Lawrence High shortstop/winning pitcher Troy Willoughby’s emotions were being put through a tougher test than any teacher could put in front of him Thursday night during a fifth-inning at-bat at Hoglund Ballpark, site of the second city baseball showdown in four days.
First came the high point, when he ripped an apparent two-run double down the third-base line. Lions roared.
Then came the first low. The home-plate umpire had ruled it a foul ball, sending the senior back to the plate for another try.
Then came the next bummer moment. Willoughby ripped a grounder to the third baseman, who stepped on third base for an apparent force. Nope. The umpire ruled that one a foul ball too, a reprieve that lifted the hitter’s emotions back up.
After so many trips away from the ideal flat-line baseball mentality, could he get it together, concentrate well enough to recognize the next pitch and do something with it?
Of course he could. He was born to play baseball, and if you can’t shake off highs and lows in baseball, you’re doomed to get eaten alive by the tricks it can play on the mind. This time he ripped a double down the first-base line, bringing home two runs and tying a game with Free State that Lawrence would win, 7-4.
Willoughby also allowed one run in three innings of relief to earn the victory in a game in which his younger brother, Shane, would earn the save with two shutout innings of hard-throwing, no-hit, four-strikeout ball.
“I thought the first two were both fair, and I ended up getting a pitch that I could handle, and I took it down the line,” Troy said. “It was a little bit hard to concentrate after all that, but you have to learn to keep your wits about you.”
As a third-year varsity player for the Lions, Willoughby has been through enough ups and downs to know it’s best to let the past go, because there’s nothing that can be done about it. He brings a lot of intensity, plenty of emotion to the diamond, but he manages to get himself grounded at the moment of truth.
Willoughby has been a steady force for the Lions for three years, popping up here, there and everywhere. His want ad would read: Have glove, will travel. Anywhere. As long as he’s in the lineup. As a sophomore, he started the year in left field and moved to shortstop late in the season after Landon Moseley got beaned. As a junior, he started the year in right, moved to left, then played second base and wound up as the team’s third baseman.
He’ll play for Allen County Community College next season. And he’ll love it.
“I can’t really explain what it is about baseball, but it’s just different from any other sport,” he said. “During the spring, the weather’s beautiful, and we get to play on a Division I facility on a night like this. Can’t top that.”