Sock’s Martin knew Barone had talent

Zac Martin knew what was coming a year before Nick Barone reached high school.

Well, change that. The Loyalsock baseball coach knew Barone could make an immediate impact as a freshman, but could not have imagined that he would become so prolific.

While others were busy playing games on their iPads last year, Martin witnessed Barone and his future high school teammates watching Major League Baseball highlights. Barone loves baseball, thinks baseball and is becoming a consummate baseball player. The freshman continued his dazzling debut season Friday against visiting Jersey Shore, going 3 for 4 with a triple, double and two RBIs as Loyalsock won, 10-0, in six innings.

“Those (freshmen) are all in and Nick is definitely one of those kids. They’re just baseball guys. There’s a difference between guys that play baseball and baseball players and Nick is one of them,” Martin said. “Nick is everything we want both athletically, baseball talent-wise and with the type of kid he is.”

Barone is a strong and athletic, sweet-swinger who has anchored the middle of Loyalsock’s order most of this season. He is hitting near .500 and has been one of the team’s top run producers, making a rapid adjustment to the high school game. Barone has also provided a consistent defensive presence at first base and has been instrumental to Loyalsock surging late and entering the postseason on a five-game winning streak.

But it is what Barone has done offensively which really has stood out. Playing against one of the district’s most demanding schedules, Barone has become one of its most consistent hitters, delivering 11 multi-hit performances. He has hit safely in nearly every game, has good power and hits to all fields. He might be a freshman, but he does not hit or think like one.

“Nick has been the anchor this year in our lineup. He’s just a great kid,” Martin said. “I’ve seen a bunch of freshmen in my time that have come in and they think they’re better and they act like it. You could be around Nick for an entire season and you would not know that he’s approaching .500 from the four-hole facing strong competition and getting people’s best nearly every game.”

“I’m just trying to come in and do what is best for the team,” Barone said. “I’m playing my part and trying my best to help the team win as much as possible.”

And he is excelling at that role. Take away Barone and Loyalsock might not be a playoff team. It took a while for the Lancers to find their footing a season after losing several starters from a district finalist. The Lancers were 3-5 and 7-8 at different points but Barone’s consistent production played a big role in keeping the playoffs within striking distance. The Lancers are now playoff-bound and look like a title contender again.

Throughout this entire roller coaster season, Barone has been a constant. He opened the season facing Connecticut-bound pitcher Reggie Crawford and smashed a single off his leg in its first high school at-bat. He has faced various Division I pitchers since then, as well as several other standouts, and has kept delivering. Barone opened the season hitting in the No. 2 hole in front of Connor Watkins before Martin moved him into the clean-up spot behind Watkins. Wherever he has hit, Barone has delivered, often playing his best against Loyalsock’s toughest competition.

Loyalsock has good speed at the top of its order with Alex Schluter and Anthony Pastore in the first two spots. Sandwiching Barone between a four-year starter like Watkins and a scorching hot Dane Armson has made Loyalsock’s lineup especially potent. That was evident again yesterday as the Nos. 3-5 hitters provided six hits, four extra-base hits and four RBIs. Watkins hit a one-out double in the sixth inning, making it 9-0 and Barone ended it seconds later, lacing a walk-off single into left field. Ironically, the one time Barone was retired he just missed hitting a home run that would have given him the cycle.

“I was just trying to put one in play and get Connor in from second and end the game,” Barone said. “I was seeing the ball well today.”

What Loyalsock likes as much as Barone’s production is his approach. Instant high school success has not changed Barone. He remains the same hard-working, selfless player that entered the program a few months ago. He absorbs information like a sponge and is not becoming complacent. This is a good start, but Barone wants to keep getting better.

And just think about where he could go.

“We have an approach with him at the plate and we keep bringing him back to it, but he’s humble enough to accept it. He doesn’t say, ‘No coach I’m hitting .490, this is how I’m going to do it.’ He says, ‘Ok, Coach,'” Martin said. “To be humble, coachable and so gifted, that makes such a difference. I hope it stays. We’re going to work our butts off, but he doesn’t show an ounce of the personality that he’s going to evolve into one of those guys who shows up at the park and thinks he’s better than every person here. He shows up to the park and he’s just one of the guys. He just wants to work.”