By Pete Chiodo
June 20, 2013 7:00 a.m. —
It’s an unusual place to start a Player of the Year story — with that player’s worst game of the season.
But, here we go:
The date was April 22. It was Cochranton versus Saegertown. And, let’s not sugarcoat this, even though he kept Saegertown quiet through the early innings, eventually the Panthers would knock around Cochranton pitcher Ryan Northcott. They racked up 11 base hits and only struck out once on their way to a 9-1 victory over Northcott and the Redbirds.
“There were a couple times where I’d have their 7, 8 or 9 batter down (in the count) 1-2 or 0-2, and I’d try to throw something away and they’d fight it off and end up putting the ball in play,” said Northcott. “They were a tough team to beat.”
Out of the 13 pitching appearances Northcott made this season, there were plenty of brilliant performances to choose from (like the no-hitter against Cambridge Springs on April 9). But we started with this one. Why?
Well, it illustrates the benefits of, every once in awhile, falling flat on your face.
Northcott was able to use that game against Saegertown to form the foundation of one of the best individual postseason efforts we’ve seen around here, one that helped the Cochranton baseball program enjoy its most successful campaign in three decades.
And it’s why Northcott is the Meadville Tribune’s 2013 Baseball Player of the Year.
“That game really taught me a lot,” said Northcott. “It taught me that I really need to set up batters better, to work inside-outside. Against (Saegertown), I tried to work away, away, away. But I worked too much away and they started looking for it and they took the ball away.
“That taught me to go inside-outside, maybe high and tight, give them something in the dirt. Just not always strikes.”
Oh, he still threw plenty of strikes. While posting an 8-2 record with an ERA of 1.81, the senior Northcott fanned 94 batters in just under 70 innings this season — an average of 1.5 Ks per frame. He even struck out 17 batters in a single contest (May 16 against Conneaut).
However, one can see the pivot point for Northcott in that Saegertown game, the point where he went from merely a solid pitcher to one of the area’s best.
Up through the Saegertown game, Northcott averaged 5.5 strikeouts per appearance. After that game, the average jumped to 9.0 strikeouts per appearance.
Also, through his first five appearances, including Saegertown, the Cardinals’ opponents scored 16 runs against him. During the eight appearances that followed Saegertown, opposing teams scored just nine more total with Northcott on the mound.
“Everything else, he dominated,” said Cochranton head coach John Svirbly. “He wanted that (Saegertown) game. He wanted to pitch against that competition. He wanted to see how he could do. I don’t think he did as well as he wanted to.
“But sometimes it’s good to get in situations like that. It helped him out tremendously in the postseason.”
The postseason. This is where we get to the heart of the matter. This is where Northcott truly earned the title of Player of the Year.
During the early part of the 2013 season, Cochranton was a pretty good bet to make the playoffs out of Region 3. But few may have picked the Cards to be District 10 champions.
When, in fact, the Cardinals did win this year’s D-10 Class A title — the program’s first since 1983 — and very nearly advanced to the state quarterfinals shortly thereafter, it was in very large part due to Northcott. To be more specific, it was due to the player that he had grown into during that final stretch of the season.
The numbers tell the story: Three playoff games, 21 innings pitched, 24 strikeouts, one earned run on the mound.
“One earned run in 21 innings is unheard of. That was great,” said Svirbly. “He never lost confidence at one point during that time. They could have the bases loaded, guys in scoring position with less than two outs, he was all business. He knew what to do and he knew how to do it.”
And at the plate during the postseason, he batted .400 with six RBIs, three doubles and two game-winning hits.
“I think a big part of him being successful was that he never put pressure on himself and we never put pressure on him,” said Svirbly. “He was mentally determined to get the job done. That confidence in himself spilled over to the plate. You can’t coach things like that. ... When a kid gets in groove like that, there’s no reason to change anything. Just ride with it.”
Northcott first led the Cardinals to a 1-0 victory over Kennedy Catholic in the D-10 semifinals. He allowed just three hits through seven innings, walked two and fanned seven. He threw 85 pitches, 57 for strikes. And in the fifth inning, Northcott doubled in Adam Nageotte, which would eventually stand up as the game-winning run.
A week later in the District 10 championship game against Eisenhower, Northcott again fired a three-hit complete game as the Cardinals downed the Knights 8-1. This time he struck out eight. And in the fifth inning, once again, Northcott broke a 1-1 tie with a two-out, two-run double. He finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs on the day.
Finally, in the first round of states, Northcott and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart pitcher Preston Falascino engaged in an outstanding pitching duel. Falascino gave up two hits. Northcott surrendered five, including back-to-back hits in the first inning that resulted in the only run of the game. OLSH ended Cochranton’s season with a 1-0 win.
This team that few thought would get very far, came ever so close to joining the state’s elite eight.
Of course, Northcott didn’t do it by himself. The Cards were pretty solid defensively. They had some good bats in the lineup with guys like Jesse Staudt, Joel Mowris, Cody Nageotte and Adam Nageotte. And, most importantly, Northcott was throwing to one of the better backstops around in fellow senior Caleb Peterson.
“It was real nice having him there,” Northcott said about Peterson. “He felt me out and knew what pitches I wanted and where to set up. That really helped. When you’ve got a kid that catches you all three years, it just clicks. That was really important. He could block the ball really well. Sometimes I’d get an 0-2 count and throw a curve ball into dirt, and he did a nice job blocking it.”
Still, there is no question that without Ryan Northcott, Cochranton does not get as far as it did this season. No way.
“Ryan put us on his back,” said Svirbly. “The kids accepted it. Normally, you’ll have someone get jealous or something like that, but they loved it — ‘Man, we’re getting so bored out there, but we love watching you pitch.’”
“It’s good that we didn’t have that ego, where everybody wants to be in spotlight all the time. They were fine with Ryan. They knew he was in a zone. They knew he was the guy to go with. They accepted it and encouraged it.”