By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Back in 2006 North Tonawanda baseball was a reputable program. John Chairmonte was at the helm and the Lumberjacks were a perennial contender in the Niagara Frontier League.
But recently the Jacks have fallen upon hard times on the diamond. Last season they finished 3-15 and now the team has welcomed its fourth coach in as many years: Eric Partnell.
Partnell played for North Tonawanda and hopes to help this year’s team bring the program back to respectability. Chairmonte (Partnell’s coach back in 2006) will serve as an assistant to the young skipper as he attempts to restore a winning culture at North Tonawanda.
“Last season was certainly disappointing for everyone at NT,” Partnell said. “So we certainly expect better than that, and that’s why we’re doing what we need to do to get back to a winning program. We kind of had the reputation of being a good baseball program and the past couple seasons haven’t been real good for us.”
The Jacks return a number of players from last year’s squad, and Partnell said they have grown from their experience last season.
Chris Mellott will bat cleanup and catch an improved rotation for the Jacks. Partnell said Mellott is the player who holds everything together for NT, and the team will rely on his leadership.
Batting leadoff is senior Josh Brosius, who has signed to play at Erie Community College next season. Brosius struggled at the plate last season hitting .240, but Partnell said he has been working tirelessly all offseason to get his swing to where it needs to be.
“The team and coaches voted him captain,” Partnell said. “He’s a real athletic kid who comes in and works hard and does what he has to do. … A couple summers back I coached him on a travel team and a friend of mine was working with him at Sports Performance Park all winter. He’s getting other guys to go with him out there, getting in the cage and working on the fundamentals; fine-tuning that swing.”
On the mound the Jacks have a one-two punch in senior captain Matt Noakes and sophomore lefty Taylor Mellott.
Noakes has a fastball that shoots hard and down at the knees and has been working on improving his breaking ball, Partnell said. “He probably has one of the nicer curve balls on the roster. We did a couple drills the other day and we all said, ‘Watch Matt, he does it right.’ “
Noakes has already noticed a difference since Partnell took over.
“We definitely have a lot more organization,” Noakes said. “We have more coaches for more positions. It was hard last year with only the one or two coaches we had. We have three coaches now. I feel like all of us have gotten better.”
Mellott played last year as a freshman and was the only player Partnell let come out for the varsity team.
“You can tell he just fits in,” Partnell said. “His arm strength is incredible for a sophomore. He has a nice breaking pitch going and he’s even working on some new stuff. He could have four or five pitches in the repertoire by the end here.”
Tom O’Connor will man the middle at shortstop with Chris Jurzcak at second base. Nick Baron and Curtis Swan join Brosius in the outfield, and senior Jacob Clare will move between first and third.
Partnell said that the change he is looking to see in the program begins with preparation. After being cooped up in the gym for weeks working on fundamentals, he’s hoping the team will be able to put some of what’s been taught into action on the diamond.
“We’ve tried to get the fundamentals in while we’re inside so when we get outside we’re ready to go,” he said. “We’ve tried to fine-tune some things like situational hitting, hitting your spots from the mound and just starting with the basics.
“Guys that were here know that losing isn’t fun. That’s something I’ve been trying to preach. Last season wasn’t fun for anyone, it seems, and we’re just trying to change that culture.”NT Projected Lineup 1 -- Josh Brosius (CF) 2 -- Tom O'Connor (SS) 3 -- Taylor Mellott (1B/P) 4 -- Chris Mellott (C) 5 -- Matt Noakes (3B/P) 6 -- Nick Baron (RF) 7 -- Jacob Clare (1B/3B) 8 -- Curtis Swan (LF) 9 -- Chris Jurzcak (2B) Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.