Former Patriot Wahl was drafted by OriolesMay 20, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
Heritage Hills could not quite capitalize in the 1996 Princeton baseball sectional against Gibson Southern. The Patriots and Titans went 11 innings, ending Heritage Hills’ season with a 16-8 record.
“What I remember most is getting on the bus after that game and seeing the devastation on some of our seniors’ faces,” said Mark Wahl, the team’s sophomore catcher in 1996. “I knew I didn’t want to feel that way moving forward.”
Wahl can remember the 7-16 record the Pats posted in 1995. They knocked at the door and fell short the next year, with him driving in 34 runs as a sophomore. The way he felt while getting on the bus served as a motivator for him.
He thought there was a “who’s next” mentality shaping around the school, given the success Heritage Hills enjoyed in 1996-97. The volleyball team won a regional championship. The football team was sectional and regional champions for the first time ever in 1996 as well. The Pats captured the 1996-97 basketball sectional, their first since 1989, and Wahl was motivated to keep it moving on the baseball field.
The Pats posted a 17-7 regular-season record in 1997, with Wahl being a force in the lineup. He batted .292 and his 17 RBIs tied with Brandon Sisley and Andy Fischer for second on the team.
Fischer was a fellow junior, and anchored the staff that season, along with senior Beau Pund. Wahl earned the right to call the games behind the plate. Heritage Hills got a lot of mileage out of Fischer and Pund in 1997, and Wahl was there to guide them through it all.
“They’re completely different people,” he said of Fischer and Pund. “Beau, if things were going bad, I could maybe go out and tell a joke or say something silly and get his mind off it and we’ll get back on track. Andy was a little more focused. Beau was fearless in the fact that one game we might throw 85 percent curveballs and just let him pound the ball in the ground all day.
“Beau was willing to challenge anybody; Andy was more polished on the mound,” Wahl later said. “We could do a few more things. We could hit corners a little bit differently. He threw a little harder, not super hard, but he had a good enough fastball where we could get through some things with his fastball a little bit, but both were competitive, wanted to win and at that point, they trusted me behind the plate with whatever I was putting down.”
Then tournament time rolled around, and he raised his game to another level. Heritage Hills ran away from Tecumseh in the 1997 sectional. Wahl cranked a two-run shot in that game to help lift the Pats to a 16-2 win, sending them to the sectional championship.
Their outburst against the Braves gave them an opportunity to attain two things. First, they could win that sectional championship they so greatly desired. Second, they’d have a chance for revenge versus the Titans from the year before while doing so.
Wahl went 3 for 4 in the sectional championship game against Gibson Southern. His two-run double tied the game, 3-3, and he also had a two-out double to keep the sixth inning alive for the Pats when they trailed, 4-3. Fischer stepped to the plate with the bags full, and connected up the middle for a 5-4 lead. Heritage Hills went on to win, 9-4.
“He had been in some pressure situations throughout the season,” Wahl said of Fischer. “There was no doubt we had confidence in him to finish that off.”
Wahl may have been a force at the dish, but one defensive play proved vital in the regional tournament against Evansville Central. Heritage Hills held onto a 5-4 lead while Evansville Central had runners at the corners with one out in the 10th inning. Anthony Turi took it upon himself to try to steal second base, but Wahl nailed him and Turi was caught stealing.
That was the second out of the game. The Pats got one more out to earn the right to play for the regional championship.
Wahl remembers how happy he was when Turi broke for second.
“With that situation, a ground out, probably with his speed, a slow ground ball, they’re going to score a run,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to turn two. He might break it up. A ball in the gap, they’re scoring. So, I was thrilled when he took off. I felt like there was no chance he could steal on me. I know that sounds arrogant, but in that moment, I was hoping he’d go. We had a fastball outside, a great pitch to throw on and we were able to make it work.”
Heritage Hills’ payback tour did not have its closing act in the sectional championship against Gibson Southern. Players like Wahl and Pund also played basketball, but their hoop season ended in the regional tournament against Vincennes Lincoln, and it was the Pats and Alices going at it for the regional baseball crown.
Wahl greatly anticipated getting to play Vincennes in the regional championship, and he was front and center for his team’s revenge. The Alices took a 1-0 lead before he drove in the tying run in the fourth inning. Wahl also had a two-run triple in the fifth. The Pats held on for a 4-3 win.
“Before that, though, I had a passed ball early in the game where they scored,” Wahl said. “I just did not receive the ball well early in the game. They scored a run. There was no way that I could go into the offseason knowing that we got beat because I didn’t catch a ball. The position is catcher. You’re supposed to catch the ball, and I didn’t. It was not a bad pitch. It wasn’t anything. It was just a passed ball. So, my focus then really heightened where I had to do something to help our team because I put us in a tough spot early.”
Rain forced the regional championship game to be moved from Rockport to Evansville’s Bosse Field. Wahl thought the rain postponement helped Heritage Hills win the regional, but it did in the Pats at semistate due to the turnaround.
The Pats could not advance to the championship, losing, 5-1, against Martinsville. Heritage Hills led, 1-0, but could not tack on more. The Pats ended the year 21-8 and stranded eight runners on base.
Wahl finished his junior season with a .369 batting average with 26 RBIs.
“They were just better than us that day,” he said.
Heritage Hills could not, however, get back to where it was the year before. Wahl thought the Pats graduating players such as Pund hurt them. Heritage Hills has won one sectional since then, in 2011, and no regional championships since 1997.
The Pats finished 1998 with a 14-9 record. They lost, 8-2, to Evansville Memorial in the sectional. They were 2 for 17 with runners in scoring position, stranding 11 on base and eight in scoring position. Clint Keown, had dashed Heritage Hills’ hopes during basketball season, did the same thing in relief in that game.
Wahl attracted NCAA Division I attention, but the offers weren’t what he was looking for. So, he went to Wabash Valley College (Ill.) after graduating in 1998. Wahl saw it as an opportunity to get a lot of playing time, and plus it was a full ride, not a partial scholarship.
He got his chance to play Division I at the University of Dayton (Ohio). Wahl shined in 2001 when he clubbed 10 home runs and drove in 52 runs. He had a slash line of .314/.421/.521. Wahl touted the competition he saw in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference while at Wabash Valley, and he wasn’t going to be intimidated by any pitchers at the Division I level.
Wahl thought he had a better chance of being drafted after he graduated from high school or after his junior year. He dealt with injuries throughout his senior year with the Flyers, and had a high ankle sprain, a thumb injury and arm issues.
“I didn’t produce like I anticipated I would as a senior in college, to be honest,” Wahl said. “I was always on the fringe, and I think it was basically, ‘Hey, you’ve had a great career. Let’s give you a shot,’ and I appreciated that opportunity.”
The team that gave him that opportunity was the Baltimore Orioles, who selected Wahl in the 48th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. Being a 48th round draft pick, however, produced no pressure for him.
“I knew what was standing in front of me and what the odds were,” he said. “So, ‘just go do your thing and whatever happens, happens.’”
He spent 33 games in 2002 in Rookie Ball. Wahl played for the Gulf Coast Orioles. He did not homer, but drove in nine on a .240 batting average. Wahl struck out and walked 14 times apiece, and had a .351 on-base percentage.
Wahl went to Spring Training in 2003 and felt like he was in great shape, but never played pro ball again.
“I had a decent start to Spring Training, and then just nagging kind of arm stuff where they couldn’t really figure out what was going on,” Wahl said. “When you’re in that situation, even in the Gulf Coast, you practice in the morning and then you play games in the afternoon.
“That wear and tear, that load, I just couldn’t handle from an arm standpoint,” he continued. “I was having some numbness issues, which they never really figured out what was going on. But then there were times when the trainers would shut me down. That’s kind of where the writing on the wall started — they’re shutting me down, I’m very disposable at that point. I realized that I did everything I could in the training room to get back. It just didn’t work.”
He studied marketing when he was at Dayton and wanted to get into business, but decided during that time it wasn’t what he wanted to do. Wahl pursued education in the midst of his studies and has a line of teachers in his family. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Indiana and his masters degree from Oakland City University.
Wahl didn’t have a plan to go into administration, but was an assistant principal in Tell City from 2012-16. He enjoyed his time at Tell City, and moved on to become the principal at Fort Branch, a role he has been in since July 2016.
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