Liberty quartet bound for D-I baseball diamonds
Chris Galoski 11/17/09
Olentangy Valley News
Don't adjust your eyes.
It's no ocular aberration, that really is a mini-college baseball team preparing to grace Olentangy Liberty's diamond.
Not one, not two, not even three Patriots inked their Division I collegiate deals Wednesday, Nov. 11. Count them, four Pats are D-I bound in 2010.
Ending the signing suspense were Josh Dezse (Ohio State), a pitcher, catcher and first baseman, center fielder Michael O'Neill (University of Michigan), shortstop-pitcher Zach Michael (University of Toledo) and pitcher-first baseman Tyler Stage (Ohio University).
"It's been interesting for these guys to allow me to meet all these college guys and talk to them on the phone," Liberty coach Matt Lattig said. "It's also been fun to watch these guys go through it.
"All of a sudden, you're taking kids that are 17 to 18 years old and they've gotta make a choice that's not only going to impact them as baseball player, but is going to impact their academics and finances."
In the interim, this prep season is all about getting in the last word. Because a year ago Liberty was undone by Pickerington North, the eventual D-I state runner-up, in a Central District final.
"I think the one thing we try to preach to our kids," Lattig said, "is it doesn't matter what kind of paper you sign, what kind of stats you put up.
"It still comes down to, can you do what you need to do when you have to? The good thing about this group is we've pushed them.
"We've made comments to them saying, 'Hey, you can be D-I all you want but you still haven't won anything. You tied for the (OCC Cardinal Division) title last year and you got beat in the district finals. You were just as good as eight other teams. You didn't stand out, that was Pickerington North that stood out'."
Not that 23-6 (12-2) was an embarrassment for Liberty, it just won't be acceptable in 2010.
"For the most part, they're ready to accept the bull's-eye that's put on their back," Lattig said.
"By them signing these papers they understand everybody is going to be gunning for you."
Analyzing the menacing foursome, Dezse, he of the 1.60 ERA, hurls a fastball that tops out at a neck-breaking 93 mph, with his velocity eclipsed only by his feverish preparation.
O'Neill (.447) has dizzying speed and he's not afraid to use it, stealing a school-record 21 bases in 2009 and regularly flashing the leather as the defensive anchor in center field.
Stage (6-3, 2.13 ERA), the future Bobcat, is the club's ace, bringing a knowing, cool-headed air to the bump.
"When we get Tyler out on the mound we just let him go, he knows how to control the game," Lattig said.
Then there's Michael (.318, .400 OBP), who barring injury (which befell ex-Patriot and current Buckeye Ryan Cypret) will become the first four-year starter in Liberty's six-year history.
"The great thing is Toledo and the guys recruiting him saw him as an athlete," Lattig said of Michael, who also stars for Liberty's football and basketball teams. "Once he starts concentrating on baseball, his ceiling is 'way high."
Though it's still four months in the offing, the same could be said for the Patriots' ever-nearing spring season.
"We have a great senior class," Lattig asserted. "We have those four obviously, but we also have four other kids who are extremely important to us -- Stephen Crea, Blake Hampshire, Brandon Seich and Joe Trivisonno. They're all going to be instrumental to our success this year in making sure we do the things we want to do.
"The great thing is all eight seniors are really focused on doing better than last year. They understand it was neat, but they want to hang a banner. They want to say they were the guys who put up a league banner, put up a district banner."