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COLLEGE BASEBALL: Proctor’s journey leads him to right fit

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By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

Jared Proctor’s path as a college pitcher may not have worked out totally according to his original plan, but the detours for the former Nelson County standout turned out to be pretty scenic.

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Proctor, a left-hander with a penchant for strikeouts, found himself caught up in the shuffle of a coaching change at his first college destination, the University of Kentucky. His prospects were looking pretty rough even before the departure of Gary Henderson when the coach told Proctor his sophomore season innings would likely dwindle.

“That’s the way baseball goes,” Proctor said. “Baseball humbles you.”

Humbled, but more knowledgeable for the experience, Proctor bounced back, just like he did from the arm injury that ended his breakout senior high school season prematurely. That season, the lefty was voted first-team All-State anad had thrown two no-hitters and struck out 98 batters in 54 innings before a broken hand ended his year.

Finding his way to Wabash Valley Junior College in conference with one of the top Division I JuCo teams in the country, Proctor got a ride he won’t forget as he and his teammates — 14 of whom have committed to play NCAA D-I next year — placed third in the country in Wabash’s first-ever trip to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.

“It was a fun team to play with, (and a) good experience,” Proctor said.

In high school, Proctor’s Nelson County squad made it to the 5th Region championship as a district runner-up, but the Cardinals never won the district tournament during his time. That made Wabash Valley’s regional win over ranked conference mate Iowa Western and a thrilling 1-0 win over Indian Hills in the super regionals all the more sweet.

“That’s the first time I actually won something,” he said.

Proctor was key for Wabash as a lefty specialist who can pitch strong at the back end of the bullpen or in an occasional spot start.

“I didn’t do too bad starting,” he said, noting four of his five starts were quality starts.

Proctor had 21 appearances , boasting a team-best 12.12 strikeouts per nine innings rate. In total, he struck out 44 batters in 32 2/3 innings pitched, giving up 28 hits and 20 walks with a 1.93 ERA. He was part of a staff that led the country in earned run average heading into the JuCo World Series.

Proctor said he enjoyed the atmosphere playing in front of as many as 12,000 people in Grand Junction. The Warriors won their first two games to get to the finals of the winner’s bracket, but were knocked out by eventual runner-up San Jacinto, Texas, and champion Chipola, Fla.

“You just have to breathe, (and) take it pitch-by-pitch,” he said of fighting off the crowd jitters.

While his competitive spirit — “I just want to play,” he said — led Proctor to seek out a new baseball path away from Kentucky, Proctor said he learned a lot from his time with Henderson at UK, lessons which helped him in the big moments with Wabash.

“He was a big teacher in the mental game,” Proctor said of Henderson, who was replaced by Nick Mingione. “Be calm. Those things right there were the biggest things for me.”

Now that the summer has arrived, Proctor is working out, staying in shape for the next detour on his path — South Alabama.

“I got a good deal — I couldn’t really pass it up,” Proctor said of signing with the Jaguars.

He said South Alabama was a good fit for him, and they play in a demanding Sun Belt Conference, one that features 2016 NCAA College World Series champs Coastal Carolina. He figures his competitive spirit will be stoked.

“It’s a good conference,” Proctor said. “I’m looking forward to it.”