By BLAKE MCCORMICK
Nick Borthwick always talks about how hard his team works, so it was no surprise when the South Walton head baseball coach went right into complimenting his team’s work ethic following the Seahawk’s 5-0 victory over Chipley on March 7 in Santa Rosa Beach.
“It’s a testament to our hard work,” said Borthwick about his team’s third consecutive district shutout. “We work very hard.”
To Borthwick, “hard work” is not loosely used coach-speak. It’s the message that the 1998 Freeport graduate has used to carry his program from perennial mediocrity to defending district champions.
“We’ve had to scrap and scrap,” said the fifth year head coach. “Over the years we’ve had a competitive team most of the time. We’ve played hard but there’s been some times that we didn’t come through, so we committed to the weight room and working year round to be as good as we can be. And now we’re seeing the payoff.”
Upon becoming a teacher at South Walton in 2007, the young educator became an assistant on the football, basketball, and baseball coaching staffs. In 2012, the jack-of-all-trades was promoted to head coach of the baseball program while still serving an active role on the football staff. After two seasons at the baseball helm, the coach made a decision that he felt would give his rather pedestrian program a chance to break through.
“I quit coaching football to be out here full time with these guys and that’s made a difference. It’s tough because I take pride in coaching football. I love coaching football. But when you look at the numbers we have, (35 players) they need somebody working with them year ’round to get stronger and faster while working on skills.”
The freed up time gave Borthwick a chance to enhance his strength and conditioning program and expand it year round to include summer workouts and in-season training.
“When we get done with practice and everybody else is heading to the house, we’re headed over to the weight room for 30 minutes to get our work in. That helps us get ready for seven and eight inning games and for long weeks like the one we’re going to have next week.”
The victory over the Tigers from Washington County was the second consecutive no-hitter for the Seahawks. Predictably, Borthwick gives credit for that feat to the extra workload put in by his players and staff.
“Taylor Collier and Adam Richards were up here with coach Mike Matz (South Walton’s pitching coach) throwing bullpen on Saturday to get prepared for tonight. Our pitching staff works all off-season training in the weight room and doing their throwing sessions to be prepared. They work hard.”
While hard work is the pride and joy in Borthwick’s program, he undoubtedly has talent to work with. Underclassmen like Collier, Aiden Keenan, Chase Miles, and Harris Barton have blended wonderfully with program mainstays like Adams, and, perhaps the best all-around athlete in school history, Austin Garofalo. The team’s impressive lock-down shortstop led the game off against Chipley with a solo home run and finished 4-for-4 with five RBI’s and an additional two-run homer in the fourth.
“Aw man, what a dynamic athlete,” said Borthwick about Garofalo. “Swings a hot bat, leader of the clubhouse, he’s just a player. He’s gotten a couple of scholarship offers the last two weeks and it’s kind of given him a boost of energy and he’s playing great baseball right now. We’re excited about him.”
Borthwick says he recognized Garofalo’s potential when the multi-talented athlete was a ninth grader. “I had some people question why I was starting him when he was a freshman. Because, I knew he was going to grow and mature. You can see that faith and belief he has now that he can be a big time player, and he is.”
The Friday after the victory over Chipley, while the rest of South Walton’s student body was kicking off spring break early thanks to a teachers planning day, Borthwick’s crew kept working. The Seahawks took a trip to the Atlanta area to build camaraderie and face out of area competition in unfamiliar settings, something the Seahawks will have to do if the team can qualify for the state playoffs and make a run at the state championship in Class A. Harrison High handed South Walton their first defeat of the season, 7-3, but the Seahawks rebounded to defeat Saint Francis, 9-8, in a game where the visitors from Santa Rosa Beach had to overcome a steep amount of adversity. Borthwick said the Harrison Hoyas are “without a doubt” the most talented team his unit will play this season.
“They have a couple of state championships. Their shortstop is committed to Penn State to be a quarterback. Their second baseman has committed to Georgia. Every kid in the lineup has college baseball opportunities. It’s crazy. They’re good.”
Spirits are high for South Walton baseball and so now are the expectations. Considering the combination of talent and depth, it’s reasonable to think the Seahawks could be built to make a run at the Class A title this season. Borthwick himself thinks this team can go further than last year’s district championship unit, under one condition: “We have to keep working hard.”
South Walton will host contests this week against Bozeman on Thursday, March 16, at 6 p.m. and Northview on Friday, March 17, at 5 p.m.
By BLAKE MCCORMICK