Improved command of the strike zone proved beneficial for Center Grove pitcher Jake Cantleberry this baseball season.

As a result, the junior left-hander put together the type of springtime he had previously only dreamed of, going 8-1 with an earned-run average of 0.77.

Cantleberry’s dependability for a 24-6 Center Grove squad that captured a Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference title and won a Class 4A sectional have earned him Player of the Year honors on the Daily Journal’s All-County Baseball Team.

Among those joining Cantleberry on the All-County Team are three of his Center Grove teammates — outfielder Devon Hensley, utility player Josh Martin and second baseman Eathan Stephen.

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All proved to be special, particularly the guy throwing strikes.

“I knew Jake was capable of that. I knew he had the potential to have that season. He walked a lot of guys as a sophomore, and that was kind of his downfall,” said second-year Trojans coach Keith Hatfield.

The work Cantleberry put in during the offseason improving his mechanics and gaining strength resulted in him walking only 28 hitters in 64 innings of work. He also finished with 101 strikeouts, nearly half of the team’s total for the season.

Hatfield recalls one stretch this season in which Cantleberry was particularly strong, starting two MIC games and pitching in relief in another during the same week.

“It was pretty impressive to see,” Hatfield said.

Cantleberry’s fastball is usually clocked between 84 and 86 mph. He’s adept at mixing in a change-up and hard slider in order to keep batters guessing.

“He throws hard but also has a great slider and change-up. Nothing’s the same, which makes it tough on hitters,” Whiteland coach Scott Sherry said of Cantleberry.

“And he just has that bulldog mentality on the mound. You work at something long enough, and you develop that confidence. Those are the guys you want pitching for you.”

Cantleberry has received scholarship offers from several college programs, including Indiana, Purdue, Indiana State, Northern Illinois, Ball State, Xavier and Bradley.

With one season of high school baseball remaining, he knows the list of interested college baseball programs could grow. Nonetheless, Cantleberry hopes to make his choice this summer.

In the meantime, his focus is on becoming even better in 2016, quite the potential dilemma considering he permitted only four extra-base hits (three doubles, a triple and not a single home run) all of this past season.

It will require certain level of dedication, though Cantleberry, who began playing competitive baseball in fourth grade and was immediately hooked, considers anything associated with the sport a labor of love.

“I’ve always been pretty baseball-oriented. I really like it. I put in a lot of work last offseason getting stronger and just learning to pitch better. Next year I want to be as consistent as possible,” said Cantleberry, who is currently pitching for the Indiana Bulls U17 team.

His coach, for one, is eager to witness what kind of jump Cantleberry makes between now and the start of the hard-throwing southpaw’s senior season.

“I think he can still be more consistent in his mechanics and has more velocity in him,” Hatfield said.

All-County pullout




*Jake Cantleberry;Center Grove;Pitcher;Junior — 8-1 pitching, 0.77 ERA, 64 IP, 101 strikeouts, 28 walks

Alec Brown;Greenwood Christian Academy;Infield;Senior — .494 average, 42 RBI, 5 doubles, 2 HR, 9 SB

Austin Browning;Whiteland;Infield;Senior — .356 average, 6 doubles, 21 RBI

Caleb Deiter;Whiteland;Infield;Junior — .329 average, 3 doubles, 14 runs; 5-1 pitching, 45 strikeouts

Devon Hensley;Center Grove;Outfield;Senior — .387 average, 9 doubles, 7 HR, 30 runs, 16 SB

Josh Martin;Center Grove;Utility player;Senior — .443 average, 19 runs, 18 RBI, 6 SB

Tyler Parks;Indian Creek;Infield/Junior — .459 average, 11 doubles, 10 runs, 17 RBI

Jacob Roberson;Whiteland;Pitcher;Senior — .377 average, 6 doubles, 21 runs; 5-2 pitching, 2.20 ERA

Dylan Rosado;Greenwood;Outfield/Sophomore — .385 average, 19 runs, 10 RBI, 18 SB

Eathan Stephen;Center Grove;Infield;Senior — .313 average, 6 doubles, 24 runs, 5 SB

Reid Werner;Greenwood;Pitcher;Junior — .304 average, 14 runs, 14 RBI; 6-3 pitching, 2.45 ERA, 54 strikeouts

*Player of the Year

Honorable mention

Center Grove: Jade Doyle, Nathaniel Coy, Will Smithey, Tye Thixton

Edinburgh: Kevin Johnson, Jentry Lange, Zach Murphy

Franklin: Dylan Drybread, Ryan Torrance, Jamie Burnett, Jerris Lee

Greenwood: Sam Orem, Jackson Daugherty, Tanner Skeel

Greenwood Christian Academy: Braden Murray, Krae Sparks, Joel Stinnet, Nate Weems, Nolan Check, Jacob Hagist

Indian Creek: Dawson Read, Jared DeHart

Whiteland: Christian Curry, Branton Sanders, Dakota Purdue

Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.