By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Bulldogs baseball coach Leslie Simon has been at Kenmore East for 13 years and has seen a lot of things — but never a no-hitter.
That is, until April 3 this season.
Junior righty Jeff White took to the hill that day to battle Bishop Grimes, out of East Syracuse, in the second game of the Mingo Bay Classic, and he was feeling it from the moment he threw his first warm up pitch.
”Before the game I just put on my headphones, listened to my music and I just sort of focused on pitching,” White said. “I guess that day I warmed up and I felt really good. I was throwing all strikes and I usually can tell before a game if I’m going to throw pretty good.”
The Bulldogs have struggled in Niagara Frontier League play, going 1-6 to start the season. White is 0-3, but his 17 innings pitched and 14 strikeouts lead the team. His confidence is sky high after his memorable day under the sun at Myrtle Beach.
The no-hitter snuck up on White. As he walked into the dugout after five innings a teammate nudged him and said, “Look at the scoreboard. Keep it going.”
So White did what he’s known for: kicked at the rubber, put his head down and kept working.
”Six more outs,” was all that was running through his mind.
”My teammates were playing awesome behind me, not making a single error all game, and just making the routine plays,” White said. “The sixth inning finished and still no hits, so I figured we can get this done. In the seventh inning, I remember the last out was a high pop out behind third and I thought it was going to get dropped. Sure enough the left fielder came in and made the grab — it was awesome.”
Two weeks later, against the team’s No. 1 rival Kenmore West, the Bulldogs suffered a 3-2 heartbreaking loss.
White was on the hill.
When Simon talks about his emerging pitching star, he always starts with the story of the moments after the Ken West game before he regales listeners with the details of the no-hitter.
”The look on his face after we lost to West — how hurt he was — it just showed his level of caring,” Simon said. “My best memory of Jeff isn’t the no-hitter, it’s how disappointed he was (losing to West) because he wanted us to win.”
Simon calls White a “classic pitcher” and an “old school guy.” While most teenagers would rather be at a computer or playing video games, White just wants to play sports.
The three-sport athlete plays soccer in the Fall and hockey in the Winter, and he’s been playing baseball since he was 8 years old; ever since his days on the diamond at Tonawanda American Little League.
On the mound White said he’s a setup pitcher, who relies on location and changing speeds. He throws two-seam and four-seam fastballs and mixes in a developing change up and a curveball he’s thrown since he was 12.
”He’s not going to throw the ball by you,” Simon said. “He changes speed, he tries to get ahead in the count, he understands location and he keeps his pitch count down by using his defense. He studies, takes care of himself and has a great understanding of pitching. He always gives us a chance to win.”
Devon Taggert entered the season as the Bulldogs’ No. 1 pitcher, but Simon said White has become the ace of the staff.
White entered this season relaxed, playing with the pressure off because he is a junior and still learning his craft. But his early-season success has catapulted him into the limelight.
Simon thinks White is the perfect guy to shoulder the load for Ken East. He’s the type of kid that brings a team together.
”He’s Whitey — he’s one of the guys,” Simon said. “He’s a humble guy. He’s had a lot of media coverage on the no-hitter and he always deflects the credit to his teammates. One of 15. He’s fun to be around and fun to coach.”
Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.