When a pitcher takes the mound, all he wants to see are zeroes on the scoreboard, but when the season's over, seeing his name engraved on a trophy is pretty nice, too.
The varsity baseball team at Toronto's Seneca College got an impressive debut season from Prescott's Noah Williams, and with his impressive stat line and a clutch performance in the final game of the season for the Seneca Sting, he was named Baseball Rookie of the Year.
Williams has been playing baseball for as long as he can remember. He has two older brothers who both played for the Brockville Bunnies, and Williams remembers going to watch them play and hoping he could one day do the same.
He started out playing tee-ball and then played in the Prescott Minor Ball system, working his way up the local baseball ladder while also finding time to play hockey in the South Grenville Minor Hockey Association. Baseball was his top priority, though, and he moved on to play with the Seaway baseball club before following in his brothers' footsteps and taking the field as a member of the Brockville Bunnies.
It was with the Bunnies that Williams really rounded into shape as a front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, and he credits the Bunnies' coaching staff - Dan Burns, Jason Murato and head coach Joe Hummell - for helping him refine his game. Over three years with the Bunnies, Williams got better and better, expanding his repertoire of pitches and learning what it took to get good hitters out, and at the end of his final year with the team, he was named the Pitcher of the Year.
It was very early on in his baseball career that Williams settled on the pitcher's mound as his favourite spot on the diamond and it has proven a good choice.
"I wasn't great defensively, but my arm was good enough to pitch, so that's where I stayed," he says.
Arm strength, though, isn't why he's so effective, even against college-level hitters. He's a control pitcher, who relies on location and command to induce weak contact or to fool a batter completely and catch him looking. He does it with three pitches - a fastball, curve and change-up - and though velocity isn't the key to his game, even a finesse pitcher can benefit from a few extra ticks on the fastball, which is why Williams' coaches at Seneca continue to work on his arm strength.
"I'm not a power pitcher by any means, but working on that really helps," he says.
After graduating from St. Mary's Catholic High School in Brockville, Williams took a year off before enrolling at Seneca College in civil engineering. He hopes to follow his older brother into the construction industry and in time become a project manager. It was a friend who had gone before him to Seneca who suggested Williams might be a good fit for the Sting's starting rotation and encouraged him to try out.
"It worked out pretty well," says Williams.
Indeed it did. But not right away. As a rookie, Williams wasn't sure how often he'd actually get out onto the mound. He didn't appear at all in the team's first weekend of play, but the coach eventually penciled him in, and Williams made sure to make it difficult for the coach to remove him from the rotation.
"They kept putting me in and I kept getting outs and keeping the runs down," he says.
The college game, however, is a little different than the baseball Williams had played before, so he had to be at his best to showcase his skills.
"There are some really good hitters in our league," he says.
The Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) is a high-level league, and the division in which the Seneca Sting plays happens to include the national champion Durham Lords from Oshawa.
"It's pretty competitive," says Williams. "It's almost the same as the universities."
The Sting's coaching staff worked with Williams throughout the season and began unlocking the potential that ought to make him a mainstay in the rotation next season as well. One member of the staff is even a player development coach with the Toronto Blue Jays and has been a great help to him. The coaches worked with Williams on everything from mechanics to in-game management and focused also on increasing his velocity to better match up with some of the elite hitters in the OCAA.
"It's definitely a step up," he says. "Everybody else is throwing a lot harder, so I need to work on my arm strength."
Even without the miles per hour, Williams was able to put together an impressive rookie season by outsmarting opposing hitters and keeping them guessing every time he took the mound. He ended the regular season with a remarkable 3.14 ERA and an impressive 4-1 record in six games, good for a second-place tie in the division for wins by a starter. Over the course of the season, he struck out 19 batters and gave up 22 hits. More remarkable still is the fact that of the 22 hits Williams surrendered, only three went for extra bases, and he did not give up a single home run.
There were several memorable moments during his award-winning season, but Williams has no difficulty picking out his favourite. It was the final game of the season against the Humber Hawks. Seneca had to win to make the playoffs. Williams took to the mound in only his sixth collegiate contest and pitched a complete game to lead the Sting to a 6-2 victory over Humber.
The playoffs didn't go as well for Seneca. They came up against the Hawks again and lost, and dropped a game to the St. Clair Saints, which meant an early exit from the playoffs. Next season, though, looks more promising for the Sting.
When Williams first joined the team, he found his teammates most welcoming, and he already counts many of them among his good friends, and it's partly this camaraderie and team spirit that will help the team improve on their record next season. The 2019 team also had a couple of welcome additions in two transfer students who arrived from a big school in North Vancouver and who quickly became important parts of a potential championship team.
"It's a great team to be on," says Williams.
After such an impressive rookie season, Williams will also be an important piece of the puzzle, but he knows that he still has some things to work on.
"I really want to improve my arm strength and throw harder and really keep my numbers down and help the team win a championship instead of losing out," he says.
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