Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Putting in the time to become a success has been the downfall of more than one athlete.
That never was the case for Neshannock High baseball standout John Sansone.
Before school, before or after practice, Sansone was there to pay his dues.
“I usually take two rounds of balls, about 50 balls (of batting practice) in my machine,” Sansone said. “I usually take two rounds, or maybe three if I’m feeling good. I usually try to do some sprints, a little jogging.
“I always take ground balls every day, either before or after practice. I usually do that after school, but sometimes I woke up early. Whatever is needed.”
That committed work ethic is what earned Sansone the 1,204th overall pick by the Detroit Tigers on June 6 in the 39th round of this year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Prior to the season, Sansone signed a national letter-of-intent to continue his baseball career at Florida State University. He recently chose attending Florida State over signing with the Tigers.
Sansone, a senior shortstop who also was a star guard on the Lancers’ boys basketball team, was named the Lawrence County male athlete of the year by the New Castle News sports staff.
“He’s just an amazing kid,” Neshannock baseball coach Mike Kirkwood said. “I can verify the work ethic and what he’s done. It’s nice to see the fruits of his labor.”
Sansone batted .597 (40 for 57) with 40 RBIs, 34 runs scored, 12 doubles, six triples and seven home runs. All of which were tops in the county. He added 18 stolen bases as well.
“It’s a constant grind with kids. As soon as they don’t hit a ball hard, they want to change things differently with their swing,” Kirkwood said. “He’s always had a grasp on hitting.
“He’s traveled a lot of miles to play games against the best competition during the season. It’s all about his work ethic and what he’s willing to do.”
The numbers were stellar across the board for Sansone. But he’s most interested in team success —which means he’s unhappy with how the season ended.
Neshannock won the WPIAL Section 3-A title with a 12-0 mark and rolled to a 22-3 overall record. But the Lancers were upset in the second round of the PIAA Class A playoffs by Elk County Catholic, 4-3.
“We really thought we had a good chance at winning it all this year. It’s just the way the ball bounces,” Sansone said. “It wasn’t our day that day. I still don’t want to talk about it. I’m still disappointed, but that’s just baseball. It wasn’t our day.
“We really didn’t feel any (PIAA) pressure. We tried to block it all out. We weren’t really worried about that. We were just locked in on our own goal, trying to win a state championship.”
Despite the strong overall numbers, Sansone concluded his career in a mini slump. He was 0 for 5 plus a walk in the state playoffs, dipping his average below the .600 mark. At one point during the season, he was over .650.
“I was frustrated after that,” Sansone said. “It was my last couple high school games and I couldn’t perform for my team. I just wasn’t getting the bat on the ball in those games.”
REPEATING AS CHAMPS
Sansone didn’t disappoint in the WPIAL playoffs, though. He was 5 for 9 with seven runs scored and four RBIs with a double, triple and a homer. His efforts were instrumental in Neshannock collecting its second consecutive WPIAL crown.
“It was a really great experience,” Sansone said of the WPIAL championship. “I’m really proud to be part of Neshannock and to do that.
“It was just a different feeling (this year). Even last year was fun, but this year was just 10 times more fun.”
Neshannock standout pitcher Alex Strittmatter had to serve a one-game suspension for his ejection in a 9-5 district quarterfinal-round victory over Chartiers-Houston. Sansone picked up the slack for his teammate, who watched from the bench. He was 2 for 4 with three RBIs and two runs scored, belting a triple and a homer in a 6-1 decision in the semifinals over Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
“I took it upon myself a little bit,” Sansone said. “I always try to do good for the team, whether he’s playing or not. But everyone stepped up. It was a total team effort.”
Sansone broke out as a junior, batting .661 with 25 RBIs, 34 runs scored, 11 doubles, two triples and five home runs. That came after hitting just .323 as a sophomore with 20 RBIs, 21 runs scored, a triple and three homers.
“I was just really focused in. I think I played a lot more that year,” Sansone said of competing in organized baseball in the offseason. “I played all summer and I played almost every single day my sophomore year going to my junior year. Then I played all fall, too. That really helped.
“It really got my eye down and got me ready for the season.”
The Florida State recruit tallied a .479 career batting average (127 for 265) with 110 RBIs, 112 runs scored and 22 home runs.
“He affected the opposition’s gameplan tremendously,” Kirkwood said. “One time, we were scrimmaging Ellwood City and they intentionally walked him twice in a 2-1 game. And that was just a scrimmage.
“There were just a few kids that wanted to challenge him.”
While Sansone is dominating at the plate, he’s equally as effective in the field. He helped turn all three of Neshannock’s double plays in a 2-0 win over Bishop Guilfoyle in the first round of the state playoffs.
“It’s all because of him and the work ethic he puts in,” Kirkwood said of Sansone’s defense. “He’s willing to do whatever he needs to do to get better.”
Strittmatter, who was on the mound for Neshannock in that victory over Bishop Guilfoyle, knew he could relax more with the likes of Sansone at shortstop.
“He makes it a lot easier knowing he’s on my side,” Strittmatter said. “Having him behind me turning the double play is a big boost.
“He’s got unbelievably quick hands at short. He gets the ball out quickly and his accuracy with his throws are spot on.”
ON THE HARDWOOD
Sansone started his athletic season with basketball. He helped the Lancers reach the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.
“It was tough. We didn’t really have a great season,” Sansone said. “I just love basketball and it was just so much fun to play in high school. I miss basketball so much already.”
Neshannock finished 11-11 and was ousted in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs by Seton-La Salle, 71-25.
“That was bad. We just got off to a slow start and never got going,” Sansone said.
A 5-foot-11 guard, Sansone ranked third in the county in scoring at 17.4 points per game, while tying for fourth with 50 3-pointers. His efforts on the hardwood earned him a spot on the WPIAL Section 2-AA First Team squad.
“He’s a very smart athlete,” Lancers coach John Corey said. “He started as a sophomore and that doesn’t happen unless you know the game and have a great feel for it.
“His basketball IQ level is high and he’s a very good athlete.”
An injury to his left ankle limited Sansone late in the season.
“It really affected me a lot,” Sansone said of the injury. “I missed two games, but I should have missed more than that. I just kept playing on it and making it worse.
“I was shooting a 3-pointer. A kid tried to block the shot and I came right down on his foot and I twisted it.”
Sansone was virtually a lock from the foul line, draining 42 of his 49 attempts from the stripe (85.7 percent), which paced the county.
“Eighty-six percent of the time it’s going through the net. That was incredible,” Corey said. “We knew we had a chance to win with him on the floor.
“It was difficult for him to put as much time into basketball because of baseball. He’s got a pure stroke.”
Foul shooting was an aspect Sansone wanted more experience in this season.
“I should have definitely taken the ball to the hole more this year,” he said. “Especially since I was good at foul shooting.
“I really couldn’t get past my guy too much this year because my ankle was hurt half of the year. Last year, too, I was hurt. I really couldn’t do much going to the hole.”
Sansone netted a season-high 30 points on two different occasions — in an 85-54 verdict over Ellwood City, and again in a 64-63 double-overtime loss to Shenango. He drained all 14 of his free-throw attempts in the setback.
“I caught fire against Ellwood. I was just seeing the hoop well, it was like a hula hoop to me,” Sansone said. “That was a tough loss against Shenango. I made a lot of free throws in that game.
“It’s nice to know sometimes, just get me the ball and I can do whatever I want with it. I love to get my teammates involved, too.”
Said Corey, “He was one of the purest shooters I’ve ever been around. Baseball is his main sport and it always was. The fact he was able to shoot the ball the way he was over the years is a tribute of how much of a pure shooter he was.”
Sansone finished his career with 913 total points.
Hard work paid off in baseball and basketball throughout Sansone’s high school years. It could possibly pay dividends for him in the near future as he attempts to land a spot in pro baseball.
JOHN SANSONE FILE
PARENTS: John Jr. and Mirella Sansone.
FAVORITE BASKETBALL TEAM AND WHY: Florida State University. “I’ve always liked the school there.”
FAVORITE BASKETBALL PLAYER AND WHY: The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. “He has always worked so hard. He always wants to win the championship, no matter what year it is. He’s never content.”
FAVORITE BASEBALL TEAM AND WHY: New York Yankees. “They’ve always been my favorite. Detroit is slowly coming into the picture, though.”
FAVORITE BASEBALL PLAYER AND WHY: The New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter. “I’ve always loved him. He’s definitely my idol. We play the same position (shortstop), and that’s a big reason why he’s my favorite. He’s a great role model off the field, too.”
FUTURE PLANS: Sansone committed to play baseball at Florida State University. On June 6, the Detroit Tigers selected Sansone in the 39th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He was selected with the 1,204th overall pick. But Sansone has opted to attend Florida State and skip his professional baseball opportunity, for now. The baseball draft rules state “A player who is drafted and does not sign with the club that selected him may be drafted again at a future year’s draft, so long as the player is eligible for that year’s draft. A club may not select a player again in a subsequent year, unless the player has consented to the re-selection.”
Sansone will be eligible to be drafted again after completing either his junior or senior years, or when he’s at least 21 years of age.