New Castle News

Shenango

May 2, 2012

Athlete of the Week: Shenango’s Brent McCormick

NEW CASTLE — It’s a strategy known in baseball as “giving him the business.”

The expression refers to a team heckling, frustrating and joking with the opponent, usually a specific player.

Shenango High’s Brent McCormick was given the business — by his own team. But, in this case, it was more of a compliment than anything else.

“They’ve been riding him all day,” Wildcats coach Mike Othites said with a laugh.

That’s what happens to sophomores who are having success. The team tries to help them keep everything in perspective — and bring their ego down a notch.

Still, it’s hard to rattle McCormick. He was 2 for 4 with two RBIs on that day, and he was even better last week.

The first-year starter is one of the team’s leading hitters, batting .471, second-best on the team. He’s also been clutch on the mound. Last week against rival Ellwood City Lincoln, which entered the game tied for first place in the section, McCormick threw the final 21/3 innings, not allowing a hit and striking out three to earn the save in a 5-3 win.

He also went 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. He followed that showing by going 4 for 4 with two RBIs against Beaver Falls.

The performance earned him Lawrence County Athlete of the Week honors, an award sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.

Part of the reason McCormick was able to shrug off the jokes he received for being named athlete of the week was because he’s a baseball veteran, even as a sophomore, and he’s probably heard it all before. He said he started playing around 6 years old in tee-ball and hasn’t stopped since. He plays in the summer for the Ohio Glaciers, one of the top teams in the region, and trains year-round for the sport he learned growing up from his father and grandfather.

It’s part of the reason he entered the season with high expectations for himself.

“I knew that I was going to be a big part of the team and I needed to step up,” he said. “I think I have been so far.”

That’s for sure.

Aside from his .471 average, he leads the team in doubles with seven, is second in hits (24) and third in RBIs (12) as the clean-up hitter. He’s also one of the team’s top pitchers. He’s only thrown 121/3 innings because he’s come on in relief in all six appearances, but he owns a 3.97 earned run average and is one of the hardest throwers on the team.

Othites said he’s been impressed with McCormick on both levels. He said he expected the youthful third baseman to excel right away because he’s seen him play in the summer and on the JV team last year, but even he’s been surprised with the results.

“As a sophomore in our league, do you expect him to hit the way he’s hitting? Obviously not,” he said. “I was hoping he’d be in the .300s or near .400, but he’s exceeded that. He’s a competitor, he’s a gamer. When the chips are down, he wants to be up, so I’m pleased to see that.”

One area in particular that has caught Othites’ attention is McCormick’s plate discipline. Not only does he have a good eye, he’s able to stay back on off-speed pitches and drive them to the opposite field, a rare trait from an underclassmen, he said.

“He has a short, compact-type swing, but he can get his bat head through quickly,” Othites said. “He has good command of the strike zone — he doesn’t swing at too many bad pitches, which is something that I think is a key.”

Keeping it simple has been vital for McCormick, he said.

He credited some of his success to his experience in competitive tournaments with the Glaciers, and he also said Othites and assistant coach Brad Zeigler aided him in becoming accustomed to the higher level of pitching he’s faced as a member of the varsity.

“After about the first four games, I was good from there,” McCormick said. “That’s when I started getting hot. Coach Zeigler was talking to me and he said, ‘Just pick out the fastballs. Look for the best pitch and swing at it. Don’t try and be too picky with it.’ ”

Luckily for McCormick, fastballs aren’t the only pitches he hits well. Going the other way with off-speed pitches, such as curveballs and change-ups, definitely is nothing new to him.

“That’s been something I’ve always been good at,” he said. “Just staying back and taking it to the opposite field.”

As for the bickering by his teammates?

Hey, he was 2 for 4. Maybe they should keep it up.

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