in the game. Our mental approach wasn’t there. That’s something you’ve got to bring to the ballpark every day.”
Despite its inconsistencies, Wayne Newton managed to take a 16-5 record into Sunday’s championship round of the Paducah Tournament. Next up for Hayes’ squad is a home game tonight against Sullivan, starting at 7 o’clock.
For Post 346 to reach its potential down the stretch, Hayes said it will need Thornton to play up to his potential.
And that’s exactly what Hayes thinks will happen with the 6-foot-1, 190-pound outfielder/designated hitter who has been battling a shoulder issue this past month.
“Cody is a good athlete,” the veteran manager said. “He runs well, he’s got a really good arm [when the shoulder isn’t bothering him] and he hits the ball hard. You put those three things together and you’ve generally got a pretty good baseball player.
“He’s been hitting in the six-hole all year and playing in the outfield, mainly in right, but he’s had that little shoulder issue lately. So he sat out [and started at designated hitter] for a few games.”
Thornton said the issue is bursitis, although it has not affected his batting at all.
“I like to be out there on the field playing offense and defense just about every game,” he stressed. “I don’t like days off. I like to be in the flow of the game constantly. I’m not really big on DH-ing. But now that I’ve had that shoulder issue, DH-ing is better than nothing. At least I get to still play.”
Hayes added that Thornton, 19, is valuable off the field as well as on it.
“Having a kid back who’s got three years [counting 2013] with us and a year of college in [at Olney Central] is always a bonus. … He’s one of the leaders on the team. He’s just a great kid to have around.”
At West Vigo, Thornton started four seasons in baseball and three seasons each in basketball and football. While he was there, the Vikings won two Class 3A sectional titles in baseball.
Thornton said he didn’t play all that much for Olney Central coach Dennis Conley in the spring, but he figures that will change next spring. He did gain experience at all three outfield positions and as a pinch-hitter, though.
“I started off the season pretty well,” he explained. “I cooled off a little bit toward the end of the year, but I … wasn’t a full-time starter.”
Thornton described the Blue Knights as “pretty solid as a team” in 2013.
“We didn’t have anything to show for it in the playoffs,” he said. “We lost the first two games. But we ended up being 37-17.”
After his two-year Olney Central stint ends in 2014, Thornton would like to take his talents to an NCAA Division I program, specifically naming Indiana State as one of his preferences.
But first things first — advancing in the Legion tournament.
“We’re automatically in the national [Great Lakes] regional this year [because of being the host site at Bob Warn Field], but we want to win our way in anyway,” Hayes noted. “It’s always fun to win a state championship. I think with each and every one of these kids, that’s their goal too.
“We’re not quite where we want to be. We felt like we let some games get away from us and it’s strictly from lack of concentration. We’ve got to focus each and every pitch of each and every ballgame to be a good baseball team. Until we get there, we’re going to take some lumps, I’m afraid.”
“If we continue to develop as a team and get better as a team, I think that mental focus and that mental approach will come,” he said. “We’ve just got to have that every game.”