GALION — When he filled out his lineup card on June 27, Galion Graders manager Mike O’Leary must have felt like a Little League coach.
His starting pitcher, Hillsdale product Jay Luikart, was also his clean-up hitter — an occurrence not unusual in youth baseball but a rarity in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League.
And Luikart, who just finished his second season at Division I Wright State University in Dayton, is putting up Little League numbers.
Through 11 games, the left-handed slugger was batting .432 with 14 runs batted in, four home runs and three triples. On the mound, he registered a 1-0 mark in three appearances with seven strikeouts and one walk in six innings of work.
“It’s not very often that you hear about a true two-way guy, but from what I’ve seen, I don’t know what he can’t do,” O’Leary said of Luikart, who led Hillsdale to the Division IV state championship game as a senior in 2019. “That dude is out of this world.”
Luikart got off to a late start with the Graders because of Wright State’s postseason run. The Raiders (35-13) won the Horizon League tournament and reached the NCAA regional in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Luikart was masterful in Wright State’s regional opener against the host Volunteers, throwing 2.1 perfect innings of relief. Tennessee eventually won 9-8 on a walk-off grand slam by Drew Gilbert in the bottom of the ninth. Wright State fell to Duke the following day, ending the season.
“It was so cool to play against the best of the best,” Luikart said of his outing against the Volunteers, who won the regional and the super regional to reach the College World Series. “At the end of the day it’s just another guy in the batter’s box.
"I was nervous for sure, but once I settled down I felt like I was at home. It sucked the way we lost, but it was a really cool experience.”
Luikart was used as both a hitter and a pitcher at Wright State. In 42 games as a position player he batted .239 with five doubles, two triples, two home runs and eight RBIs. As a pitcher he was 1-0 in eight appearances with a 1.00 earned run average and 10 strikeouts in nine innings of work. Opponents batted just .100 against him.
“We try to work it out where I’m not overthrowing (as a pitcher) and then going in to play the field,” Luikart said. “The plan for next year is to be a weekend (conference game) starter in the rotation and the games I’m not starting, play first base or the outfield.
“Some days I’m told, ‘You might pitch an inning or you might get a couple of at bats.’ There are times when it’s the fifth inning and I’m told to go to the bullpen and get loose. Then they call me out of the pen and I will go pinch run and play the rest of the game in the field.”
Luikart made his debut with the Graders on June 16, going 0-for-3 in a 15-1 loss to Sandusky. He has hit safely in the next 10 games for a double-digit hitting streak. In last week’s 17-8 win at Grand Lake, Luikart was 4-for-6 with two home runs and six runs batted in.
“I’m not surprised at all. I knew that dude was going to come in and do damage, just like he always tells me, ‘Do damage,’ ” said Graders teammate and longtime friend Avery Fisher, who graduated from Ontario in 2019 and will join Luikart at Wright State in the fall after transferring from Ohio State. “That is what he does. He has always been like that.”
As a pitcher, Luikart picked up his first Great Lakes League victory June 27, surrendering five hits and two earned runs in a 5-4 win over the Royal Oak (Michigan) Leprechauns. He helped himself with two hits, including a double, and an RBI.
“If you’re a pitcher, good luck facing that guy,” O’Leary said. “He’s going to do something with any pitch that is shown to him.”
As good as he is at the plate and on the mound, what distinguishes Luikart is his competitive drive.
“He has that ultra-competitive attitude,” O’Leary said. “A couple days ago the guys were eating lunch before a game and he told one guy, ‘I’m going yard today.’ Sure enough, he hits a bomb. He just has a competitive edge that is for real.”
O’Leary and the Graders almost missed out on Luikart. He was originally scheduled to play in the Northwoods League, which is based primarily in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“I was supposed to play in the Northwoods League but my team was from Canada and they canceled (because of the pandemic),” Luikart said. “Instead of going to a league that was already packed where I might only get to play in half the games I decided to stay home.
"Hopefully next year I’m playing in the Cape (Cod League) or another bigger summer league.”
O’Leary wouldn’t be surprised to see Luikart continue to climb the summer collegiate league ladder. The Cape Cod League is widely considered the top summer league for collegians.
“Luikart is legit,” O’Leary said. “He’s the real deal.”
The Cape Cod League will have to wait. For now, Luikart’s focus in on helping the Graders (6-14) escape the basement of the GLSCL’s North Division.
“Even though we haven’t won a ton of games, we’re playing together a lot better as a team. Everybody is getting to know each other a little more. We’ve been putting up a lot more runs,” Luikart said. “The offense is finally gotten going. Once we get some arms going we’ll finish the year a lot better than we started.”