Mitchell Smith was not exaggerating when he said he "never" pitched for the Pickerington High School North baseball team during its run to the Division I state championship in 2016.
But considering that Smith contributed to the run as its starting shortstop, saw occasional innings on the mound during the regular season and committed to Ohio State the next fall, he might not have dreamed of the impact he'd have on the Panthers as an upperclassman -- or at least how he'd make it.
Despite rarely pitching in summer ball the past few years and not being recruited by the Buckeyes to do so, Smith is North's top arm for the second consecutive season. He threw a no-hitter and a one-hitter in consecutive starts in mid-April and was 2-1 with a 0.45 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 10 walks in 31 innings through 19 games.
"It's exciting to have a chance to contribute in any way I can," Smith said. "I never pitched (during the state title run) and I don't pitch during the summer. Ohio State recruited me to be a middle infielder. (Pitching) is a different way to make a contribution to the team and have a chance to control the games."
Smith, who said he was a primary pitcher on his various teams until high school, threw his first career no-hitter April 10 at Gahanna, striking out five and walking four in a 13-0, five-inning victory. Eight days later against Reynoldsburg, he struck out 13 and gave up only one hit in a 3-0 win.
"On any night, he can compete with the best in the state," Panthers coach Tim Thomas said. "He has three pitches he can throw for strikes at any time and when two of those three are on, he can compete with anyone.
"We knew he could throw hard last year, but we knew he had to develop more beyond that. He worked hard (last) offseason to put himself over the top and develop more offspeed stuff. His improvement has been great to see."
As a sophomore, Smith batted .303 with 27 hits and nine RBI and was 2-2 on the mound with a 5.25 ERA, six walks and 14 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings. He did not throw an inning in the postseason.
Last year, he was 2-4 with a 3.47 ERA, 45 strikeouts and 17 walks in 42 1/3 innings and was not depended on as much at the plate, as he batted just .152 with 10 hits and six RBI.
"Mitchell is a guy who just says, 'Where do you need me to play?'" Thomas said. "He's a great catcher, but we haven't needed him to catch. We've put him at third base and he's been solid there. He's an excellent shortstop. We asked him (before the 2017 season) to be our No. 1 pitcher and told him he needs to be 'the guy.' He stepped up, took care of himself, did the arm care things our staff uses and it showed."
Smith was batting .333 with 18 hits and six RBI through 19 games, and North was 10-9 overall and 6-6 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Reynoldsburg on May 1.
The Panthers won three consecutive league games last week, beating Grove City 2-0 on April 26, Gahanna 3-2 on April 27 and Pickerington Central 1-0 in eight innings on April 28. North won the latter two games in their final at-bat.
"I think (OSU coach Greg) Beals will be pleasantly surprised as to what Mitchell can offer," Thomas said. "When Mitchell gets into the low 90s and his offspeed pitches are there, I think that's something OSU can look at down the road and see he can succeed."
Smith, who played linebacker in football and was a guard in the basketball program until this past season, said he'll play wherever the Buckeyes need him. But for now, he wants to help the Panthers make a postseason run reminiscent not only of 2016, but also of the football and basketball team's regional runner-up finishes over the past 14 months.
"I just want an opportunity to be on the field, wherever I'm needed," Smith said. "But I'm excited for the rest of this season. There's nothing like making a postseason run. You make lots of great memories. Relationships are built. It's pretty special."
North is seeded 19th in the 48-team district tournament and will play host to 33rd-seeded Chillicothe in a first-round game Monday, May 7. The winner will visit 13th-seeded Canal Winchester in the second round Wednesday, May 9.
The Panthers have not played Canal Winchester or Chillicothe this season.
Balance helping boys lacrosse team
The boys lacrosse team was 6-7 overall before playing St. Charles on May 1, and while coach Tyler Nelson hopes the Panthers can pocket a few more wins before the Division I regional tournament draw Sunday, May 6, there's another stat he hopes can point the team in that direction.
"Last year, we had Landon (Trout) and Bryce Keaton who scored a lot of goals. But when you have the amount of talent we have, I want to get it to where the younger guys get that mindset of pass first, score second," Nelson said. "Three assists and one goal is the stat line I want for all my guys. Eventually, they will start feeding one guy a lot."
Ethan Kevelder had six goals and Bryce Coleman scored four in a 15-5 win over Marysville on April 24.
Kevelder had a team-high 28 goals through 13 games, leading six players with at least 10 goals. Bryce Coleman had 23 goals, ahead of Keaton Trout (21), Pace Warner (15), Larry Martin (14) and Evan Hellmich (10).
A 24-2 loss to Dublin Coffman on April 26 dropped the Panthers to 3-3 in the OCC-Central entering a Friday, May 4, visit to Pickerington Central.
The Panthers have won five consecutive games in the series dating to 2014, including postseason victories each of the past two years.
A highlight of North's win over Marysville was a goal late in the third quarter by freshman attacker Tyler Brunelle, who is in remission from leukemia.
"That was the greatest thing to see in the world," Nelson said. "It might have been a pass that just snuck right there, but it was one of the best moments of the season for me, seeing the ball go in that net. The whole bench and all the fans were so excited. It's something we've all been aware of and we wanted to get that for him."
Volleyball team shows 'vast improvement'
A 23-25, 25-19, 25-19, 22-25, 15-12 loss to Gahanna on April 23 showed boys volleyball coach Marci Truex how far her team has come this season, and what she still wants to see with the Division I East Region tournament looming in two weeks.
The Panthers, who lost to the Lions 25-22, 25-18, 25-16 on April 3, were 7-9 overall and 4-5 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Hilliard Davidson on May 1.
Truex said she has seen increasingly assertive play, not just from veterans such as seniors Jack Kowalczyk (middle hitter) and Kyle Roach (libero/outside hitter) and junior Bradley Johnson (setter), but also from newer players, including senior Nate Martin (outside hitter) and juniors and Seth Burton (setter), Demetrius Davis (middle hitter) and Isaac Lambert (defensive spec-ialist/setter).
"This is a vast improvement, which is great to see at this point of the season," Truex said. "The potential is there. I see it rear its ugly head, but I'd like to see it rear its ugly head more often. I want to see more consistency. ... We dig ourselves holes that we attempt to climb out a little bit too much. Our matches won't get much easier. We'll have to work on our intensity level, playing with the intensity that we're capable of."
The match against Gahanna was North's first five-game contest of the season.
North rebounded with a 25-18, 25-15, 25-17 win over Reynoldsburg on April 24 and defeated Upper Arlington 12-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-22 on April 27.
"We have to get to a point where we're so tired of losing that we play how we're capable of," Truex said. "Sometimes, that's not the case. You don't necessarily learn until you fall a few times. It's taken us awhile to figure things out, but I have faith in them."
Below are the coming schedules for the North baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
May 3 -- Home vs. Hartley
*May 4 -- Home vs. Grove City. The Panthers defeated the Greyhounds 1-0 on April 20 and 2-0 on April 26.
May 5 -- Home vs. Bloom-Carroll (DH)
*May 4 -- At Pickerington Central
*May 4 -- At Pickerington Central
May 8 -- Home vs. Granville
*May 3 -- Home vs. Lancaster in makeup from April 24. The Panthers lost to the Golden Gales 7-3 on April 26.
May 4 -- Home vs. Watterson
May 5 -- Home vs. London and Olentangy
May 7 -- Home vs. 29th-seeded Whetstone in first round of Division I district tournament. Winner visits 14th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley in second round May 9. The Panthers are seeded 24th.
May 3 -- At Westerville North
May 7 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
May 8 -- At Bexley
TRACK & FIELD
May 4 -- Hilliard Bradley Invitational and Larkin/Crosten Invitational at Upper Arlington
May 9, 12 -- OCC-Ohio at Lancaster and Dublin Coffman
*May 3 -- At Pickerington Central. The Panthers defeated the Tigers 22-25, 25-22, 25-18, 25-16 on April 12.
May 5 -- At St. Charles with Akron Hoban
*May 8 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman. The Panthers lost to the Shamrocks 25-27, 25-20, 25-21, 25-21 on April 17.