Providence High in Charlotte was the place to be Monday night as the Panthers matched up against rival Ardrey Kell High. Hundreds of fans packed the stands and foul lines for Senior Night, but they weren't the only ones watching the game intently.
At least two dozen area scouts, crosscheckers and scouting directors were in town to see Brett Austin as he faced righthander Chris McCue. With the draft a month away and this being Austin's last regular season game, scouts are getting what looks they have left.
Austin, Providence's switch-hitting catcher and a North Carolina State signee, has a nice frame at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and has shown an ability to hit from both sides of the plate. He was a clear Top 200 prospect heading into the season, but he may have solidified himself last night as someone that could go in the first two rounds next month. He grounded out in his first three at-bats, but still made consistent, hard contact despite seeing mostly offspeed pitches.
After being up 3-0, Providence surrendered the lead in the fifth and fell behind 4-3 in the seventh. Austin led off the bottom of the seventh with a drag bunt attempt.
"With the drag bunt, I was just trying to get on base," Austin said. "I figured I'd put something in play to get the inning started."
Scouts and Providence fans are probably happy he pushed it foul because he jumped on the next pitch, an 80 mph changeup that was down, and sent a missile over the right-center field fence to tie the game. The Panthers would eventually get runners on first and second, allowing junior righthander/outfielder Ty Buttrey to slap a game-winning single to left-center.
"I was seeing the ball well all night, but I was getting a little long," Austin said. "Last at-bat, I just shortened up and try not to do too much, just get on base for my team. I ended up getting the right pitch and right swing and got lucky with it."
One scout commented that it was a pretty swing and would stick in his memory for a long time, much like some he's seen in the past from previous top high school hitters.
Scouts were able to get a good look at Austin because he was facing McCue, a short but competitive righthander whose fastball ranges from 89-92. He was 90-92 early and settled in at 89-91 until he was removed after six innings. He gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits while walking two, hitting one and striking out seven.
"I thought he got better as the game went on," Ardrey Kell head coach Hal Bagwell said. "He pitched well in the first inning and they scored runs on a couple bleeders, but that's the game. They're a great hitting team. If there's a better hitting team in this state, I'd like to know who they are. They can really hit the ball. They have a good plan. Coach Hignight does a great job. After that, Chris did a great job. He settled down. He hit his pitch count there and we had to go to (junior righthander Trent) Thornton. We have just as much confidence in him. He left a couple up and again they did a good job of doing what they had to do."
McCue also works with a good curveball in the low 70s with sharp break and a sinking changeup in the low 80s. He could follow a similar path to North Carolina's current Friday starter Patrick Johnson. They're both short righthanders that compete, but McCue's stuff may be a tick better.
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