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DECATUR — It didn't take Coby Crafton to realize what he was in for.

From the on-deck circle early in the season, Crafton saw Ezra Schaal  rope a ball to right field.

"This is what I have to stand up to and follow up the entire season?" Crafton asked himself.

So far, so good.

Crafton, a freshman catcher, is hitting .424 with a home run, 12 RBIs and eight runs scored from the No. 4 spot in the LSA batting order.

He's hitting behind one of the best top of the order lineups in the H&R area. Michael Fiala leads off, followed by Tanner Heick and Schaal.

Since that early-season game, the jitters that plagued him have started to dissipate and he's eased into his surroundings.

“It makes it easier with all the guys in front of me," Crafton said. "I read in the paper that everybody above me had over a .300 batting average last year. That’s really good. To know that’s in front of me and that I don’t have the stress of getting on base and just putting it out there and scoring them, that’s nice."

LSA baseball coach Erik Johansen knew in eighth grade what Crafton could do. It wasn't a matter of when Crafton would crack the startling lineup, but rather, where he would play.

Johansen thought catcher was an option, and Crafton has slotted in perfectly. He splits time with Noah Robinson behind the plate. Crafton, who stands around 6-foot-3, also spells time in right field and has emerged as a closer for the Lions (7-3).

But his future is behind the plate, and Crafton offers a rare consistency for high school programs. After Brad Austin caught for four seasons at LSA, Crafton looks increasingly likely to do the same.

“We see him as a long-term catcher, but he’s athletic enough to go play the outfield," Johansen said. 

Right now, he's learning the pitchers and how the ball snaps and breaks differently for each one of LSA's arms. It's a work in progress, but the biggest critic of Crafton is himself.

“He’s his best coach," Johansen said. "He knows what he needs to do. Before the game he’ll work his wrists and everything. Being a freshman not seeing all of our pitchers and knowing their movement, he’s going to get better and better every time. Nobody works harder."

Wherever he plays, he brings an imposing bat with him.

Last week against Argenta-Oreana, Crafton, who is a right-handed batter, reached outside and drilled a home run over the left field fence.

He won't try to convince himself that his mechanics on that swing are destined for his highlight reel, but he made it work.

Johansen was just as surprised that the ball cleared the fence, but that speaks to Crafton's ability to hit.

“I don’t know how many high school kids can have their butt go one way and hit it out the other way," Johansen said.

There's a reason Johansen slotted Crafton in the No. 4 spot in the order, allowing him to reap the rewards of the three-headed, on-base machine in front of him.

“The ball sounds different off his bat," Johansen said. "You can see he’s got it.”

Crafton who is confident, but humble, knows his bat isn't the sole reason his RBIs are piling up.

He's quick to say there are better hitters than him on the Lions, each of whom could slide into his spot in the order and do damage, but he's thankful Johansen pencils his name in the same spot each game.

“I get all the RBIs from the guys in front of me. Ezra, I’ve probably got six RBIs from him alone," Crafton said. "I poke it out there and he scores. It’s not me, it’s them. I can’t do it all myself."

Then there's the matter of Crafton's right arm.

When Johansen needs to stave off a late-inning rally, he can throw Crafton, who has pitched three innings with seven strikeouts and a save last week against Argenta, on the mound.

"It’s my flow, I guess," Crafton said. "It’s what I’m used to is getting put in stressful situations and having to get out of them."

Crafton has a love-hate relationship with pitching in high-leverage innings.

Before he trotted to the bump against Argenta for the top of the seventh with his team clinging to a one-run lead it picked up in the bottom of the sixth, he didn't know what to expect.

"Before I went out there I was like, ‘This is either going to go good or bad for me.’ Thank God it went good," Crafton said.

Like most things this season, things are going good for Crafton and the Lions.

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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