Wiley leading way for Cardinals

Front Royal's Zac Wiley, right, connects helmets with teammate Bernabe Camargo after Wiley's two-run homer on July 12 at First Bank Park. Wiley and the Cardinals play Winchester today in the playoffs. Rich Cooley/Daily file

FRONT ROYAL – Zac Wiley had a tough decision to make in high school.

The current Front Royal Cardinal was ready to commit to the University of Kentucky to play baseball. The day he was ready to commit to Kentucky, he was contacted by Bellarmine University assistant coach Terry Davis, who asked him to visit Bellarmine.

Wiley said Davis was from his hometown and he had known him for a long time, so he gave the school a visit and then had to make a difficult choice. Bellarmine is a Division II school in Louisville, Kentucky, which Wiley said is only 45 minutes from his hometown of Shelbyville, Kentucky.

“It was awful. It was so hard, because I probably had six or seven Division 1 schools looking at me,” Wiley said. “My (high school) basketball coach told me ‘either you’ll be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in the big pond.’ I said I wanted to be the big fish in the little pond, so that was basically one of the main reasons I went to Bellarmine.”

Things haven’t quite worked out the way Wiley thought they would. He’s had numerous injuries, which have set him back. Last year he played in only eight games before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury. He was hitting .632 (12 for 19) in those eight games.

Wiley took a redshirt and this past season he played in 32 games for the Knights. However, he suffered a concussion and wasn’t able to finish the season. He said he also suffered a back injury in high school, which forced him to miss his freshman baseball season. He also suffered another hamstring injury at the start of the Valley Baseball League season.

He said it’s been tough overcoming the injuries, but he’s had a lot of support to get him through it.

“It’s been awful. It’s been really hard try to stay positive and it’s hard to do – just kind of keep your head up and look at the future,” Wiley said. “My family’s been real good and telling me to stay positive and everything. I know at school it’s hard because you get going good, and then something would happen and I’d have to stop. Hopefully we’ve got things figured out with my hamstring and everything, so that won’t be a problem in the future.”

Wiley said that he’s enjoying his time playing with the Front Royal Cardinals, and he loves the area.

“I’ve loved it. It’s a really good league,” Wiley said. “The pitching’s been a whole lot better than I thought it was going to be when I got here. The competition’s been good. It’s beautiful in Virginia. I’m from Kentucky; I haven’t been out of the state much. It’s a long way from home. You get homesick kind of, but you’re playing the game you love.”

Wiley’s been around the game of baseball his whole life. He said his father played college baseball for William Carey University, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Wiley said his grandfather was a scout for the New York Yankees and coached an American Legion team in Shelbyville, Kentucky, for 37 years.

“I come home and I break down the game, and then they break it down even more – what to work on,” Wiley said. “We’re always fixing something or messing with something. Trying to do something different to get better. It’s been a very good influence. I’m very lucky to have them.”

Wiley does a little bit of everything on the field. He can play in the outfield and hit, and he can also pitch some as well.

He said he prefers to be used in a closer’s role on the mound, but this past season at Bellarmine he also had to start some as well.

Wiley said that he enjoys doing both, but it is a challenge.

“You got to manage what you do in practice and keep your arm strong and healthy,” Wiley said. “My coaches work with me on that, and they understand that if my arm’s sore one day, I shut it down on the field.”

He said hitting has always come naturally for him, and that’s certainly shown this season for Front Royal. Wiley leads the team with a .303 batting average (36 for 119), six home runs and 22 RBIs. He also has nine doubles. He pitched 7.1 innings this season and has one win and one save.

Front Royal manager Victor Gomez said that Wiley has made the adjustments he’s needed to at the plate to have success this season.

“A lot of these guys are talented. It’s just a matter of the approach aspects at the plate, being able to make the adjustments and understanding what pitchers are trying to do to you,” Gomez said. “He’s been able to make these adjustments a little faster. That’s kind of what separates good ballplayers from average ballplayers is how quick they make adjustments, and Wiley’s been able to do that a little bit quicker. That’s why he’s had success, especially the second half of the year for us.”

The Cardinals will take on Winchester in the first round of the playoffs starting today. Wiley said that he feels good about his team and what they can do in the postseason.

“Obviously, we want to win. That’s our first goal,” Wiley said. “Everybody’s tired and it’s getting toward the end of the season, but we just want to bear down and get through it. We didn’t come here to lose. We came here to win as much as we can and win the championship.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com