Originally published in East Montgomery Observer
November 13, 2007
By JONATHAN YARDLEY
With his twin brother on his mind, Splendora senior Joe Connell played with twice the heart in helping Splendora to a 22-15 win over Coldspring and a second consecutive District 22-3A title last Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
Before the game, Joe Connell shared an emotional pregame Senior Night ceremony with his parents and twin brother, Josh, who is unable to play after an offseason accident.
On his second carry of the game, Joe Connell had the wind knocked out of him, and he did not return until midway through the second quarter.
But when crunch time arrived in the fourth quarter, Joe Connell's inspiration was close at hand.
"I was thinking somebody's coming behind me and pushing me," Joe Connell said of his hard-nosed running. "That's the way my brother used to run the ball. My brother, I did that for him."
Splendora trailed 15-14 with 9:06 remaining, but Joe Connell helped the Wildcats bash downfield on a nine-play journey to re-take the lead. Joe Connell carried on five of the nine plays, including a 16-yard touchdown run on which he broke two tackles to score with 4:27 left.
When Splendora went for two to restore a one-touchdown lead, Joe Connell was the only place to go, and he powered his way across the goal line with help from his teammates.
"I couldn't have done it without [Josh Ables] lead blocking," Joe Connell said. "The tackles, [Mike] Whelihan and [Josh] Penton, played their butts off."
Four minutes later, with Coldspring driving in an attempt to tie the game or go ahead, Joe Connell was in the game at linebacker and in the right place at the right time to scoop up a fumble and seal the victory.
Afterward, as he reflected on the team's comeback from an early 7-0 deficit, Joe Connell could have been reflecting on his, and the team's, entire season.
"We knew we had to make an adjustment and come back," he said. "Heart brought us through that game."
13 November 2007
02 May 2007
|Jonathan Dziedzic, 2007|
Photo by Jonathan Yardley
original publication date - May 2, 2007
By JONATHAN YARDLEY
The questions arose at every high-school baseball game I went to this spring. In every press box I sat in, with most coaches I talked to, with every parent sitting behind home plate with scorebook in hand.
At first, I was the one asking the questions. After a few games here and there, I wound up answering it and weighing in with my opinion.
Around Humble ISD ballparks this year, I kept hearing, “Have you seen this kid, this lefty? Is he for real? What’s he got? He’s not that big, right? Does he throw hard?”
It’s the same chatter we hear about prospects at all levels. We asked the same questions when scouting for Little League tournaments. We asked the same thing of our coaches when sizing up other teams in high school. We settled the question by watching endless videotape of opponents in college. But for all the questions we ask, we usually need to see it ourselves to believe it.
Having seen Atascocita’s Jonathan Dziedzic pitch a couple times, I can vouch that he is for real. He’s not an overpowering, dominant prospect likely to go in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft. But he is a legit high school ace with Division I potential, and he is the biggest reason the Eagles had such an outstanding season in District 21-5A. Oh, by the way, he’s a sophomore.
Not to take away from Atascocita’s defense and baserunning (which has been terrific) or Eric Matthews and his coaching staff (who do an excellent job of keeping their kids grounded), but Atascocita would not have finished the season in a tie for second place without Dziedzic.
All season, he has kept district opponents wondering which is harder: pronouncing his last name or facing him at the plate. It’s pronounced Jezzic, by the way, rhyming with Andre the Giant’s lovable “Princess Bride” character Fezzik. Took me three games to figure that out.
Having inevitably failed to pronounce the name on the scorecard and having heard the rumors of this pitcher’s dominance, opposing coaches probably expect to see a hefty 6-footer strolling out to the mound, sure of his superiority. Instead, they get Dziedzic.
Standing no more than 5-foot-10, with dark hair and braces, Dziedzic is nowhere near imposing. Off the field, he is shy with strangers (at least with those interviewing him for the first time) but quick to break the tension with a laugh.
On the mound is another story. Dziedzic is as quietly intense as they come, focused only on his catcher’s glove each time he goes into his windup. He remained pretty unflappable in the tense 3-2 win over Baytown Sterling April 20, although he admitted to being nervous on a fly ball caught at the warning track. Watching closely, you might notice the occasional fist pump or spike of adrenalin, but he stays on an even keel most of the game.
Fans, coaches, opposing players, parents, scouts and even journalists inevitably discuss pitchers in terms of stuff. A fastball in the low 80s with life, topping out at 83. Big-breaking curve around 70 mph probably on a 1-to-8 tilt (those numbers reference a pitch’s break by hours on a clock, for those not in the know). Very occasional change in the low 70s. Excellent command. Good makeup.
Those are the basics of the scouting report on Dziedzic. His fastball is not overpowering, even on the high-school level – starters from Baytown Sterling and Kingwood, among others, throw harder. But the potential is there – with growth in size and arm strength from the 15-year-old – to add anywhere from 3-7 miles per hour in the next three years, which would make anyone – especially a lefthander – a collegiate prospect.
The curveball is the out pitch, a big bender that can start out of the strike zone and freeze a hitter when it drops into the zone or tantalize hitters into swinging at a pitch that suddenly disappears. Baytown Lee hitters struck out five times on curveballs in the dirt last Friday.
Command is the most important factor – Dziedzic averages less than two walks per seven innings pitched – and appears advanced for his age. Few pitchers can throw two pitches for strikes and command them within the strike zone. Dziedzic is well ahead of the curve on that one.
Perhaps most overlooked, however, is the delivery. Dziedzic has an average leg kick – he does not yet hold runners on well, a minus for a lefthander – but “hides the ball” well, in baseball parlance. Hitters find it difficult to pick up the baseball, because he keeps the ball in his glove until late in the wind-up, when he drops his arm behind his left hip, screening the batter from the ball. His glove hand and follow-through serve as added distractions for hitters trying to track the baseball. Hiding the ball can be taught at most levels and is not the most important skill by any means, but it backs up Dziedzic’s stuff, command and demeanor, thereby placing him at the forefront of pitchers in a district that includes at least two Division I signees already.
With district play completed, Dziedzic has answered all the questions. He’s not that big. He doesn’t throw that hard. He’s not overpowering. He’s not the second coming of Sandy Koufax. He’s not singularly responsible for Atascocita’s playoff result this weekend.
But he is legit, and area baseball fans have two more years to come up with new questions to answer about Jonathan Dziedzic. By next year, when college and professional scouts will be making their way out Will Clayton Parkway to see him pitch, everyone will know how to pronounce his name.