He might not be the biggest player or even the best player in the 20-year tenure of retiring Althoff High baseball coach Brett Isaacs.
But when Isaacs was looking for someone to get the job done, he turned to senior right-hander Austin Keen and typically got positive results.
“He did so much more than just pitch for us,” Isaacs said of Keen, who was voted Belleville News-Democrat Small-School (Class 1A-2A) Baseball Player of the Year by area coaches. “If you saw us play a lot, you saw that he was a really good baseball player that hustled and wanted to win really bad.
“You can’t instill that kind of competitiveness, that kind of desire and will to win in everybody. It’s unique.”
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Keen is something of an anomaly as a future Division I pitcher at Kentucky who right now stands 6-foot-1 and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 165 pounds.
Don’t let the size fool you. The hard-throwing right-hander racked up a school-record 104 strikeouts in only 58 1/3 innings. He was 8-2 with a 1.68 ERA.
“I thought he was as dominant a pitcher as I’ve had,” Isaacs said. “He could throw hard, but he had a pretty developed slider. He had the same arm action most of the time on both, so it was hard for hitters to know what was coming. Even his fastball moves well, I had umpires tell me after games how it really bored in on right-handed batters.
“When you’re throwing 86 to 88 and maybe getting up a little past that, you add movement and a hard slider and that’s pretty hard to hit.”
Isaacs played Division I baseball at Murray State and thinks Keen will have a good opportunity to succeed at the highest collegiate level.
“Probably what they’ll tell him right away is that he’s got to get stronger, and Austin knows that,” Isaacs said. “He has a great work ethic and he’ extremely competitive. If somebody tell him that’s what he needs to do to be competitive at the next level, he’ll do that.
“If he adds 20 pounds or or whatever they think he needs to add, I really think he can succeed.”
Keen will be Isaacs’ second player in the Southeastern Conference following Ole Miss career saves leader Brett Huber. Isaacs pointed to the fact that when Keen attended a summer baseball camp at then national champion Vanderbilt last summer, he was chosen from a pool of close to 250 players from all over the south and midwest to receive the camp hustle award.
“That says a lot about him, but that’s kind of the way he is,” Isaacs said. “He’s a high-motor kid and he’s all over the field when he’s playing. He just plays his butt off.”
Keen’s first comment after being told he was voted Player of the Year was “I’m speechless.”
He still is bothered by the Crusaders’ 4-1 sectional championship game loss to Teutopolis, a team that eventually finished third at the Class 2A state tournament.
Keen, who logged a lot of innings in the playoffs, surrendered two home runs and the Crusaders couldn’t generate enough offense.
“For the team that we had, we made a really good run,” Keen said. “I tried to make it the best year that we possibly could had and we came up a little bit short of what I wanted the most. I felt really bad after the last game because it wasn’t up to anybody else.
“I gave up all four runs. That will stick with me for a long time, but you’ve got to move on from stuff like that.”
Keen can’t forget the many positives he brought to the Crusaders, including a .379 batting average (third-highest on the team) with seven doubles, 16 RBIs, 30 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.
With his team trailing by a run in the regional championship against Wesclin, he coaxed a leadoff walk and then stole second base on the next pitch despite battling a hip injury.
Wesclin had Keen in a rundown on a fielder’s choice grounder, but he escaped and eventually scored the tying run.
“There’s very few kids that would have gotten out of that, but it didn’t surprise me that he did it,” Isaacs said.
In an earlier non-conference game, Keen took a good look at a pitcher from Okawville and decided that he could steal home. At the time, the game was tied and there was an 0-2 count on a freshman batter in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Keen made it home safely for a rare walk-off steal of home.
“He looked at me right before the pitch and said ‘Coach, I can get it,’” Isaacs said. “I said ‘OK, take it.’ I trusted him because he knew what to do.”
Keen was pleased with the way he closed out his prep career, and the fact that fellow senior teammates Ben Hankammer and Sam Haudrich each were first-team All-Area selections.
“I couldn’t have pictured my senior year with a better coach or better people,” Keen said. “We had a lot of moving pieces that we didn’t really put together until really three-fourths of the season had gone through. I credit that to Coach ‘I’ because I don’t think another coach could have put together a better lineup with the pieces that we had.”
Okawville’s Smith is Coach of the Year
All Jackie Smith did this season was to take a fairly young Okawville Rockets club that was seeded third in its own regional and guided an pushed it all the way into a spot in the Class 1A state championship game. The Rockets lost 9-3 to Cobden in the title game, but generated a lot of interest and respect along the way.
Okawville (17-18) never reached the .500 mark this season until winning the 1A state semifinal game. The Rockets return many solid players and figure to be a force again next season.
Belleville News-Democrat Small-School Baseball Players of the Year
2015: Austin Keen, Althoff
2014: Nick Yung, Freeburg
2013: Wes Degener, Gibault
2012: John Goodrich, Nashville
2011: Bryce Bastien, Columbia
2010: Tyler Sonsoucie, Lebanon
2009: Joel Greatting, Columbia
2008: Cale Wine, Marissa
2007: Josh Mueller, Columbia
2006: Richie Derbak, Wesclin
2005: Josh Thole, Mater Dei
2004: Adam Buehne, Central; Brandon Melliere, Red Bud
2003: Nick Dunning, Wesclin
2002: Adam Hill, Freeburg; Ross Lobosco, Freeburg
2001: Kyle Rensing, Freeburg
2000: Robert Rahn, Roxana
1999: Zach Borowiak, Nashville
1998: Eddie Breuchaud, Greenville
1997: John Rheinecker, Gibault; Ben Cunningham, Greenville
2015 Belleville News-Democrat Small-School (Class 1A-2A) Baseball All-Area Team
Player of the Year
Austin Keen, Althoff, sr.
Coach of the Year
Jackie Smith, Okawville
Pitcher: Jordan Prange, Dupo, jr.
Pitcher: Brendan Killion, Okawville, jr.
Pitcher: Austin Anderson, Nashville, so.
Pitcher: Logan Reardon, Roxana, sr.
Catcher: Daniel Thorson, Nashville, sr.
First Base: Ben Hankammer, Althoff, sr.
Second Base: Dylan Mueller, Nashville, sr.
Shortstop: Chandler Purcell, Gibault, sr.
Third Base: Jordan McFarland, Gibault, jr.
Outfield: Sam Haudrich, Althoff, sr.
Outfield: Brady Rakers, Mater Dei, jr.
Outfield: Trace Musielak, Nashville, sr.
DH: Zach Haake, Mater Dei, sr.
Utility: Easton Wallace, Valmeyer, so.
Pitcher: Ryan Brink, Nashville, so.
Pitcher: Mitchel Rule, Central, jr.
Pitcher: Easton Wallace, Valmeyer, so.
Pitcher: Dylan Weh, Wesclin, sr.
Catcher: Brad Fuhrhop, Okawville, jr.
First Base: Lucas Deimeke, Mater Dei, sr.
Second Base: Wil Rakers, Mater Dei, so.
Shortstop: Zach Grob, Lebanon, sr.
Shortstop: Adam Alexander, Carlyle, jr.
Third Base: Jaris Dalman, Nashville, jr.
Outfield: Grant Carman, Carlyle, jr.
Outfield: Hayden Heggemeier, Nashville, so.
Outfield: Alec Skaer, Gibault, sr.
Outfield: Tommy Cummins, Carlyle, sr.
DH: Trevor Davis, Gibault, so.
Utility: Hunter Brewer, Valmeyer, sr.
Utility: Brendan Bernhardt, Wesclin, sr.
Pitchers: Brandon Contratto, New Athens; Trevor Davis, Gibault; Zack Deiters, Mater Dei; Kyle Eversgerd, Mater Dei; Ben Hankammer, Althoff; Landon Michael, Carlyle; Dylan Mueller, Nashville; Ryan Rakers, Carlyle; Todd Salger, Red Bud; Jarad Steenbergen; Jared Timmermann, Wesclin
Catcher: Austin Francis, Dupo; Mark Nappier, Valmeyer; Matt Reuss, Marissa; Bret Silvestri, Althoff
First Base: Blake Bernhardt, Wesclin; Tyler Brinkmann, Gibault; Jim Kiefer, New Athens; Jack Strieker, Central
Second Base: Jake Frazier, Althoff; Dylan McCoy, Gibault; Kolby Schulte, Central; Jarad Steenbergen, Wesclin
Shortstop: Hunter Brewer, Valmeyer; Brandon Contratto, New Athens; Kyle Hentis, Red Bud; Blake Marks, Wood River; Brandon Richter, Central; Alec Wisneski, Okawville
Third Base: Drake Harvell, Dupo; Dru Johnson, Carlyle; Kory Loew, Metro-East Lutheran; Ryan Reuss, New Athens; Dillon Smith, Central; Jared Timmermann, Wesclin
Outfield: Darrell Combs, Wesclin; Jake Krekel, Valmeyer; Brent Lengacher, Wesclin; Joey Mirabal, Dupo; Logan Reardon, Roxana; Nick Strubhart, Okawville; Zach Williams, Valmeyer
DH: Joe Adams, Lebanon; Cody Bauza, Nashville; Dylan Weh, Wesclin