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All-Star:

Pike’s Layton Sanders will play in AISA’s inaugural all-star baseball game

By KEVIN PEARCEY

Sports Editor

Senior Layton Sanders will represent Pike Liberal Arts School in the first-ever Alabama Independent Schools Association All-Star baseball game this weekend.

A three-sport athlete for the Patriots, Sanders was also a participant in the AISA’s All-Star football game as a quarterback following the 2001 season. He also was a starting forward on Pike Lib’s varsity basketball team, helping lead the Patriots to a berth in the Class AAA Final Four.

He played shortstop and was a pitcher on this year’s baseball team.

"Layton can pitch, he can play infield and he’s a good outfielder," said Pike head coach Butch Austin. "He throws a fastball that moves, a good change-up and a curve. That’s all you need in high school. His curve was a little better last year. He threw harder this season and couldn’t get the curve ball to work as good this year. But he’s got good control."

Following Saturday’s all-star game, Sanders will put athletics behind him and concentrate on college. He’ll join his cousin, former PLAS student Will Hudson, at the University of Alabama.

"I’m going to school," he said.

When asked if he had given thought to his high school career’s approaching finality, Sanders said it hasn’t really crossed his mind.

"I probably will next year when I see everybody else out there playing," he said.

Looking back, Sanders said he enjoyed last year’s trip to the AISA’s all-star football week in Selma the most. Teammate and fellow senior Druid Conrad, who was named to the AISA East squad as tight end, joined him on the trip.

"That was a pretty good time," he said. "We went up there on a Wednesday morning and stayed out of school and practiced that whole week. It was pretty hard, but then we played that Friday night and it was about 40 degrees. Everybody was freezing, but we had a good time even though we got beat pretty bad."

On the diamond, Sanders remembers being on the Dixie Boy’s 13-year-old tournament team in 1997, a squad which advanced to state competition but dropped its first two ball games to end the year. That team featured a few of Sanders’ future teammates at Pike Lib, including Conrad, Brent and Brandon Hill, Michael DiChiara and Lonnie Ward.

Sanders said he has no real "favorite sport". It just depended on the season.

But what Austin liked is the competitive fire Sanders brought to whatever sport he was involved in at the moment.

"He’s a good boy, a good player. I’ve never heard any thing back from him," said Austin. "When he crosses the line, one thing is, he likes to win. And that’s what I like. I’ve enjoyed Layton. He’s been a good one."

Austin said Sanders’ younger brother, Luke, is the same way. Luke, a sophomore, batted lead-off for the Patriots this year.

"Luke hates to lose," said Austin. "There’s not much difference in Luke or Layton when it comes to that. Of course, I think Layton has a lot more ability, overall, then Luke has because Luke’s still young."

During an interview last month, Sanders said he would "hear" it from his younger brother on occasion.

"He’s a good hitter," he said about Luke. "He likes to talk every now and then and he’ll tell me about it because he usually gets a hit every time he goes up to the plate."

Austin has compiled a 145-54 record in nine years of coaching at Pike Lib. He also spent 10 years with Coach Mike Hogan at Charles Henderson High School.

"We had some good teams over there," he said. "We’ve had some good teams over here as well. You know, we were about three runs from making the playoffs this year. We have to find some outfield players and an infield player or two, but we’ve got some good pitching coming back. We’ll change regions also."

The Patriots will join a region with Fort Dale, Morgan Academy and Hooper next season.

"I don’t believe it will be as strong, from year to year, as it was this season," he said.

In fact, Sanders may run into Lee-Scott ace Allen Ponder, not only at this weekend’s all-star game, but in Tuscaloosa next year. Prior to his senior season, Ponder signed a scholarship to play baseball with the Crimson Tide.

But, as Austin notes, Ponder could also be drafted in June.

"He was a good pitcher and he was a good boy too," said Austin. "You have to give him a lot of credit. I don’t know how high he’ll go, but if he does go high, I think he’ll go pro."