Hazelwood Central baseball coach Van Vanatta heard reports last spring about one of his freshmen pitchers tearing up the competition and went to see what the fuss was about.
After watching one game, Vanatta decided that Jonathan Harris didn't belong with his fellow classmates.
"I watched him pitch and said right then he's not pitching on the freshmen level," Vanatta said. "It would have been stupid. He was just mowing them down and it wasn't going to make him any better."
Harris made it to the highest level before the year was up, throwing a few innings for the varsity club. With the departure of several upperclassmen, Harris was given the ball this spring and let loose.
The results were pretty much the same that Harris had when he was pitching to the freshmen in 2009. He went 8-0 in 45 innings of work with a 2.49 earned run average. He struck out more than one batter per inning (48) while walking just 16.
Oh, and for good measure, he played flawless shortstop when he wasn't on the mound, batting .475 with 22 RBI for the co-conference champs (12-2, tied with Hazelwood West and 20-6 overall).
Not surprisingly, Harris, who was a big reason the Hawks won district and advanced to sectionals before falling 12-0 to SLUH, was named as a first-team pitcher on the all-Suburban North Conference team. Somewhat surprisingly, he was also named Player of the Year, which would be akin to a sophomore winning the Heisman Trophy, an award that usually goes to a senior.
"That was kind of shocking for me," said Vanatta, who was selected as the Coach of the Year by his fellow coaches. "You can't vote for your own kid, and I wasn't pushing him for that. Usually, sophomores are newcomers of the year. It shows the kind of respect that he earned around the league."
It marks the second year in a row that a sophomore has taken the conference by storm. Last season, it was Pattonville shortstop Brad Ridings, who hit .526. Now a junior, Ridings made the first team again as a shortstop for the second year, even though his average dropped to .373. He drove in 23 runs and scored 27 for the Pirates.
"I know that his numbers were not as good as last year, but I think he improved in a lot of areas," Pattonville coach Mark Hahn said. "He's been a great player for two years and I'm glad I've got him for one more year."
Hahn also has junior outfielder Arsallaan Alvi for one more campaign. Like Ridings, Alvi was a first-team pick for the second straight year as he batted .470, scored 27 runs and had 17 RBI.
"Pretty much, as he goes, we go," Hahn said. "He's on base a lot and creating opportunities and he's a very good defensive player."
Pattonville had one other first-team pick, senior pitcher Brian Hruby. Hruby pitched in hard luck, as he had a 2.51 ERA in 44 2\3 innings of work, but just a 2-3 record.
Hruby lost a 1-0 game to Hazelwood West, which was kind of a microcosm of his season.
"He had a lot of strikeouts and very few walks," Hahn said. "Other than the wins and losses, all the other numbers were there and the coaches were able to overlook the record."
Similarly, the coaches did not give much merit to Hazelwood Central's Jamal Hughes' .231 batting average. Hughes, a junior, was still the first-team pick.
"Offensively, he did not put up big numbers, but, defensively, he did a great job," Vanatta said. "He threw out more than 75-percent of the runners that tried to steal against him."
Hazelwood Central's other first team pick was first baseman Jimmy Timmerberg. After struggling to make the throws from third base last spring, Vanatta moved Timmerberg to first base and he responded with a .394 average and 22 runs.
"I'm pretty hard on certain things and I don't hesitate to give a player an error," Vanatta said of Timmerberg. "He didn't have one all year and he really picked up the slack offensively."
Hazelwood West, which tied with Hazelwood Central for the conference title with a 12-2 mark, actually had the most players on the first team with four. Seniors Kyle Manis (shortstop, .407, 23 runs, 23 RBI), Justin Harms (third base, .377, 14 RBI) and Robert Wright (outfield, .426, 21 RBI), as well as junior Trevor Jones (outfield, .448, 37 runs) all were first-team selections.
The other first-team picks were McCluer North senior CJ Spink, who made it as a pitcher (4-5, 57 1/3 innings, 2.32 ERA, 60 strikeouts and six walks) and utility player (.342, 19 RBI) and McCluer junior Lance Jeffries (.327, 21 runs, 21 RBI).