Talent is one reason Center Grove pitcher Jacob Cantleberry won a lot of games during his high school baseball career.
But it wasn’t the only reason, nor the biggest reason.
His loathing of losing had as much to do with his 20 career wins as did fastballs, sliders and change-ups.
“I don’t think anybody wins that many games over that span without just an enormous competitive drive, and he definitely has that,” Trojans coach Keith Hatfield said. “That’s what I think has set him apart from a lot people around central Indiana and in Johnson County.
“I don’t think you do that without a pretty big competitive drive.”
Cantleberry did it with resolve, determination and an arsenal of pitches that included an 88-mph fastball and, among other throws, a nasty changeup.
A three-year varsity starter, he finished his career 20-5 and, more importantly, helped lead the Class 4A Trojans this season to the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference championship their first semistate appearance in 20 years.
In recognition of his accomplishments, Cantleberry has been selected — for the second straight season — the Daily Journal’s Johnson County Player of the Year.
A 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander, Cantleberry finished his senior year with an 8-1 record and a 1.25 ERA. The leader of a deep pitching staff, he helped lead the Trojans to a 24-4 record and their first regional title since 1996.
Unranked heading into the state tournament, Center Grove advanced to the June 11 semistate, where it lost to eventual state champion Roncalli 8-5 in an eight-inning thriller.
Although disappointed by the semistate result, Cantleberry was more than satisfied with the Trojans’ season. Thanks in large major to a young roster, they were overlooked in the polls and, by any measure, performed above and beyond expectations.
“It was definitely a really good year, all around, especially for the team,” Cantleberry said. “We definitely over-achieved, for the team we had. A lot of guys stepped up into their roles to make sure we were successful this year.
“I honestly didn’t think we were going to be a final four team because this was really an inexperienced team. I was really happy with how the season went, for the team we had.”
One of the state’s top high school pitchers throughout his career, Cantleberry accounted for more than one-third of the Trojans’ wins during his three seasons. He was 4-3 as a freshman and 8-1 in both his junior and senior campaigns.
He tallied 243 career strikeouts, including 116 this season. His best pitches are his fastball, slider and change-up.
“He’s able to throw three pitches for a strike, which in high school that’s a big advantage,” Hatfield said. “To be able to throw three pitches wherever, whenever he wants is a big reason why he was so successful.
“He has worked tirelessly in improving his arm strength and taking care of his arm. I wouldn’t say he’s an iron man, but he didn’t miss any starts in my three years with him. He really takes care of his body.”
That’s because he’s not finished with baseball. Nor does he plan to be anytime soon.
Cantleberry recently decommitted from NCAA Division I Tulane University and will attend San Jacinto College, a two-year community college in Pasadena, Texas. His goal is to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team by or before the end of his junior college career.
“I want to be eligible for next year’s draft,” Cantleberry said. “My coaches and other people are confident of that. I’m very excited.
“I know there are going to be a lot of good things for me down there in Texas.”
Name: Jacob Cantleberry
High school: Center Grove (2016)
Size: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds
Experience: Three-year varsity starter
Career record: 20-5
Career strikeouts: 243
College plans: Will play baseball at San Jacinto College, a two-year community college in Pasadena, Texas
Favorite baseball team: Cleveland Indians
Family: Parents are Rick and Connie Cantleberry; has two sisters, Devin, 31, and Rikki, 17
2016 ALL-JOHNSON COUNTY BASEBALL TEAM
*Jacob Cantleberry;Senior;Pitcher;Center Grove
Will Smithey;Senior;Catcher;Center Grove
Ryan Sauter;Sophomore;Infield;Center Grove
Jack Kellams;Junior;Pitcher;Center Grove
Dawson Read;Sophomore;Infield;Indian Creek
Sam Willis;Senior;Infield;Indian Creek
Max Walls;Junior;Outfield;Indian Creek
Christian Curry;senior;utility infield;Whiteland
*Player of the Year
Center Grove: Conner Cantrell, Michael Wyman
Edinburgh: Connor Goddard, Parker Bryant
Franklin: Austin Frankl
Indian Creek: Jared Dehart, Tyler Parks, Trevor Ankney, Eric Braughton
Greenwood: Jordan Martin, Damon Maynard
Greenwood Christian Academy: Krae Sparks, Nate Weems
Whiteland: Ricky Ramey, Logan Mullinix