Horizon Honors’ Connell flourishing after return to diamond - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Horizon Honors’ Connell flourishing after return to diamond

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Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 12:45 pm | Updated: 7:00 am, Mon Sep 8, 2014.

Jake Connell gave up lacrosse and golf since moving here from New York State.

Good decision.

It’s not casting aspersions on his ability to play those sports, but an indication of the impact he has had on the sports he does play for Horizon Honors.

The junior has concentrated on basketball and baseball since he and his family moved to Arizona from Rochester, N.Y., so his dad, Kevin, could take a job at Horizon Honors although the latter moved on to another school.

“I took a few years off and it took some time to get back into the swing of things coming into my freshman year,” he said. “I wanted to get back into it because I figured it was my strong suit. I had a solid year (as a freshman) and have become more comfortable each year.

“I got hits in my first five at bats this year and really haven’t stopped. It’s been unimaginable.”

While he was one of the Eagles’ top guards on the basketball team, he is the clear offensive leader for the baseball program.

As the basketball season limped to an end, Connell couldn’t wait to get back on the diamond.

“It was disappointing in multiple areas and there was some turmoil,” Connell said. “At the end all I wanted to do was get the baseball season started. We haven’t had good seasons the last couple years, but I had a good feeling about this year.”

It’s been an impressive run by Connell through the first 13 games of the year as the right-handed swinging center fielder was hitting .611 (22 for 36) with 16 runs and 16 RBIs. It’s backing up last year’s breakout year when he hit .458 (27 of 59) with 22 runs and 13 RBIs.

“He’s had a fantastic start,” Horizon Honors coach Kevin Burdette said. “He hasn’t stopped and he is always working to get better. He hasn’t taken anything for granted. The ball looks huge right now because he is seeing it so well.”

Burdette, who was an assistant at Desert Vista before taking over the program five years ago, said the different reasons behind big numbers is two-fold.

“Last year, if he didn’t get a hit in his first at-bat he seemed to carry that with him,” Burdette said. “Now, he is putting together good at-bats no matter what. His mental approach has been better. The other thing is he has more protection in the lineup. Teams started pitching around him last year because no one else was really hitting, but they can’t do that this year.”

The muscle around Connell is senior first baseman Owen Fite (.378, 12 RBIs) and freshman third baseman Chase Edwards (.412, 10 doubles, 12 RBIs).

“Those guys are having great years,” Connell said. “I know I am going to get some pitches to hit because of what they are doing.”

The team has a shot at its winning season since at least the 2007 season after going 6-7 through Wednesday. The Division III postseason is still a goal and possibly with a strong finish.

One of the team’s strengths has been the ability to come back, a sign of trust within the team, as the Eagles overcame four-run deficits to beat Arizona Lutheran Academy and Chandler Prep in back-to-back games at the end of March.

“We know that we are never out of a game,” Fite said. “Once we get the first runner on you don’t want to be odd man out and end a rally. It’s contagious and we can get it rolling.”

While the offense has been pretty consistent, Burdette said the difference might come down to pitching.

“When we throw strikes, we are tough to beat because we can swing it and our defense is solid,” he said. “The problem is the pitching isn’t always there so we need to tighten that up and take some of the pressure off the offense.

“They realize what we want to do. The next step is winning that next game and we have to do it day-by-day.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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