Senior leader’s work ethic, play behind plate helping team progress in tourney

Three years ago, Columbus North baseball coach Ben McDaniel realized the program’s future at the catcher position rested on the shoulders of Nolan Wetherald, a freshman who was years away from wearing a varsity uniform.

With junior catcher Evan Finke two seasons away from graduation, McDaniel focused on Wetherald, who McDaniel described as having awful body language in his freshman year.

“Nolan was going to be the guy his junior or senior year,” McDaniel said

First, Wetherald needed to change his mental approach, among other things, before that would happen.

“I rode him for four years since he was a freshman,” McDaniel said. “He was the only freshman on that freshman team that I pulled in and talked to because I knew what our catching situation was.”

The senior has since matured from that catcher who moped to the backstop after a passed ball his freshman season to being one of the vocal leaders on a North team that is preparing to play in the Evansville Reitz Regional on Saturday. Wetherald got his shot as the varsity catcher at the start of last year and has yet to miss a single inning this season.

Wetherald, who has five RBIs and no passed balls this postseason, will be playing next year at Marietta (Ohio).

McDaniel has praised his pitching staff throughout the course of season but said Wetherald is a big reason why the staff has been able to accomplish what it has. Wetherald started his winter mornings with 5:30 a.m. workouts before ending his night with two to three hours of batting practice while catching balls in the bullpen from five to seven different pitchers.

“(Getting a feel for each pitcher) is pretty important, even if it’s the same pitch,” Wetherald said. “Some people’s curveball will move more down then it does right or left. So it’s important to catch them in the (bullpen) and know how all the pitches move so I can get a handle on that.”

Even though Wetherald started for North last year, McDaniel still had his doubts about the type of player Wetherald would be in his final year. Wetherald’s hard work prior to the season not only helped put those doubts to rest, but caused McDaniel to call him this season’s most improved player.

Wetherald worked with catching coach Will Nelson during the summer to improve his popup times and work on some of his weak points like his footwork when blocking the ball. Nelson said often times, catchers try to do too much when all they really need is to do is get their hips in the right position. Explaining that to Wetherald paid dividends this year.

“Blocking the ball, keeping balls in the dirt in front of me and saving free bases, last year, that was a big problem for me,” Wetherald said. “I had one or two (passed balls) a game. When you look at the whole season and see how many bases that gives the other team, it was a lot. This year, that’s been cut down tremendously.”

Wetherald came into last season with a lot of nerves, being a first-year varsity player, but said he felt more comfortable and confident coming into this year. However, North still didn’t have the regular season he was hoping for with a 12-12 record.

“I honestly had higher expectations for this team coming into his year,” Wetherald said. “I thought we’d have a lot better record, but right now, we’re playing really well together. I think it’s all come together.”

While the regular season didn’t meet Wetherald’s expectations, he said the Bull Dogs have more than made up for it during the postseason. Wetherald is going into the regional with a ton of confidence, which is important for the rest of the players, according McDaniel, who said the team feeds off of his body language.

“Whether or not (catchers) are voted the captain by their peers, they’re the captain on the field,” McDaniel said. “They’re the only guys who have eight sets of eyes looking at him. His biggest growth of maturity in my aspect is his body language and mental toughness … He’s really adapted and embraced what the game of baseball can teach you off the field through adversity and struggles. He’s a standup guy in the dugout and the locker room.”

If you go

Evansville Reitz Regional

Saturday at Bosse Field

10 a.m. CST (11 a.m. EST): Bedford North Lawrence (20-4) vs. Evansville Central (20-8)

12:30 p.m. CST (1:30 p.m. EST): Columbus North (15-12) vs. Martinsville (12-15)

6 p.m. CST (7 p.m. EST): Championship

Admission: $7 per session or $10 for entire day

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.