'Ice Man' Weitzel provides spark for driven Centennial

March 27, 1994|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Sun Staff Writer

Teammates call Kurt Weitzel the "Ice Man" because nothing rattles him.

The Centennial senior pitcher and shortstop thrives on situations that turn lesser players into jelly.

Take last Wednesday's game against defending county and state 2A champion Glenelg, for instance.

Weitzel was on the mound with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the eighth of a 1-1 game, with the Gladiators' clean-up hitter, Mike Goldberg, due up.

Goldberg had ripped a double in the fourth inning. No sweat for the "Ice Man." Goldberg grounded out to short.

Weitzel, the only freshman ever to play varsity baseball at Centennial, then led off the bottom of the eighth with a single and eventually scored the winning run on Kevin O'Connor's sacrifice fly.

No. 13 Centennial had won a game crucial to its county championship hopes, and the No. 4 Gladiators probably wondered why Weitzel hadn't started against them last season.

"I've never seen Kurt rattled," Centennial coach Ron Martin said. "Nothing fazes him. If ever there's a guy I want batting in a tight game, it's Kurt."

Martin has so much confidence in Weitzel that in the fifth inning against Glenelg he flashed the bunt sign to No. 2 hitter Jason Babcock with one out and a runner on first base. He wanted Weitzel to have a chance to drive in the go-ahead run. Weitzel grounded out.

"Would I do that with someone else coming up? Probably not," Martin said. "I figured one run would decide the game."

Not many pitchers would be ready to pitch a complete game so early in the season, but Weitzel and his teammates dedicated themselves to being as ready as possible for their senior season.

"The night we lost to Lansdowne in the state championship game we were upset and made up our minds we'd go back and win it this season," Weitzel said.

So they worked out all winter at an area batting cage. And Weitzel, along with teammate Dave Hudson, took pitching lessons from Jerry Bark and his son, Brian.

Brian pitched for North Carolina State and was optioned last week to the Atlanta Braves' Triple-A team in Richmond, Va.

"Jerry was great," Weitzel said. "He put more movement on my fastball by showing me the right way to grip it and he changed my motion a lot. It's more compact now with a smaller leg kick."

Jerry Bark also stopped Weitzel from tilting his head during his wind-up.

"Brian introduced me to the slider which worked well against Glenelg," Weitzel said. "He also taught me a changeup, but I'm still learning to control that."

Because of his lack of size, Weitzel (5-foot-11, 152 pounds) needs every advantage he can get. By midseason he expects his fastball will reach 82 mph.

Many players would have been content with the kind of numbers Weitzel posted last season. He was 8-4 with a 1.10 ERA. He struck out 99 batters in 70 innings, allowed 49 hits and walked 17. He also batted .325.

Weitzel has batted .304 over three seasons. In two seasons pitching, his record is 13-6. He played center field his freshman year and didn't pitch.

"Kurt is masterful at keeping batters off balance, is a good contact hitter who knows the game and he excels at the mental aspect. He looks forward to a challenge," Martin said. "He's also a team player who doesn't get upset about errors."

Three unearned runs in the sixth inning cost Centennial the state title last season against Lansdowne. Weitzel pitched a six-hitter but the Eagles lost, 3-0.

"Errors are human. You can't get mad at someone. It just brings down the team if you do," Weitzel said. "I've always been taught to stress the team."

Weitzel's best pitching effort came against Watkins Mill in the Class 3A state semifinal at Arundel High.

Watkins Mill was 16-2 and led by Jason Smithberger, a hot Division I college recruit. Weitzel struck out 13, walked none and allowed four hits in seven innings. Watkins Mill never got a runner past second base.

Centennial went ahead in the top of the eighth, 2-0, as Weitzel tripled home the winning run and scored on a sacrifice fly. Hudson earned the save in the bottom of the eighth thanks to a stellar play at shortstop by Weitzel.

"I'll always remember that game," Weitzel said. "It was the best I ever pitched. And a lot of credit goes to my catcher, Jason Babcock, who called a great game."

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