They were the two best players in Montgomery County all season long.
Austin Motz the top hitter and Jarrod Kirsch the top pitcher.
Together, the Crawfordsville and North Montgomery duo is the Journal Review 2021 Baseball Co-Player of the Year.
Motz helped lead the Athenians to a Montgomery County title and a 17-10 overall record as one of the top hitters in the Sagamore Conference. His .387 batting average was fourth best in the league, while he drove in a third-best 22 runs on 29 hits, including 11 extra-base-hits and scored a conference second-best 30 runs.
When Motz’ sophomore season was canceled in 2020, he turned his focus to the upcoming tennis season. To some it may have seemed like a missed opportunity to get ahead of other baseball players in the area, but in reality it helped set the tone for a clutch performance from the plate in 2021.
“For my consistency at the plate I think playing tennis in the fall really helps with hand-eye coordination and just making sure to make contact with the ball,” Motz said.
And when tennis ended last fall, he flipped the switch to baseball. A golden chance to improve when many others were playing basketball or waiting for the weather to break.
“Austin worked hard all winter to help prepare him mentally and physically after missing the 2020 season,” Crawfordsville coach Brett Motz said. “It took longer for everyone to get back to game speed with their instincts and reactions to baseball situations but Austin has been around the game his entire life which helps him feel prepared.”
While Motz built on his freshman campaign from 2019, Kirsch and his talented freshman teammates entered 2021 with something to prove. They set out not only to prove they belonged on the field as varsity players, but to prove that North Montgomery baseball can be one of the most competitive teams in the area.
Kirsch helped them do both.
“Jarrod brought a sense of confidence that you don’t see in most freshman,” North Montgomery coach Ryan Nuppnau said. “He loves and embraces the challenge. He just goes out and plays as if there is no pressure on his shoulders.”
In Kirsch’s first varsity start, the freshman no-hit Fountain Central. And the success only continued.
For the season, Kirsch was second in the Sagamore Conference with seven wins, had an earned run average of 2.28, allowing just 20 earned runs. He walked 22 and struck-out 67.
“My approach was to just play my role and just show everyone what I’ve got,” Kirsch said. “I was a little surprised but not that much because I had a good feel of playing up against older guys because I used to always play up in ages in little league so there was experience. So I was confident out the gate because I had defense behind me and a great catcher to call games and give me confidence.”
The opposite end of North Montgomery’s battery was their lone senior in Jacob Braun. His presence helped Kirsch and the Chargers’ other young pitchers carry confidence throughout the season. And Nuppnau felt like Kirsch gave the Chargers their best shot at winning.
“When Jarrod was on mound, our team had the most confidence to succeed,” he said. “I think a lot of our team’s confidence in him came from Jarrod’s ability to embrace challenges as if there was no pressure. When his teammates saw him cool and collected on the mound, then they were able to play the same way.”
North Montgomery entered the IHSAA Sectional hovering around .500 on the season. With a loaded field, the Chargers were considered an underdog. But they had Kirsch and that mattered.
The freshman helped the Chargers beat South Vermillion in the opening game, before he earned the win in a 3-2 win over No. 3 ranked Lebanon in the sectional semifinal.
“I was a little nervous, but in my mind I was jut saying ‘it’s another baseball game,’” Kirsch said. “And during the last inning of the Lebanon game I was just thinking about showing the county what North Montgomery baseball is all about.”
Kirsch also had an impressive debut at the plate in 2021. He hit .301 with 22 hits, drove in 11 runs and was third in the Sagamore Conference with 28 runs scored.
Motz had his fair share of big moments too. Including a game-winning bases-clearing hit at North Montgomery to help secure the county title for the Athenians.
“Austin established himself as the guy we would like at the plate and on the bases when we needed it most,” coach Motz said. “Whether it was to lead off an inning or to drive in runs, he was a guy that seemed to step up when it mattered most. Hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult skills in sports. Pressure situations can sometimes make it even more difficult, but Austin seems to have the ability to become more relaxed and focused in big situations which is a characteristic of a great hitter and player.”
Motz’ success came with very little surprise, but it still meant a lot. Both for him and for the Athenian program.
“The success for me meant a lot this year, recently my grandpa passed away so everything that happened this season was for him,” he said. “And for next year the thing I’m looking forward to the most is just being with my teammates, they make the season a lot of fun and I know that all of them are wanting to get better, and when you have a team of guys that works hard, it pushes you to get better too.”
Kirsch and Motz will return in 2022 as the faces of Montgomery County high school baseball.