Cousino quiets critics during freshman year
After Austin Cousino tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder before his junior year at Dublin Coffman High School, several professional scouts and collegiate coaches believed his chances for succeeding in baseball at a high level were diminished.
There also were doubts because of his size: 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds.
But the left-handed Cousino quieted skeptics this spring. Following an impressive first season with the University of Kentucky baseball team, he was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and a freshman All-American.
"When the scouts told me last year that, 'We're a little bit concerned about size, he's not that big,' I told them with his power, his speed, he's going to surprise you," Coffman coach Tim Saunders said. "Some guys backed off because of that, but the good thing for Austin after this first year, and if he continues to keep going, forget about his size. That guy is a player. He has great instincts for the game and he has a love for the game."
Cousino started 62 of Kentucky's 63 games in center field this season and set the program's freshman records for runs (61) and hits (83). Batting leadoff, he hit .319 with 20 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 41 RBI. He also stole 15 bases in 16 attempts and led the SEC with eight outfield assists.
In addition to his freshman honors, he was named second-team all-SEC and was one of three outfielders on the SEC all-defensive team.
"I knew going in to the fall there really wasn't a set spot," Cousino said. "The coaches wanted to put the best players on the field and they wanted to win just like everyone else. I came in to the fall just really humbled and I wanted to play well. I really wanted to put myself in a position just to be playing and in a position to start."
This summer, Cousino will play for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. The 22-player squad will compete in Cuba and the Netherlands.
"This is a really good opportunity," he said. "I don't think you can really turn down a chance to play for your country. It should be great exposure. It will be fun. We'll get to play some great competition in the Cuban national team and we'll play some collegiate summer teams in North Carolina before we head out."
Cousino missed most of his junior season at Coffman because of the shoulder injury. The mobility in his shoulder remained limited during his senior season, and he frequently threw the ball underhand to the infield.
Despite the injury, Cousino batted .529 with 17 doubles, 10 home runs and 31 RBI. He set Coffman program records for runs (42) and stolen bases (28-for-28) in a season.
"We just wanted his bat in the lineup and his defensive speed on top of that," Saunders said. "He did well. He wasn't 100 percent, so that was another reason the scouts thought this thing may never come back. He's proved now that he's back 100 percent."
As a senior, Cousino was the Player of the Year in the OCC-Central Division and district and named first-team all-state. He also received an American Baseball Coaches Association Gold Glove Award.
Coffman finished 23-6 overall after losing to Gahanna 5-1 in a Division I district final. The Shamrocks won the league at 13-1.
"My career at Coffman really helped," Cousino said. "I played against really good high school competition and during the summer I played against travel kids. Also, it benefits playing for coach Saunders. Coach Saunders has coached top-level talent through USA Baseball, the Aflac (All-American) Games and previous teams that he's won state championships with. When you have a coach like that, when you have teammates that play baseball at a high level and you go to a Division I program, that can only benefit you, and it helped me in a lot of ways going down to UK this past year."
Cousino helped lead the Wildcats to a 45-18 record this season. The 45 wins set a program record.
Kentucky lost to Kent State 3-2 in an NCAA regional final June 3 in Gary, Ind.
"He has had a tremendous impact," Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said of Cousino. "He brings a lot of confidence. He brings a lot of production. He is a guy that had a lot of success before he got to us and he has had a tremendous freshman year. He has maintained that leadoff spot in the lineup for the entire year and for a freshman in our league that is really tough to do. He has played well above average in center field and he continues to improve as a baserunner."
Cousino's ultimate goal is to be selected in the Major League Baseball draft when he becomes eligible following his junior year.
"We can only hope," he said. "Last year there were some questions about my arm and a couple other things, but in two years, if I remain on the right track, I'm hoping I'll get something. But right now I'm focusing on what's lying ahead of me and the team."