Triad slugger earns News-Democrat Co-Player of the Year

News-DemocratJune 22, 2013 

If Triad High baseball coach Jesse Bugger earned $1 for each batting practice pitch thrown to Keaton Wright over the last four years, it would have paid for a nice vacation or ocean cruise.

The pair spent hours and hours honing one of the best swings in the history of Triad High School.

"I wouldn't want anyone else throwing me BP," said Wright, who earned Belleville News-Democrat Large School Baseball Co-Player of the Year honors along with Edwardsville senior Drew Curtis in voting by area coaches. "I know his speed, how he throws and his arm angle. He's a great coach and I loved playing for him."

Bugger's final official act while coaching Wright was throwing batting practice during the home run derby at Busch Stadium prior to the PNC Bank High School Baseball Showcase.

True to form, the combination produced a winner when Wright edged Curtis in the tiebreaker round.

"When he came to our camps when he was younger, he had the same swing," Bugger said. "We always kind of laughed and called him our little Babe Ruth. He'd take a perfect swing and we'd always tell him 'don't change that swing.'

"You can tell he really enjoys hitting, spends a lot of time hitting -- and wants to be very good at it. His dad threw him about as many as I did."

Wright earned a scholarship to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and closed out his high school career as Triad's all-time leader in hits, doubles, home runs and RBIs.

As a four-year varsity starter, the left-handed slugger never fell below .355 and hit .424, .410 and .424 his final three seasons. He piled up 180 hits, 55 doubles, 19 homers and 152 RBIs while amassing a career average of .410 (180-for-439).

"On any given day he could dominate a game," Bugger said. "Whenever he would do something I'd look around and say 'I'm glad he's on our team.' You kind of took some of it for granted .

"You look at the numbers and he's been so consistent it's a little scary --two years he even had the same batting average. You came to know exactly what to expect from him."

No one will be happier to see him graduate than metro-east pitchers who grew increasingly tired of looking for a weakness at the plate.

The best they could hope for was to walk him or hope he hit the ball at someone instead of out of the park or off the fence.

"I feel like I've accomplished a lot in those four years," Wright said. "We've had a lot of great hitters come through the program and being at the top of the list of those categories makes me proud. I definitely had to work my butt off to do it."

As a junior, Wright helped Triad to a third-place finish at the Class 3A state tournament. As a senior, he helped them to a 27-12 record and a spot in the 3A Effingham Sectional championship game.

"My favorite memory was definitely going to state," he said. "I know we didn't do so well, but we still went there and a lot of teams from Triad are still going to look at us as the first team that went to state and we're proud of that."

Wright once clubbed a home run of more than 430 feet against Marquette. His sophomore year at O'Fallon, Wright launched a bomb that traveled over Highway 50 and landed near a Pizza Hut on the other side of the road.

"I've gotten into quite a few of them like that," Wright said. "Whenever you hit a baseball right on the sweet spot, it feels like you hit paper. You can feel it shoot off the bat and it goes go so far away."

Wright has worked hard to transform his large frame as well.

"Growing up I was always one of the bigger, stronger, chubbier kids I guess," he said. "I could hit the ball farther than most, but in high school I got stronger and sprouted up."

Bugger said one telling sign of Wright's ability was that his power numbers never dropped off despite the switch from livelier bats to restricted flight models.

"If you can maintain when everybody else starts to drop off a bit, that's doing something," Bugger said. "He was the same hitter. It really didn't matter."

So what made Wright such a good hitter, besides his urge to seemingly take up residence in a batting cage?

"He used his body as well as anybody we've ever had," Bugger said. "He'd always get set up on time and was able to really get a good look at the baseball. He was very consistent with his swing and had a nice short stoke to the ball -- and he also got stronger."

Older brother Brendan Wright helped ease Keaton's transition to varsity baseball as a freshman.

"I knew a lot of the guys since they were his buddies," Keaton Wright said.

Is Wright's bat good enough to carry him into professional baseball some day?

"I've given up on trying to figure out the draft," Bugger said. "But I would think he's definitely capable of being that kind of hitter. He's one of those guys that you find a place to put him because of the way he swings the bat."

Wright was not surprised Bugger was voted News-Democrat Coach of the Year for the second year in a row.

"He is about moving you on to the next step and making you better at what you do," Wright said. "He'll do anything it takes to make you a better baseball player. The Triad coaches took me under their wing and I guarantee they went home and iced their arms from throwing me so much BP

"I can't say enough about them."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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