April 19, 2014

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High school baseball notes: Lake Ridge freshman Niko Ortiz throws perfect game in 1st start

Lake Ridge’s Niko Ortiz set the bar high with his first high school start on the mound. The freshman pitched a perfect game against Lawrence, going five innings in a 20-0 mercy-rule victory.

Ortiz threw only 62 pitches (an average of 12 an inning), which is all the more impressive when you learn that Ortiz had not pitched in roughly eight years.

“I haven’t pitched since I played in the (North Ridgeville) city league when I was 7,” Ortiz said. “I haven’t really practiced since then. My coach said he wanted to give me a chance on the mound. I never expected to throw a perfect game.

“It just kind of happened.”

And it happened on just two pitches — a fastball and an occasional change-up.

“I’m still learning to throw a curveball,” Ortiz said. “I threw fastballs the entire game except for a handful of change-ups. Coach told me to keep command of my throws and keep the ball in the strike zone. So that’s what I tried to do.”

“Niko has good command and control of his pitching,” Lake Ridge coach Jason Dimacchia said. “We recognized that he had decent velocity and good arm strength so we wanted to give him a shot. We actually had him slated as a relief pitcher.

“But as the season went on we wanted to give him a start.”

Ortiz didn’t realize what was happening until the third inning when some teammates mentioned that no one had gotten on base yet. Dimacchia squelched the talk as soon as he heard it.

“Baseball is a superstitious sport,” Dimacchia said. “The last thing you want to do is mention a no-hitter or a perfect game when it’s happening. I told the kids to shut up when they mentioned it. Between innings, the Lawrence coach passed by and made mention of it, but I just kept my mouth shut and shook my head.”

With the excitement building with each pitch, Ortiz tried to keep himself and the game in check.

“I was excited about what was happening,” he said. “But I had to keep everything under control. I don’t think I put any pressure on myself, but it was definitely easier pitching before I realized what was going on.”

With a perfect game under his belt, Ortiz followed it up with a complete-game victory four games later. In addition to pitching, Ortiz plays center field and shortstop.

“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” Dimacchia said. “The sky is pretty much the limit for him. He has a baseball background and loves the game. He’s in a program where he plays varsity as a freshman and I can easily see Nick being one of the top players in the county when he’s a senior.

“He’s got everything he needs to be successful.”

Young glove

Another freshman making an impact is Sam Echstenkamper of Wellington. The outfielder/catcher is batting leadoff after winning the job in the preseason.

“Sam is an athletic kid with a quick bat and good speed,” Wellington coach Roger Sasack said. “He’s also a catcher, which you can never have enough of, and he can play the outfield. His versatility is a big reason why he’s on varsity.”

Echstenkamper, who also played on the varsity football team, has a strong baseball background. His father, Mark, is the head coach at Independence, and the Blue Devils are ranked 14th in Division I.

“My dad really taught me how to play the game,” Sam said. “Playing baseball was always something that seemed natural to me. It’s my favorite sport to play.”

Echstenkamper didn’t expect to make the varsity as a freshman, but here he is batting .294 with a .550 on-base percentage. He leads the Dukes in walks (13) and runs (13). He’s struck out four times in 45 at-bats and is second on the team in stolen bases with three.

“I worked really hard in the offseason to be ready,” he said. “When Coach told me I had made the team I was surprised but excited about the opportunity. I feel like I was prepared for this, but I’m still learning.”

The biggest adjustment has been learning about the other teams in the Patriot Athletic Conference. While most of his teammates have a couple of years of experience, his first time around has been quite an education.

“There’s a lot to learn and the game is a little faster,” Echstenkamper said. “I just need to pay attention to everything and try to help my team.

“It doesn’t matter to me if I get on base with a hit or a walk. I just need to get on base. If I can do that, then we are going to be OK.”

“(Sam) definitely has a chance to be a solid player here at the varsity level all four years,” Sasack said. “He’s off to a pretty good start as a freshman. He’ll only get bigger and stronger as he gets older and remains dedicated.”

State poll

Amherst is the only school in Lorain County to show up on the latest Ohio High School Coaches Association Poll.

A 2-2 week dropped the Comets to 19th in Division I with 16 votes. The previous week the Comets were ranked fourth with 129 votes after they started the season 10-0.

Avon Lake and Keystone dropped out of the poll after receiving votes the previous week.

Player of the week

Erik Fehlan, Wellington

Fehlan

  • Position: P/1B/OF
  • Year: Senior
  • Last week: Fehlan went 2-0 on the mound. He went seven innings against Clearview, striking out nine and giving up four hits in a 4-0 win. Against Northwestern, he went the distance, giving up five hits and three runs while striking out 11 in a 5-3 victory.
  • Season to date: Fehlan is 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings. In five outings he has four complete games and has struck out 51 while holding opponents to a .188 batting average. He is batting .294 (10 hits in 34 at-bats) with three doubles and nine RBIs. He also has three stolen bases in four attempts.
  • Bio: Fehlan plays for the Lorain County Storm traveling team and is a member of the FFA at Wellington High School. He enjoys hunting and fishing when the weather permits. He likes to play pickup games of basketball with his friends. His favorite baseball team is the Texas Rangers and his favorite player is Yu Darvish.
  • Future plans: Plans to continue his baseball career at Baldwin Wallace University. He is undecided on a major but has it narrowed down to business or political science.
  • Parents: Brian and Jana.

Contact Hans Schneider at 329-7135 or hanshans68@gmail.com.