WEST LIBERTY, Iowa — A.J. Lenz just finds ways to help a team.
Lenz led the Comets this season in innings pitched (48 2/3) and strikeouts (61). Opponents hit just .240 against him.
Offensively, Lenz led the Comets in doubles and triples, with five and two, respectively. The West Liberty senior also had the highest on-base percentage at .451. He was second on the team in runs batted in with 23 and third on the team in batting average (.275) and tied for second in stolen bases (18).
Although the Comets saw their season come to an end Tuesday night with an 11-1 loss to Mid-Prairie, Lenz was instrumental in getting the West Liberty baseball team as far as it did.
“I started varsity my eighth-grade year and we had four wins that season," the Comet senior said, “so to see the progress (we’ve made) … coach (Troy) Wulf puts his life into it and I can’t give him enough credit. It’s been really cool to (go from) four wins to winning first round of districts.”
In West Liberty's opening district game against Durant, Lenz threw 109 pitches over seven innings, allowing just five hits and striking out 12. West Liberty won the game 4-3 in extra innings on a Caleb Wulf walk-off single that scored Will Esmoil.
Lenz finished the day at the plate 1-2 with a walk, two stolen bases and an all-important run scored in the third inning that propelled the Comets to take a 2-1 lead.
With underclassmen up and down the lineup, Lenz approached the season with senior leadership combined with a do-whatever-it-takes attitude.
“Being (a senior I knew) it could be my last game in high school,” Lenz said. “It puts a little extra fire behind it. I don’t want to let my team down but also I don’t want it to be my last game and I didn’t do everything I could.”
He came up primarily as a second baseman, but - along with pitching - he played shortstop and a little third base. Such a willingness to move around can be hard for a senior.
“As a coaching staff, we saw a few games with some different possibilities to put us in the best position to win,” Wulf said, “because (A.J.) was willing to, we didn’t have to worry about his ego getting in the way. He understood the value of some of his teammates’ versatility to play different positions as well.”
And the focus Lenz showed throughout the season, according to his head coach.
“One thing I give (A.J.) credit for is he continued to work all season,” Wulf said. “Sometimes that can be really difficult for seniors who are moving onto the next steps in their lives. He really put in extra time and did everything he could to have a great senior year.”
That continued focus was a big part of why and how West Liberty went from a 2-6 start to finishing the regular season a respectable 10-13 before winning a district game.
Lenz will attend Kirkwood when the academic year starts back up, with eyes on eventually attending a four-year school. But he’ll always take his West Liberty experience with him.
And he can say he leaves a West Liberty baseball program that improved as he got to be a bigger part of it. In both Lenz's eighth-grade and freshman seasons, the Comets won four games. The team improved during his sophomore campaign to get nine wins, followed by 10 as a junior and 11 as a senior.
“(We’ve) set a good example," Lenz said. "There’s a talented group of eighth-graders coming up. I think we have more talent (to follow). I’m definitely coming back (to watch) while I’m in college. I’m excited to see what they do.”