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Walker set to fly with the Eagles

L-E catcher signs on with Winthrop

Posted: November 10, 2011 3:25 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2011 5:00 a.m.

wo springs ago, Lugoff-Elgin baseball coach Randy Stokes decided to put then-sophomore Devin Walker behind the plate to handle a veteran group of hard-throwing pitchers, three of whom signed to pitch at the collegiate level including current USC closer Forrest Koumas.

The young backstop never flinched in helping the Demons to the 2010 AAA state baseball title

Last Wednesday, it was Walker’s turn to take pen in hand and put his name on a national baseball letter-of-intent as he made his commitment official in signing with Winthrop University during an afternoon ceremony held inside the L-E Wellness Center.

Decked out in shirt and tie rather than a mask and a chest protector, the 6-foot-1 L-E senior was beaming once things became cemented between he and second-year Eagles’ head coach Tom Riginos’ program.

"When I stepped on campus, I just knew that that was where I wanted to be," Walker said of the factors which led to his ultimate decision as to where to attend college.

"I love the Rock Hill area. And, Coach Riginos was a big part of my decision. He’s a great guy and runs the program very well and in the style I like. The campus is absolutely beautiful and the stadium is, hands-down, one of the best college stadiums in the state of South Carolina."

The recruitment of Walker by the Eagles began last September, at the start of his junior year at L-E. At the time, Walker said, the process was slow with the two parties exchanging e-mails. From there, Walker was invited to spend a day on campus. It did not take long for him to decide that the Big South institution was the place for him.

"When I took my visit, I instantly fell in love with the school," he said.

Once learning of Walker’s interest, Riginos and other WU staff members took in their recruits’ high school and summer league games. A fortunate happenstance occurred last June when Walker’s traveling baseball team played a tournament at the Eagles’ home field, The Winthrop Ballpark. Things quickly accelerated from there.

"I actually played in a tournament up there and that was when Coach Riginos offered me (a grant-in-aid) and when I committed," he said of the five-plus months between his commitment and his signing with the Eagles.

L-E head baseball coach Randy Stokes, a former standout pitcher for and a member of the Coastal Carolina University Athletic Hall of Fame, said the work which Walker put in over the years paid off with his signing with the Eagles.

"Devin has always been a very good defensive catcher; he’s always thrown well, blocked well and receives the ball well which is be a tremendous asset to any college team," Stokes said.

"What Devin has improved on every year has been his hitting. You look back to when he was in our program in the seventh and eighth grades and, we were always a little skeptical about whether or not he was going to be able to hit for us. We knew he could catch but now, he has become a good hitter.

"What Winthrop saw in Devin is that he became a better all-around player, both defensively and offensively."

Walker is coming off a junior year at L-E in which he batted at a .318 clip with six doubles and 10 RBI in the team’s first season as a 4A program after having made the move up from the AAA ranks.

Come next year, Walker will take the next step up in his respective academic and athletic careers. He said he is prepared to make the jump to the college ranks.

"The biggest challenge is, definitely, going to be the competition," he said of the adjustment in going from high school to college baseball. "Here, at Lugoff-Elgin, I’m one of the better players. In college, everyone there is a D-I (Division I) athlete.

"Just the hard work that I’m going to have to put in there … it’s going to be a lot more challenging there than it is here.

"Obviously, I work hard here, but when I get up there, I’m going to have to step my game up to a whole new level. I just have to work really hard, but I’m looking forward to it."

Stokes said the biggest change for his senior catcher will be seeing quality pitching each day in playing baseball at the Division I level.

"It’s going to be a big change," said the former Detroit Tigers’ minor league pitcher. "The game’s not going to change as much as the speed of the game will change for Devin.

"The pitchers that he’s going to catch every day will be good velocity guys. The base runners are going to be faster and quicker and he’s going to have to make his decisions quicker. The catcher is the guy who makes all the defensive calls on the field.

"I don’t think he’s going to have much of a problem, defensively, in going from the high school to the college level. Offensively, it’s going to be a little different because you’re going to see a 90-plus (miles per hour) arm almost every day. That’s part of the adjustment that he’s going to have to make."

Catching hard-throwing pitchers will be nothing new for Walker who caught a bevy of them over the past two seasons at L-E, including Koumas and right-hander Will Dorton, a 15th round selection by the Cincinnati Reds last June and current freshman at the College of Charleston.

Now, Stokes said, Walker will need to take his game up a notch as he becomes one of the central figures for the Demons come the 2012 season.

"Devin has been in a leadership role for us the last couple of years," Stokes said. "When we won the state championship back in (20) ’10, he was just a sophomore and was a tremendous contributor during that run that we had. But, he wasn’t really in a role where he needed to be a leader; he was more of follower then.

"Now, he’s stepped his game up and has become a leader and, I’m not talking as much about his being a vocal leader, but he has become a leader through his work ethic and things like that."

Walker said he hopes to make an impact as soon as possible at Winthrop. Before that, though, he said there is still plenty of unfinished business he needs to attend to as a Demon.

"This year, I’m looking to be the leader that I’m supposed to be and looking to get a lot of wins at Lugoff-Elgin this year," he said. "I want to be that guy. I want us to win the region, make all-conference and help us make a run at another state title."

Walker admitted knowing that the eyes of the Winthrop coaches and those of other college baseball staffs were on him, he may have put too much pressure on himself last spring. He said it might have had an adverse affect on his performance. Now that his immediate future is secure, he looks for a big senior campaign.

Throughout the entire process, Walker had his father, Trey, to lean on for advice when the road got a bit bumpy. The elder Walker knew what his son was going through during the past few months first-hand. Trey Walker knew all about the recruiting game after he himself was a major college recruit before deciding on and playing football for the University of Michigan in the late 1980s.

When it came time to seek advice on college recruiting, Devin Walker did not have far to look.

"I don’t know how I would have done it without my dad," Walker said. "He has always told me ‘Control what you can control.’

"Throughout the recruiting process, it wasn’t up to me; all I could do was to go out there and play hard and let them see me and then, if they don’t want me, then they don’t want me."

"My dad was actually with me the day that I committed to Winthrop. The whole way home that day, I was thanking him the entire way."

As he talked about his catcher, Stokes smiled as he recalled how quickly time has passed. It was not too long ago, Stokes said, that Devin Walker was his quarterback at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School. Now, six years later, he is getting ready to coach him one last time.

"Devin’s been here a long time. He’s really going to be missed after this (academic) year," Stokes said.

"I’ve kind of watched him grow up from his middle school days as a (L-EMS) Leopard quarterback. It’s fun to watch those kids grow up, mature and become good players and good people. And, Devin is both of those; he’s a good player but most of all, he’s become a good person."

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