Even though he was voted Belleville News-Democrat Small-School (Class 1A-2A) Baseball Player of the Year by area coaches, Nashville High School senior John Goodrich appreciates the total team aspect of the sport.
"I like the way it's played; you have to play it as a team to do well," said Goodrich, a star pitcher and shortstop who helped the Hornets to a 28-8 record this spring. "Baseball has always been my favorite sport."
Goodrich knows a little something about playing the game well.
The Southwestern Illinois College recruit and three-year starter was 8-2 as a pitcher with three saves, a 1.86 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. He also banged out a .458 average with 11 doubles, two triples, two home runs and 39 RBIs in 36 games.
"He just doesn't strike out and he hits the ball hard gap-to-gap," said Nashville coach Chad Malawy, who compared Goodrich to former Nashville High and Southeast Missouri State standout Zach Borowiak, who spent several years in the minor leagues. "(Goodrich) was our most consistent hitter. He just doesn't strike out much and he's the one you don't want to beat you."
Goodrich's 60 hits fell one short of the Nashville school record held by Kelly Cruser.
"With the new bats, I wasn't really sure how it was going to turn out, but it turned out pretty well," said Goodrich, whose team blazed its way to a 17-0 start and was among the top small-school teams in the region before being upset by Wesclin in the title game of the Class 2A Wesclin Regional. "We just had a really great season and it was a lot of fun. The end of the year didn't turn out as good as we thought it would after the way we started, but Wesclin deserves it because they got hot at the end of the year."
Malawy said SWIC may take a look at Goodrich both in the field and on the mound because there's plenty of upside in both places, especially as a pitcher.
"He just pounds the strike zone, that's what sets him apart from most pitchers in our conference and our squad," Malawy said. "He always wants the ball in a big game and he threw about every big game for us. I don't think he's reached his ceiling as a pitcher whatsoever because he's young for his class."
Goodrich said his grandfather and great-grandfather both played in the St. Louis Browns organization.
Their love of the game was passed down, but one aspect of baseball did not come easily for Goodrich. He began his varsity career at third, but things were rough because of some fielding trouble.
"I made a lot of errors and my coaches really helped me work through that by hitting me a lot of ground balls," Goodrich said. "My junior year, I made about half as many errors and played more positions. Before I just didn't have much confidence because I kept making errors."
Also a standout golfer, Goodrich will play baseball at SWIC along with Nashville teammate and fellow All-Area pick Brett Warchol.
Player of the Year voting was extremely close this season with eight different players receiving at least one vote in a balanced year.
Goodrich expressed disbelief upon hearing the news that he had come out on top in the voting.
"No, I definitely didn't see it," he said. "I saw a lot of great players and I definitely didn't think it would be me."
Goodrich, Warchol and Nashville's All-Area first baseman Kyle Mueller all played for the Illinois squad at the PNC/Rawlings High School Baseball Showcase recently at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
"That was really awesome, I never thought I'd get a chance to play on a big-league field like that," Goodrich said. "The whole day was just a great experience for me."
Malawy said Goodrich's success is not surprising.
"He's got a good personality and he's a very hard worker," Malawy said. "It's hard not to find him at the ballfield or the batting cage, because that's usually where he is. John is one of the reasons you going into coaching.
"You go into the game because of the competitiveness and the camaraderie you develop with your players and your peers, and John's that guy. That's why you coach."
Coach of the Year
When the postseason began, Wesclin coach John Groennert knew his team would be hosting a regional. He also knew his team was the sixth-seeded team in that six-team regional.
A few weeks later, Groennert's club was playing at the Class 2A state tournament following one of the more remarkable runs in recent metro-east baseball history.
As a result, Groennert was the clear choice in voting by area coaches for News-Democrat Coach of the Year.
"No one thought we could do this," Wesclin pitcher Alex Wilken said after he shut down two-time defending state champ Teutopolis in the Warriors' 3-1 super-sectional victory that sent them to state. "We had our backs against the wall and we came out on top. We never in our mind doubted ourselves."
Groennert admitted having some doubts, but no one was prouder of his team's accomplishments. Wesclin finished fourth in the state with a 20-19 record.
"I'm proud of our guys, they fought hard and never gave up," Groennert said. "It's an accomplishment for them to get here. There's a lot of teams that wish they could be fourth in state and have the opportunity to be here."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.