Lucas Kelly and Jason Martin have known each other and played baseball together since they were 8 years old.
So it’s no coincidence that when Martin was on the mound for South Lewis these past few seasons, and his buddy, Kelly, was behind the plate, there was a “natural’’ cohesion between pitcher and catcher.
“We were on the same page so often, sometimes I didn’t even have to put down a sign,’’ Kelly said. “I always knew what Jason would do, and he knew what I was going to do as well.’’
With another standout season on both offense and defense, it’s only fitting that Kelly succeeds Martin as the Times All-North Frontier League MVP. His outstanding work helped South Lewis finish 18-2, win the Frontier League “C’’ Division title and capture a second Section 3 Class C crown in the past three seasons before losing in the state quarterfinals.
“It’s not the way we wanted the season to end,’’ Kelly said. “But I think we’ve established a great program here, and I hope that I’ve played a part in that and have taught some of the younger players how to play the game the right way.’’
Kelly batted .424 this season with 28 hits, including three home runs and seven triples. Kelly drove in 32 runs in five less games than last year due to weather postponements.
He also showed off his speed by stealing 13 bases.
That was on the heels of a breakout junior season in which he earned All-North honors by batting .480 and driving in a school-record 46 runs.
The red-haired Kelly said this year “was a little bit more of a struggle than last year. The hits didn’t fall quite as much, and it was much harder to get into any kind of rhythm with all of the bad weather.’’
Still, Kelly was the Falcons’ most consistent and productive hitter.
“Lucas is one of those players that takes a great deal of pride in his hitting, and it shows by the way he works at it every day,’’ South Lewis coach Chad Brown said. “He’s got great concentration at the plate, he has really good plate discipline and almost never swings at a bad pitch.’’
Kelly said he became a more disciplined, stronger hitter because of working on his swing over the offseason and dedication in the weight room.
“We’re in the gym a lot working on hitting skills and trying to become a better player,’’ Kelly said. “That’s a tribute to our coaching staff, coach Brown and (assistant) coach (Brian (Greene) that they put in the time to help us. They’ve taught me an awful lot the last three years and I’ll always be grateful.’’
Brown said Kelly also developed into a consistent, reliable catcher this season.
“He worked hard to become a better receiver, and really improved his throwing accuracy,” Brown said. “No one really attempted to steal in our three sectional games, and that’s hard to say at this level.’’
Kelly said he always wanted to be known as a “well-rounded’’ player and not just a hitter. “I take a lot of pride in working hard and helping my team out as a catcher. It’s a tough position, but I’ve really learned to enjoy it because you are in the game on every pitch.’’
Though Kelly isn’t a rah-rah type of player that shows a lot of emotion on the field, he became one of the Falcons’ quiet leader the past two seasons.
“Lucas is not afraid to tell his teammates what he thinks,’’ Brown said. “I’ve heard some stories about him letting Jason know how he feels, and it’s pretty strong stuff. But he’s what a great teammate is all about.’’
Kelly will head off to Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica to continue his baseball career. His goal this summer is “to spend as much time as I can in the weight room. I’m at about 190 (pounds) right now. My goal is to hit 215 before I go to college.’’
He also plays part-time with the Boonville American Legion team.
Kelly said the toughest part of leaving for college “is not being around Jason and the coaches every day. They’ve become such an important part of my life. But I’m sure we’ll stay in touch.’’