St. Al’s Warnock has outfield covered

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 6, 2002

Blake Warnock, keeps his eye on the ball as he warms up for Friday’s South State series opener at Bazinsky Field. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[05/06/02]It’s just a normal game for St. Aloysius.

The Flashes are cruising to another win and players in the dugout are clapping and spitting sunflower seeds.

Then, all of a sudden, one of the opposing batters launches a ball into the gap in right-center field. There’s a quick gasp from the players and the crowd, until all of their eyes shift to Blake Warnock.

The senior centerfielder quickly covers the 60 or so feet to the ball and makes an over-the-shoulder catch look routine to keep the Flashes out of trouble.

Then the crowd quiets and the players go back to spitting their sunflower seeds, waiting for Warnock to do something really remarkable.

“When there’s a ball hit to center field, everybody is sitting on the bench and not worrying about it … But when the ball pops some other places sometimes, everybody’s up against the fence staring to see what’s going to happen,” said St. Al assistant coach Jamie Trichell, who coaches the team’s outfielders. “He’s as focused in practice as he is in a game. He’s going to do the fundamentals right every time, every pitch or every time the ball is coming out of the pitching machine in practice.”

There are outfielders with more speed or better arms, but few combine the skills better than Warnock. The St. Al senior often makes difficult catches look routine, and he has made just four errors in four seasons of varsity ball.

His defense and leadership in the outfield is a big reason the Flashes are one win away from reaching their first state championship series since 1976.

They host archrival Cathedral tonight at Bazinsky Field in the deciding game of the South State championship series. The winner will play Hamilton or Myrtle for the Class 1A state championship.

“He’s as good a centerfielder as there is in the state, bar none,” St. Al head coach Joe Graves said. “He’s got good acceleration to the baseball. If it’s hit to the outfield and he can get his glove on it, it’s an out. And then his arm comes in as a factor. He holds people close, and that makes a big, big difference.”

Warnock started out in right field in youth baseball and played one high school season in left field before moving to center in his sophomore year. Since then, he has made his mark by making difficult catches look routine and by making plenty of truly tough catches.

In a 2001 playoff game against West Lincoln, he also showed just how tough he is. On a long fly ball to center, Warnock ran full speed into a chain-link fence and flipped over it. He hung on to the ball for the out, thwarting a West Lincoln rally.

“I know I’ll never forget that one. It wasn’t necessarily a good catch, it was just the fact that I hit the fence and flipped over and still made it. I was just running back at a dead sprint and just caught it,” Warnock said with a laugh. “Personally, I like the diving catches.”

He’s made his share of those, too.

In a second-round playoff game against Greenville-St. Joe, his full-extension, diving grab robbed an Irish hitter of a triple.

Warnock said all of the great catches stem from simply knowing where the ball is going and getting a good jump on it.

“Whether it’s a line shot or it’s a fly ball, you’ve got to know where to be,” said Warnock, who will join teammate Aaron George in the Class 1A-2A-3A All-Star game June 8 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson.

His ability to do that has also spread to his teammates. St. Al’s outfielders have committed only three errors this season. Last season, they were charged with eight.

“I know he makes me a better player. Just watching him react, I see the way to react and set up. Defensively, he’s the best player I’ve ever played with,” St. Al left fielder Walker Hengst said. “He makes my life a lot easier out there. I’ve got to cover maybe 20 yards.”

Despite his defensive prowess, a solid bat and an astronomical ACT score Warnock is hitting .395 this season, has a .416 average for his high school career and made a 29 on the ACT he hasn’t received many college offers. Mississippi College has taken notice, but there was no firm offer, he said.

Graves said he’d be a gem.

“He’s always there, he always works hard, and he tries to get these other kids to work hard, too. He’s a good leader on the ballclub,” Graves said. “He’s very, very dependable. It’s going to be hard to replace him.”