“This year when we needed a hit in a close game, there was no one I’d rather have up there than him,” Sacred Heart baseball coach Steve Goodwin said in a phone interview on Wednesday following this spring’s 14-4 campaign.
It was a glowing endorsement of his best offensive player.
When runners were in scoring position, when the big hit needed to be delivered, the 13-year veteran coach knew one player was sure to deliver.
You might assume he was talking about Wes Register, the senior catcher who once again led the Gremlins in home runs after hitting over .600 in his sophomore and junior campaigns. But no.
What about juniors Cale Spangler, who split time between staff ace and second base, or Caleb Morrison, the 6-foot-5 first baseman batting in the cleanup spot? Still wrong.
Any more guesses? Here’s a hint. He played the hot corner.
Standing a modest 5-9 — 5-8 1/2 as he puts it —the supportive words were directed at junior Rock Curry.
Why Curry? A look at the box scores — which he routinely put his stamp on — reveals a star in the making.
According to Goodwin, the three-year starter had posted “nice .300 seasons” in the batting average column in his first two years, but everything clicked this spring.
For those who missed it, here’s a refresher course. In a season where he tallied 11 multi-hit efforts and struck out just four times, Curry logged his first career home run in a 16-4 win over Smithton, came through with two RBIs in a 5-2 win over Northwest in the Kaysinger Conference tournament championship game, tallied a walk-off single against New Franklin, and broke out for five RBIs — including a three-run homer — in a come-from-behind 10-5 win over district champion Lincoln to win the Democrat’s Athlete of the Week.
The breakout surprised a lot of parents, teammates and fans, not to mention Curry.
“I surprised myself,” he said. “But I stayed poised and didn’t let (the success) get to me.”
The third baseman, who began the season down the lineup in the seventh spot, led the team with a .520 average, drove in 25 runs (tied for the team lead with Register), had nine extra-base hits (two homers and seven doubles) and drew double-digit walks for the Gremlins. By the end of the season, he was fixed in the five spot, the ideal place to drive in runs.
“I’d say he had three good at-bats out of four every game,” Goodwin said. “He never threw away an at-bat.”
The drive and focus, according to his father, stems from the naysayers who have underestimated Curry throughout the years based on the shortcomings of his innate attributes.
“His biggest motivator has been people telling him he can’t do it,” said John Curry, the athletic director at La Monte. “He’s driven to prove those people wrong.”
Expanding on that idea, Goodwin says Curry’s mental strength and knowledge of the game has gone a long way in overcoming any physical setbacks.
“I think he gets the most out of his God-given athletic ability,” Goodwin said. “He’s not tall, he’s not an imposing figure, but what he does is he battles every at-bat. More than his athletic ability, his head and his knowledge of the game are his biggest attributes.”
Curry, who, to a lesser extent, is known for his prowess on the gridiron and the hardwood, also draws from the positives of his stature.
“I’m shorter so I have a smaller strike zone and less of a variety of pitches to swing at,” Curry said half joking and half serious.
Whether that reasoning is sound is debatable, but what’s not is the attention he’s receiving following his breakout year.
Curry, who in between playing summer ball in Versailles and making trips to Missouri Valley College, was voted by the Democrat’s staff as Athlete of the Month for May.
Asked about joining the ranks of present and former Sacred Heart standouts Jared Dey and Dylan Young, Curry said he was shocked.
“I’m very surprised but it’s cool,” he said. “It means a lot and it’s a great feeling.”
Goodwin is just hoping this is the beginning for Curry, who will likely be counted on to replace Register in the coveted No. 3 hole.
“He’s a big part of our future and he’s just going to continue to improve,” Goodwin said. “He’s going to play all summer because after all, this is his favorite sport. He lives for this game.”