MADISON - Scott High School's Carter Lyles is a young man on a mission.
When he speaks about his play on the field and his own personal goals, the conversation always reverts back to his teammates. He is almost uncomfortable talking about his accomplishments.
"I'm comfortable out there on the mound because I know that our defense is good," he said. "I know that if the ball is in play, if a play can be made, we're gonna have a shot at an out."
Lyles has an obvious baseball IQ that surpasses most of his 16- to 18-year-old peers. He loves the game. He's sentimental about his pitching glove.
"This thing should be replaced but I love the webbing and it has been with me for so long that it is hard to give up," he said as he tossed the floppy leather tool of the game into his locker.
Coach Brett Kuhn's Cardinal Conference champion squad will face Point Pleasant next week in the best-of-three Class AA Region 4 series with a ticket to the state tournament on the line. The Skyhawks would like to be mentioned in the same breath as the 1999 state runner-up squad from Boone County, but there is much work to do first.
All Lyles did on the mound in 2019 was build on a resume that saw him sign with West Virginia University before he laced up his spikes for his senior baseball season. He has gone 8-1 with a 1.02 ERA while notching a pair of saves in relief. He led his squad with 55 innings pitched with 83 strikeouts and 22 walks. Opponents hit only .149 off the Skyhawk ace.
The All-State selection and Coal Valley News Co-Player of the Year is no one-trick pony. He got it done with the stick as well, hitting .402 with 11 doubles, a triple, one home run, 21 runs scored and 29 RBIs against some of the best Class AA competition in the state.
Coupled with teammates like Nathan Kuhn, Aaron Epling and Isaac Miller, the Skyhawks lineup is no easy task for opposing pitchers to face.
Kuhn spoke about what his ace means to the club and how he's improved since his junior season.
"I think I've seen more efficiency out on the mound," he said. "Each year he has gotten more efficient. He's facing less batters, throwing more strikes and walking less. What I've seen is that he is attacking the strike zone and seldom goes deep in a count. He's aggressive and trusts his stuff and our defense."
Against Lincoln County in a game to decide Section 4, Lyles came in for relief and struck out two and got a third batter to weakly ground out in an efficient 13-pitch frame.
In the seventh inning of a tie game that went 10 innings, he knocked down a blistering line drive to third base and threw out a runner at home with a strike to catcher Trenton Short.
"Those are the things he does every day that are natural to him," Kuhn added. "His instincts are sharp and he makes good decisions with the baseball in his hands. He plays multiple positions depending on who is pitching. He plays the same defense wherever we put him."
Against Logan, the Wildcats came at Lyles with curve balls for an entire game, not offering up a fastball he could sit on.
He responded with a pair of RBI singles while laying off the low-and-away pitches and taking what the hurler gave him while lacing his hits over the second baseman's outstretched arms.
"I worked on putting the ball in play this year and moving runners over when I was called on to do so," he said. "When I see a runner on, I wanted to move them around the bases. I've improved on that this year and it was a focus of mine after last season. I want to be a complete player and doing those little things contributes to that, I think."
On the pitching mound, Lyles throws in the high 80s. He has a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a curve, change-up and a cutter that he taught himself to throw by researching the pitch on his own.
"The fastball will always be his bread and butter but his secondary pitches have really developed and it has shown this season," Kuhn said. "He is getting them over for strikes and situationally has really applied them well in game situations."
WVU picked up Lyles as a pitcher, but there has been some talk of him playing a dual role in some capacity.
"I'm not sure yet and that will play out," Lyles said. "I'll do what they ask and what is best for the team."
At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Lyles is an athletic big man with good feet and agility that make him a versatile chess piece for coaches.
Lyles said he had goals going into the season. Not statistical goals, but goals related to efficiency.
"I strive to be more efficient in every way when I go out there," he said. "I let my fielders do my job for me and that is something I learned over time."
He cites his coaching staff with putting him in a good position to succeed.
"People may not realize that we have coaches here that are really good baseball people and they know the game and they can teach the game," he said. "I just soak up what I can from them.
Lyles looks to have a career in physical therapy after college, but he knows that his shot at doing something special as a senior for Scott High will only come around once.
"I think our team understands the historical significance in what we are trying to accomplish this season and they know that we don't have to change," he said. "We have to keep doing what got us to this point and everything will turn out fine. Our goal has always been a state championship."
Kuhn said that he admires his ace for remaining humble and being of high character throughout his baseball career.
"I've been with him through Little League, travel ball, all-stars and through it all, he's remained humble," he said. "For our guys, we want to get to Charleston and once you get there all bets are off and anything can happen. This senior group is focused and single-minded and Carter Lyles has a lot to do with that.
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com or follow him @philipdperry on Twitter.