QA’s Fitzgerald North Coach of the Year
NC’s Burack, CR’s Zebron top player, pitcher in division
North Bayside baseball coaches have named North Caroline High’s Joseph Burack player of the year, and Colonel Richardson’s Jake Zebron the division’s top pitcher in selecting their North all-star team.
Queen Anne’s County head coach Chris Fitzgerald was named Coach of the Year.
After reaching the Class 2A East Region final a year ago, Fitzgerald led the Lions to their first state tournament appearance since 1978, when they defeated Fallston, 7-4, to win the 2A East championship.
And Queen Anne’s did it with its top two hurlers missing parts of the season for health reasons. Senior Zach Bednar began the year hurt and missed two weeks, then classmate Jimmy Rich, perhaps the team’s best athlete, was lost for the season with a broken ankle.
“That [Wicomico] game when we lost Jimmy, that was a crazy game,” Fitzgerald said of the 18-17 nail-biter. “But losing him, that wasn’t worth the win.
“Jimmy could pretty much do it all,” Fitzgerald said, “but I have to say, we had guys step up all season when we had guys hurt. You figure, we started 0-5 counting the first few games. We had Colonel, then North Caroline, and [Stephen] Decatur, and then the tournament we were in over Easter with
Broadneck and Old Mill.
“The guys could’ve just hung it up,” Fitzgerald said. “But then we started winning some games. We beat [Bohemia] Manor, Easton, then North Caroline, then 18-17 against Wi-Hi, and we started banging around in there, win one, lose one, and we ended up right there, a above .500.”
The second seed in the Section II playoffs, Queen Anne’s defeated North Caroline, and rallied to beat Easton in 10 innings in the section final before topping Fallston for the region crown. The Lions lost in the state semifinals to eventual 2A champion Williamsport on May 24.
Fitzgerald was happy with his team’s effort, and ability to come together, take advantage little bit of chances, and step up in the clutch.
“Losing Alex Usilton [to graduation] was huge, a huge hole to fill pitching, and we were looking at Zach Bednar and Jimmy Rich as our 1-and2,” Fitzgerald said. “And Zach got hurt early. Zach was out... for about three or four games early, and that’s where Chase Porter stepped up.
“I never saw it coming because he never threw at all for us last year,” Fitzgerald said of Porter. “He filled that void, especially when Bednar went down; he stepped right into that No. 1 role with Jimmy. And then with Jimmy going down, we were lucky to get Zach back. But also, Pat Freeman stepped in there and gave us some extra innings. ... We seemed to have a different guy step up for every occasion.
“Camden Lancaster had some big hits, big plays for us, Kole Klabe drove in some big runs, and Dylan Thomas, he had a really solid year. He hit our only home run in that playoff at Fallston,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s huge. It’s great when you have players step [up] like that. You never pushed the panic button with those guys. We had some guys that were slumping early on and then even midway through the season. But they came on.
“With the number of seniors we had on the diamond, we always seemed to have a senior come through,” Fitzgerald said.
A senior Fitzgerald wishes he had was Burack. A boon to the Bulldog program for four seasons, Burack proved his versatility. After spending a healthy portion of his time at catcher as an underclassman, Burack went on to excel at third base, shortstop and on the mound.
He tossed a no-hitter against Kent Island, and finished with three wins. He batted .366 with a division-best five home runs, drove in 26 runs, struck out only four times, and drew 13 walks. He finished with a .518 on-base percentage, and a .585 slugging average, for an OPS (on-base, plus slugging percentage) of 1.103.
“He was just the complete package; a true next-level player, that I’ve not seen in a while,” Fitzgerald said of Burack, who’ll attend Shepherd (W.Va.) University this fall and play baseball.
North Caroline head coach Joe Bildstein was of similar mind.
“He was a great team leader. He did it in different ways, too,” Bildstein said. “He was relaxed, and he got the boys relaxed, but when he needed to, he stepped it up.”
Burack’s departure leaves a big hole for the Bulldogs.
“You’ve got to figure ... from what I heard from the North coaches, with him hitting five home runs, that’s all but the top three, four teams’ output,” Bildstein said. “That’s a lot of home runs in high school. That’s a lot of power. His power, you can’t replace that kind of power. And then you have his pitching, he had a one-hitter and a no-hitter in the last three games he pitched.
“I wish I had him a couple more years,” Bildstein added. “He deserves it; he works hard at everything.”
A hard-throwing righthander, Zebron burst onto the scene a year ago when he threw a no-hitter in a 1A East Section I semifinal against Havre de Grace as a freshman.
The sophomore was 6-0 with 30 strikeouts, a 1.51 earned-run average this year, starting five games and finishing three. In 37 innings of work, he allowed just 22 hits and seven walks, giving him a 0.78 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched). Opponents hit just .171 against Zebron, as Colonel marched to a second consecutive 18-0 regular season and North Bayside title.
Zebron, who had a 1.000 fielding mark, hit .443 with two homers, 23 runs scored, and 24 RBIs. Striking out just five times in 20 games, he had a slugging mark of .655, an on-base average of .533, and an OPS of 1.189.
In terms of his expectations, Colonel head coach Dan Mangum said, “I think he was way above them, and they were already high.
“I think as the year went on, we relied strongly on pitching and defense, and him and Jaret [Bennett] together were as strong a 1-and-2 team as [Jaret] and Caleb [Johnson, in 2015],” Mangum said. “He really stepped up and did that. We weren’t offensively as good as we were the year before, there’s no denying that . ... But pitching-wise, defensively, it’s what got us there.
“I didn’t think a sophomore with one year varsity experience would be able to step up and do that,” Mangum said. “I see great things out of him. He’s only going to get better. It’s kind of scary, the year he had as a sophomore, and the things he did, pitching, hitting and defensively. His velocity is good, too. He’s already consistently in the mid80s. He has a tremendous upside.”
Also selected first-team were: Cambridge-South Dorchester’s Tyler Harding (So., 2B, P) and Michael Richardson (Sr., SS/P); Kent County’s Austin Peet (Sr. SS) and Tyson Johnson (So., OF/P); Easton’s Jack Wheatley (Sr., P/3B) and Ryan Farr (Jr., P/SS); Queen Anne’s Dylan Thomas (Jr., C); St. Michaels’ Noah Brack (Jr., 1B/P); North Caroline’s Allan Saathoff (Jr., IF/P); and Colonel’s Jaret Bennett (Sr., Second team included: C-SD’s Matt Elliott; Kent Island’s Jared Pezzano; Easton’s Brenan Cassell and Trent Weems; Queen Anne’s Lancaster and Porter; St. Michaels’ C.J. Chansler, Nathan Howeth, Matt Grogan and Devin Stanford; Colonel’s Dylan Nepert; and North Caroline’s Dan Edris. Named honorable mention were: Cambridge-SD’s Nathaniel Lowe; Kent County’s Austin Black and Ben Manley; Kent Island’s Tyler Loh and Kyle Sonneveldt; Easton’s Brandon Latham and Keegan Bentz; Queen Anne’s Luke Weddell, Freeman, Bednar, Nick Cintron, and Kole Klabe; St. Michaels’ Seth Parks; North Caroline’s Mark Conner, Morgan Loetz, Cameron Byrd; North Dorchester’s A.J. Willey; and Colonel’s Garrett Nepert, Jacob Hicks, J.B. Buchanan and Jamison Covey.
Editor’s Note: The AllMid-Shore team, which includes Saints Peter and Paul, and is chosen by The Star Democrat sports department, is slated to appear later this month. Follow me on Twitter: @Davetalkssports.