Striking talent

(Sports editor’s note: Due to a Republic error, the photo that ran with a feature on Columbus North junior Collin Lollar in Friday’s edition was not Lollar. A photo of Lollar appears today along with the feature.)

Collin Lollar hoped never to experience the same type of sports-related pain.

In front of a national television audience on ESPN, Lollar was caught with tears in his eyes after the Bartholomew County Little League All-Stars dropped a 10-3 decision to Kentucky in the 2009 Great Lakes Regional Championships in Indianapolis.

A victory would have sent BCLL to the Little League World Series.

“I was coaching first base in the last inning,” said Lollar, now one of the state’s top baseball players for Columbus North. “There was a shot of me running back to the dugout crying.”

Then, only a year ago, Lollar found himself in a similar situation.

North had put together a terrific season and was facing Castle in the regional semifinals. The Bull Dogs’ state championship dream ended, though, as an infield dribbler turned into the game-winning hit in extra innings as Castle won 4-3.

“I was pitching when they hit that dribbler,” said Lollar, now a junior at North. “It was pretty much the same thing (as the BCLL loss).”

One thing appears certain: Lollar is a player who manages to find himself in big-game situations.

Bull Dogs coach Ben McDaniel said that will continue whether it comes at North or at Ohio State, which has presented Lollar with a baseball scholarship.

“It’s his approach,” McDaniel said of his star junior. “He steps on the mound with complete confidence. He is lights out. He just challenges guys and stays in compete control.”

Lollar has been in complete control this season with a 5-0 record, a 1.12 ERA and two saves.

Besides his impact on the mound, Lollar also has increased his offensive production, hitting .425 with 29 RBI, 19 runs scores and three homers.

“At the plate, he has a swing now that is more repeatable,” McDaniel said. “He absolutely carried us offensively earlier this year when we were struggling. He has worked hard on his swing. He knows his shortcomings.”

Lollar always has learned from previous experience, starting back in his Little League days.

“I think playing at that level (with the BCLL All-Stars) helped me, seeing all that talent,” he said. “I remember that every guy on that team could hit it 100 feet over the fence. Trent McIntyre (now a heralded junior quarterback/pitcher at Triad High School in Ohio) were the youngest guys on that team. We were 11.

“And I was new to the team because I hadn’t played on the (traveling team) Blazers like a lot of them.”

Lollar said the experience taught him about the mental part of the game, handling pressure and keeping relaxed in big-game situations.

After finishing 23-6-1 last season, North is making another big run as it approaches the sectional playoffs, which begins Wednesday (8 p.m.) in a game against Columbus East at Bloomington North High School. The Bull Dogs are 22-4.

“Definitely it’s our goal to make a state title run,” Lollar said. “I think we are better this season in all aspects of the game. And it would mean the world to us (to win a regional or state title) because we all are so close.”

After spending many hours at the plate, Lollar is better at the hitting aspect of his game.

“The last few years, I would spend more time on pitching,” he said. “I wanted to help the team any way I could.”

One of the ways he thought he could improve was by doing more work in the weight room. He gained 10 pounds and now stands 6-foot, 185 pounds. His legs are more powerful and it allows him to drive toward the plate better as he throws off the mound.

The added strength also has allowed him to remain stronger in the latter part of games as his pitch count rises.

It puts him in position to leave the park with a smile on his face.

“I am a very competitive person and I hate to lose,” he said. “I want to shut everyone down.

“I like feeling I am in control and knowing that I can affect the outcome.”

By the numbers

Collin Lollar

SCHOOL: Columbus North

YEAR: Junior

POSITION: Pitcher/outfielder

OFFENSIVE STATISTICS: Current: .425 batting average, 29 RBIs, 19 runs, 3 HR. 2014: .333 batting average, 14 RBIs, 25 runs, 0 HR. 2013: .176 batting average, 6 RBIs, 4 runs, 1 HR.

PITCHING STATISTICS:

Current: 5-0, 1.12 ERA, 61 strikeouts. 2014: 6-2, 3.00 ERA, 58 strikeouts. 2013: 3-4, 3.57 ERA, 35 strikeouts.