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Norton baseball season keyed by ‘outstanding’ pitching

5/29/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

NORTON — The Norton High School baseball team finished the 2014 season with a 13-5 overall record, including an 8-4 mark in the Portage Trail Conference’s Metro Division.

“I’m very pleased with the year, record-wise. It could have been even better, but we kind of struggled a little bit offensively and that’s something that, hopefully, we are going to correct for next season,” said head coach Rod Swartz. “I knew coming into the season that we had a lot of kids returning from the previous year and that we had a chance to compete for the league title, which we actually did going into the last three games of the year. We were tied and I thought we had a chance to at least share if we could win two out of the last three league games. Unfortunately, we lost all three games. All three losses were by a run and pretty much all three were in the last inning. But we competed and that’s what you ask for.”

This year’s squad featured six seniors, the coach said, led by starting outfielders Jake Fling and Drake Gable.

“They were very good defensive outfielders,” Swartz said. “Jake is going to the College of Wooster and he will be playing baseball down there. He’s had a great four-year career for us. Jake was second on the team in batting and led our team in RBIs. And Drake, in my opinion, is one of the best defensive outfielders in the area. He has a cannon of an arm and he knows where to throw it and how to throw it.”

Other key seniors included Jimmy Keys, Ryan Hunter and Donnie Berube.

“Jimmy is a kid with pop in his bat that we’ve used pretty much as an infielder/designated hitter,” Swartz said. “Ryan was a middle-relief pitcher for us who didn’t get as many innings as I expected going into the season due to the weather and how it affected our pitching rotation. He’s a great young man and a class act of a student-athlete. Donnie is an outfielder that came back to us after not playing his junior year. He was a solid player and we used him a lot as a pinch runner and a situational role player. He had a great attitude and he worked hard.”

Rounding out the senior class was catcher Austin Ladany, who platooned this season with sophomore Mitch Zimmerman.

“Austin did a nice job for us,” the coach said. “Those two guys had to fill big shoes and they did well for first-year varsity players. With Mitch coming back, we’re expecting big things from him over the next two years.”

Norton had “outstanding” pitching this season, Swartz said, highlighted by the performances of junior Jackson Buda and sophomores Tucker Cavanaugh and Cole Edgell.

“We actually had a team ERA under two,” he said. “That tells you how good our pitching was and it wasn’t dominated by one kid. It was the whole staff that came in and did the job.”

Swartz said the team showed improvement throughout the year, with even more improvement needed heading into next season.

“I saw progress in some areas, but I also saw areas we took a step back in and that would primarily be our offense,” he said. “Defensively, we were solid, but unfortunately when we weren’t solid it was at the wrong time. Any time you go 13-5, you [have]won a lot of games and that’s outstanding. We were in every game and we had chances in every game to win them and you can’t ask for more than that in the game of baseball.”

According to the coach, Norton should have “an outstanding team” next year.

“With all the players we have coming back and the kids ready to step in next season, I’m really looking forward to next year,” said Swartz, who has been the head varsity baseball coach at Norton for 20 years. “I’d like to think that not only will we compete in every game, but we will win a lot of games. Look for us to compete for a league title next year.”

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