Male Athlete of the Week: Falcons’ Estep finds early groove at the plate

Luke Estep Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Luke Estep gained valuable varsity experience with Central High School’s baseball team as a freshman last spring.

He learned as a pitcher that opposing hitters were more adept at their craft at the varsity level, meaning he had to be more precise when on the mound. As a hitter, he learned that opposing pitchers were more effective and that runners reached base with less regularity, placing an added importance on doing his job at the plate in any given situation.

It was the latter – the batting part – that Estep admits gave him the most problems last season.

“Last year I couldn’t hit the ball at all,” Estep said during practice Monday afternoon.

A year later, Estep has seemingly reversed his fortunes at the plate in the first couple weeks of the 2016 season. But don’t expect him to be able to pinpoint exactly what has enabled him to notch six hits in his first four games this spring.

“I honestly don’t know,” the sophomore said. “I guess I’m not swinging as hard, just making contact.”

Estep, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Male Athlete of the Week for March 21-27, got off to a torrid start at the plate this season before strong opposing pitching in a loss to William Monroe last Thursday cooled him off. The sophomore – who didn’t play in the Falcons’ season opener – made his 2016 debut by going 6-for-10 with six RBIs during a three-game stretch, which included two triples and two RBIs against Sherando on March 17.

Last week Estep went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in a win over Skyline and 2-for-3 with two more RBIs in a loss to Stonewall Jackson before the Falcons (2-3) – who scored 22 combined runs in the week’s first two games – were held to just two hits against Monroe.

“He’s focused,” Falcons coach Donn Foltz said. “I think last year he may have been a little scared first time up (at the varsity level), but he seems to know what’s going on and being very stern and focused in his approach and everything. I like it.”

Estep’s performance at the plate led to a quick rise through Central’s batting order. In his season debut against Sherando, Estep batted eighth for the Falcons. By Central’s fourth game of the spring against Stonewall, Estep was hitting third.

“I try to keep things the same but I’ve historically been a fifth-hole guy, so this is new to me,” Estep said of his approach at the plate. “But as far as at the plate, still just try to get the job done.”

Estep’s been doing it on the mound, as well. Against Stonewall Jackson, the left-hander started and threw three hitless innings while striking out five before Foltz pulled him with the Falcons holding an 8-0 lead, a decision made in an effort to save Estep for last Thursday’s Bull Run District game against William Monroe. Estep, making his second start in three days, held the Dragons to one run in four innings of work in the 8-0 loss.

Estep, who cited an improved curveball as a key to his early success on the mound, said he’s been surprised by how much pitching he’s already done this season (he’s made three appearances in Central’s five games), although Foltz said that’s been the plan all along.

“Anytime you can put a tall lefty up on the mound who’s crafty, you’ve gotta go with it,” Foltz said.

“He seems to be really crafty. Seems to be very positive. There’s a couple things he can work on … but he’s really improved a lot. I think a lot of it is a year more maturity and I think it helped a lot last year. He started coming on a little bit last year. I started throwing him to the wolves. I think it makes you better.”

So does already having success in two other sports this school year, Estep said. The sophomore helped the Falcons’ golf team to a Conference 35 tournament championship in the fall and rose from a bench player on Central’s basketball team to the Falcons’ second-leading scorer during the winter sports season.

“It just makes it easier,” Estep said of the confidence he built before stepping onto the baseball diamond this spring.

Estep’s personal goals for the rest of the baseball season are simple – continue to play well while keeping the mistakes to a minimum – but he has loftier aspirations for the Falcons as a whole.

“As a team I’d like for us to make it to at least the first round of (the Region 2A East tournament). That’d be pretty great,” Estep said.

“We’ve been pretty solid in the field lately. I feel like that’s gonna get better as people get experience. I feel like we’re gonna have to do that. Our bats are definitely gonna have to stay hot and we’re gonna have to learn to face better pitching, continue to get hits off better pitching.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com