Wallace is Vikings’ man in middle

Published 12:31 am Saturday, April 16, 2011

In the span of a few innings last Saturday, Beau Wallace displayed the full range of his skills.

The first batter of the game hit a line drive that seemed destined for a safe landing in the outfield — until Wallace leapt high in the air, his feet about three feet off the ground and his glove hand nearly 10, and snagged it for the out.

A few batters later, Wallace made a diving stop on a hard grounder up the middle. Although he wasn’t able to throw the runner out, he got to a ball most shortstops couldn’t. Later on he added two hits, a walk, stolen base and an RBI at the plate in the 9-4 loss to Brandon. He also pitches, but that would have to wait for another day.

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All in all, it was the type of outstanding individual effort that Wallace is starting to make look routine. Warren Central’s senior shortstop is batting nearly .500, has hit three home runs, driven in 11 runs and has a stratospheric .654 on-base percentage. He’s been a defensive standout and the team’s No. 2 pitcher, as well as a clubhouse leader and an invaluable cog for the Vikings as they head toward the Class 6A playoffs.

“As he goes, we go,” Warren Central coach Josh Abraham said. “That’s why we bat him in the leadoff spot. He tries to bring his competitiveness and his work ethic every day, and it rubs off on all the seniors.”

Wallace was good last season — good enough to sign with Hinds Community College this winter — but has taken his game to another level in 2011. His .491 average entering Tuesday’s game against Greenville-Weston is almost 150 points higher than in 2010, and has gone up 63 points since he was moved to the leadoff spot in late March.

Wallace batted third all of last season and the first half of this one. Since moving to the top of order against Clinton on March 25, he is hitting .556 (15-for-27). He was batting .423 in the No. 3 spot.

“Batting in the three-hole, you see a lot of junk, a lot of curveballs. Leadoff, you get a first-pitch fastball and you hammer it,” Wallace said. “I’m a lot more comfortable. There’s a lot of confidence batting leadoff, because you know what’s coming.”

Even more impressive than Wallace’s hitting, though, has been his glove work. He’s committed eight errors in WC’s 22 games, but has also saved twice as many hits with diving stops and leaping grabs like the one against Brandon. His error total, while a bit high, is also half as many as he had last season.

Like his improved hitting, Wallace credited the better defense to hard work.

“I’m a lot more confident when I take groundballs. Last year I wasn’t ready on hops, I was on my heels a lot. All the offseason work helped,” Wallace said.

Wallace is also 3-1 on the mound this season, with a tidy 2.26 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 31 innings, and has made a big contribution in the dugout. His outgoing personality and experience as a leader — he’s been the starting quarterback for Warren Central’s football team the last two seasons — makes him stand out among a talented senior class that has four junior college signees.

During games, Wallace is as likely to deliver a quick pep talk and a pat on the back as he is a clutch hit.

“We tried to help him with how to be a leader, and now he’s more of a coach on the field instead of just somebody out there playing. He handles the infield and (center fielder) Clayton (Ashley) handles the outfield,” Abraham said. “We told him two years ago that whether he wants to be or not, he’s going to be a great leader. He plays football, he’s the quarterback. If he played basketball he’d be the point guard. Any time you work hard, you’re going to have that kind of effect.”