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Baseball: McGrath, Norsemen looking to carry basketball success to the diamond

Shaw Media file photo
Newark senior Steve McGrath, a four-year starter, will play shortstop and hit leadoff this spring for the Norsemen.
Shaw Media file photo Newark senior Steve McGrath, a four-year starter, will play shortstop and hit leadoff this spring for the Norsemen.

Days off are apparently not in the Newark DNA.

Two days after the Norsemen took fourth place in Class 1A boys basketball, eight Newark basketball players traded in their gym shoes for spikes.

Newark baseball coach JR Veliz likes the vibe they've carried over.

"I gave them the option to take a couple days off and they were like 'Nope, not happening,'" Veliz said. "I wasn't surprised, to be honest. They're bringing that positive energy from basketball to baseball."

Steve McGrath, a starter on the Newark basketball team, leads the returnees back from a baseball team that went 15-10 last spring.

McGrath, a four-year starter, hit .345 with 18 runs batted in as a junior, and was 21-for-21 on stolen bases with a .430 on-base percentage. He'll play shortstop and is slated to bat leadoff.

"His work ethic is amazing," Veliz said. "He carries himself in a way that's not cocky, and he's got great speed and baseball smarts. The younger guys look up to him."

McGrath, though, is really the only Norseman on this team who has played consistently at the varsity level. Newark graduated six starters, and most of its pitching.

Corey Jacobson and Jacob Slivka, two members of a talented sophomore class, got 32 and 44 varsity at-bats, respectively, last year.

"I'm really calling it the year of the unknown," Veliz said. "The sophomore class has amazing athletic ability. If we can put that on the field we'll have success."

Senior Connor Christian, 4-0 with a 2.1 earned run average in 30 innings last year, moves up to be Newark's No. 1.

"The big games will be his now," Veliz said.

Cameron Myre missed most of last baseball season, but Veliz expects big things from the 6-foot-7 senior.

"His energy on the baseball field is awesome," Veliz said. "I was hoping to get him in the rotation by mid-April and he said 'Coach, I'll be ready.'"

Four newcomers from various backgrounds could be big contributors.

Sophomores Billy Gebhart and Connor Swanson, state track qualifiers last year, will do double duty this spring. Senior Ryan Rayburn, a transfer from Ottawa Marquette, could pitch, play second base and outfield.

And All-State basketball player Will Clausel is playing baseball for the first time in high school.

"I wasn't sure what to expect," Veliz said, "but he's looking good."

Veliz thinks expectations might have tightened up last year's team, but this group looks loose. The Norsemen will get started this weekend with three games in Jacksonville.

"I feel like our defense will be better, it looks sharp. The offense will come," Veliz said. "There is a sense of looseness around this team."

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