It takes a rare type of athlete to earn a scholarship offer from an Atlantic Coast Conference power in baseball, but just how unique is it for two kids from Rochester to have that opportunity?
Greece Athena (Rochester, N.Y.) High School’s Casey Saucke II, who is committed to Virginia, and Penfield (N.Y.) High School’s Gage Ziehl, a Miami commit, were special from an early age, according to Matt Dryer, one of their trainers and travel coaches.
Dryer was a standout at McQuaid and won an NCAA championship with the Miami Hurricanes in 2001 before a seven-year stint as a player in the minors and independent leagues. He’s now the founder of the Diamond Pro travel team in East Rochester, where he first met Ziehl around the age of 10 and laid out a prediction that eventually came true.
“When he was 10 years old, he started on our 13-year-old team. That’s how good he was,” Dryer said. “I told him, ‘Hey man you’re going to the University of Miami’ and so he went out and bought a green glove.
“The cool thing about him going to Miami is all of our travel teams were called the Diamond Pro Hurricanes, so we have replica Miami uniforms and it’s kind of neat for him to spend his whole amateur career as a Hurricane.”
The 6-foot pitcher made his commitment to Miami in September and is adamant that it wouldn’t have been possible without the influence of Dryer and his high school coach Nick Marcin.
“(Matt’s) been huge, he’s helped me out a lot. He’s done so much for me in getting me to where I need to be. He’s definitely meant a lot to me,” Ziehl said.
Dryer’s belief in Ziehl’s potential helped his confidence grow, but so did playing with and against the best players in the country.
“He’s always been great with Gage as far as giving him that confidence and spending time with him,” Ziehl’s mother, Patty, said. “I think with him being with Diamond Pro, they have so much more to offer than other travel teams.
“The last two or three years Gage has improved his strength and speed immensely. To be able to play with the best players in (Monroe) County and against some of the best teams in the area, that’s how you get better.”
Ziehl is in his second varsity season at Penfield. He is batting .412 with 7 doubles in 11 games and has a 3-1 record with a 1.59 earned run average with 33 strikeouts in 22 innings. He made All-Greater Rochester as a freshman after batting .375 with 27 hits and 24 RBI and striking out 47 batters in 37 1/3 innings and going 3-3 with a 1.12 ERA in 2018.
Saucke II joined Diamond Pro a few years after Ziehl, due to a connection between his father, Casey Saucke Sr. who played at Le Moyne College and in the minor leagues for the Baltimore Orioles, and Dryer.
“When I got done playing, I was always giving hitting and fielding lessons. Casey would always tag along since he could walk and he was always just hitting, hitting and throwing,” Saucke Sr. said. “He always played against older kids and continued excelling, so we wanted to challenge him.”
That’s where Diamond Pro came in, providing the 6-foot-2-inch shortstop with excellent coaching and the opportunity to receive exposure on a national scale.
“I started playing my eighth grade year, my dad had actually coached me all the way up until then, but we decided to make that transition just to get some new experiences and feed off the new coaches,” Saucke II said.
“I feel like the transition was very smooth, they took me in and Matt kind of took me under his wing. He’s helped me out a lot and he’s a great guy, so I thank him for all of this.”
Saucke II also played varsity as a freshman, batting .413 with 26 hits and 18 RBI. He appeared in five games as a pitcher going 1-1 with a 1.75 ERA and a save while striking out 12 in 12 innings. He has been even more impressive this spring, compiling a .605 batting average with 23 hits, 11 RBI, 6 doubles, a triple and a home run through 12 games. He has pitched in four games, going 1-0 while allowing two hits and striking out six in 5 innings of work.
He announced his commitment to Virginia in November, just two months after his travel teammate.
Many future college players and minor leaguers have suited up for Diamond Pro, but what is it that makes these two sophomores special enough to get scholarship offers this early?
“The first thing that immediately separates them from everybody is physicality, they’re bigger, faster and stronger. They’re both 15 years old and throwing 85-88 miles per hour,” Dryer said. “Casey runs very well, they’re just more physical, that’s the bottom line.”
There’s also a mental aspect and a maturity that separates them from other good players in the area.
“My dad built me into the player I am, transitioning to Diamond Pro and having both my dad and Matt’s minds about the game were able to help me so much. Not to mention my high school coach Jason Bunting, he’s done so much for me as well,” Saucke II said. “Just having all three of those brains that know so much about the game, I’m in a great atmosphere to keep improving and developing.”
As if they needed any more motivation to stay hungry, the two sophomores have developed a friendly rivalry that will continue once they get to the ACC.
“Me and Casey have a good relationship, we talk to each other often. We’re even closer when we play in the summer,” Ziehl said. “I feel like me and him have that ‘Whose going to be better (mentality)’, so we make each other better.”
They even visited Miami together, though Ziehl came up just short of convincing Saucke II to join him in Coral Gables.
“He’s my boy, he’s a really good baseball player. It helps to have a guy to keep competing with. I was really close to going to Miami, it was Virginia and Miami in my top two,” Saucke II said. “I loved everything about Miami, but Virginia pulled it out at the end.”