Prior to the start of the 2013 season, Schalick High School baseball coach Travis LaFerriere predicted a breakout campaign for a member of his roster.
Ethan Francis is making his coach look like a prophet.
The Cougars catcher has been one of the area’s surprise offensive performers this year for a Schalick team enjoying one of its better seasons in recent history.
“Since he was a freshman, Ethan has been a leader,” said LaFerriere, now in his sixth year heading the team. “He has been well-coached and approaches the game the right way. He’s just a baseball-type guy.”
After going 12-11 in 2012 and getting a taste of the Group I South playoffs, Francis made it a point entering this, his junior year, to ramp up the intensity. One look at his production at the plate shows whatever he did is working.
When it comes to the area’s hitting leaders, Francis is near or at the top of the list in a handful of categories.
“Came in during the offseason and really wanted to do a lot of damage and really help the team out a lot this year,” Francis said. “Hopefully I’m doing that. We’re having a strong season and everything has kind of clicked for me.”
Francis doesn’t need to hope he’s making a difference. The numbers tell the story.
The junior is hitting an area-best .534 with a team-leading 25 RBIs and three home runs. Francis’ 31 hits are tops on the Cougars and the catcher is slugging .776 with a 1.396 OPS.
“Mechanically, his swing has always been pretty tight, but his pitch selection gave him trouble last season,” LaFerriere said. “His approach in the box has gotten more mature and he is hitting in good counts.”
As for Francis’ work behind the plate, that’s where LaFerriere said his backstop stands to see the most progress.
“He could still use some improvement defensively in order to play at the next level,” LaFerriere said. “He has been working hard on his deliveries to second base and has also worked on his speed and agility.”
Francis plans to show the same dedication to improving himself as a defensive catcher as he did with his bat.
“I started when I was maybe like 13 or 14, but I really like catching,” Francis said. “You really have to control the game, handle the pitchers, so it’s something I like a lot.
“You can always improve and I always try to work hard to find ways to improve my game. There’s really no ceiling on how strong your arm can get, how quick you can get behind the plate, so I always look to get better and quicker and stronger.”
For now, the focus for Francis and the 12-7 Cougars is to make their mark in the state tournament.
Schalick is seeded ninth and will travel to eighth-seeded Woodbury on Monday for its playoff opener.
“Last year was really our first year in a long time that we had a winning season,” Francis said. “We’ve experienced winning, we know how to do it a lot better and we expect to win more.
“We want to get some momentum for the (Group I South) playoffs and go past the first round. It hasn’t been done in a while at Schalick and we’re trying to get some playoff wins and see how far we can go.”