Grand finalePublished 12:42am Saturday, July 27, 2013
WILLIAMSTON — Going into his final year at Riverside, Knights’ catcher Matt Wisnieweski promised himself that he would make it count.
It was a promise that would not be broken.
On top of being the best defensive catcher in the Four Rivers Conference, the Riverside senior batted .423 on the season while smashing two home runs and driving in a team second-best 27 RBIs.
Wisnieswski’s efforts helped the Knights go 22-4 and win the Four Rivers Conference championship and advance to the fourth round of the playoffs for the third straight year. It also helped him earn the Four Rivers Conference Player of the Year as well as the Washington Daily News Position Player of the Year award.
“It was my last year here so I had to make it count,” said Wisniewski, who will play baseball next season at Chowan. “I had off years as a sophomore and junior at the plate. This year I focused more at the plate and still did pretty good behind the plate.”
Pretty good behind the plate is a bit of an understatement. The senior catcher has routinely been clocked at under two seconds to second base and on top of that he’s one of the best around at framing and blocking pitches.
“He’s just so fundamentally sound behind the plate,” Riverside coach Hank Tice said. “When you got guys at second and third and a 3-2 count you feel comfortable throwing a curve in the dirt because it’s going to get blocked. … A lot of high school coaches have to call a fastball in that count and might give up a hit.
“We’ve just been blessed to throw any pitch in any count because we know it’s not going to get past Matt.”
A three-year starter for the Knights, Wisniewski has been able to develop a good rapport with his pitchers, which is something that cannot be overlooked.
“I would rather have Matt back there than anybody,” said Knights pitcher Kyle Leggett, who went 14-1 with a 1.82 ERA this season. “I just came back from Charlotte (for the State Games) and I pitched to catchers there that I didn’t know and I didn’t like it. I would rather pitch to him than anybody else.”
Aside from his leadership and strong clubhouse presence, Wisniewski’s ability to frame pitches makes pitchers warm up to him rather quickly.
“He’s really good at that. If I throw it a bit outside he can push it in an inch and make it a strike,” Leggett said.
Tice agreed and said that Wisniewski’s ability to get calls had a profound impact on games.
“He’s the one kid that I’ve seen over the years that could make umpires adjust their strike zone because of his ability to frame pitches,” Tice said. “We always try to stay on the outside part of the plate and his job the first two batters is to see what the umpires are going to give us. If it’s a close pitch and it’s called a ball we stay there, and just because of his ability umpires have to change their strike zone.”
Wisniewski has also shown great ability at the plate, which was put on full display during the Knights’ second round playoff game against Perquimans where he went 2-4 with a grand slam and a triple to finish with six RBIs.
Wisniewski said the key for him this year was a more relaxed approach in the batter’s box.
“I just focused more at the plate,” Wisniewski said. “I cut down on my swing and hit the ball better. I was more selective and just not focused on trying to hit it so hard. I just wanted to put the ball in play.”
Tice said aside from Wisniewski’s physical talent, he was a great leader on the team.
“He’s been the face of Riverside baseball and one of the best catchers, not just in our conference but in the area for the past few years,” Tice said. “He’s matured so much. He’s another coach on the field. He was the quarterback on the football team and the quarterback of the baseball team. He’s a very high character kid and a guy you would want your son to grow up to be, which I think is the biggest compliment I can give.”