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North junior excels in team’s title run despite slow start

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Although he had put in the work, Columbus North shortstop Devin Mann knew it would be hard to repeat the numbers he had accumulated after his sophomore season.

As he summed it up, his chances were “slim to none.”

And while he was correct about some of those individual numbers, it really didn’t matter. Mann helped the Bull Dogs to the number that really mattered in the sectional playoffs.

No. 1. In helping to lead North to its first sectional title since 1995, Mann earned The Republic’s 2014 Athlete of the Year Award for baseball.

“It definitely was special, especially after we had come up short my freshman year (in winning the sectional),” said Mann, who just finished his junior season. “At the end of the season, everyone was clicking. It was awesome.”

Although he didn’t match the .532 he hit as a sophomore, or the seven home runs or the school-record 30 steals, Mann put up terrific numbers.

After a slow start, he finished at .433. Although he had two homers on the season, he had 21 extra-base hits overall, one more than his sophomore season.

He stole 26 of 29 bases, and after moving to the lead-off spot, he drove in 24 runs and scored 40. He walked 21 times. He led North, which finished 24-6-1, in doubles, triples, runs, steals and walks.

“Definitely going into the season, I knew it would be tough to repeat those numbers (from his sophomore season),” said Mann, who has committed to Louisville. “I just thought, ‘Whatever happens, happens.’”

Unfortunately for Mann, what happened early in the season wasn’t pretty.

“I was trying to get my swing back to where I was,” he said. “Sometimes you do things and you’re not even thinking about it. I wouldn’t have known, either, if I wasn’t working on the video.”

Mann and the North coaching staff worked through some glitches, and he was nails from there.

Even the outs he was making midway through the season until the end were rockets right at fielders.

“Last year, everything I hit dropped,” he said. “It does get a little frustrating when you are hitting the ball at people.

“But the second half I had my swing back. I was locked in.”

Besides having his swing a bit off at the beginning of the season, Mann was dealing with a change in his lineup spot. North coach Ben McDaniel thought it would help the team if Mann hit in the lead-off position. Mann liked hitting further down the lineup where he could drive in runs.

“I had a lot of growing up to do,” Mann said. “I needed to not get so mad when I didn’t get hits, and I didn’t like moving into the lead-off spot. At the start of the year I was really opposed to it. I enjoy hitting lead-off now.”

“His adapting to the lead-off spot, and sacrificing for the team was a big part of our season,” McDaniel said. “I think Devin grew in ways that nobody outside of our program ever will see. Everything comes so naturally to him, but he learned a lot mentally about the game. He had a fantastic year.”

McDaniel explained that Mann is a first-ball, fastball hitter but as a lead-off hitter he was asked to take pitches so other guys in the lineup could get a look. “That was all going on in his head,” McDaniel said.

Mann also had to deal with an injured labrum and shoulder tendinitis midway through the season. “We had to shut it down for three weeks,” he said.

During that time, Mann played the designated hitter’s role.

“I didn’t realize how much I love to play the field until I couldn’t,” he said.

Mann said his teammates came up big.

“I am most proud of how our team grew,” he said. “Just the way everyone stepped up. I got hurt and Brice (McDaniel) was out. Then Josh Hogan and Hunter Liggett and Jon Cox all played key roles.”

Ben McDaniel said his team depth was a strength, but he also noted that it’s great to have Mann in the field.

“He does a fantastic job,” McDaniel said. “His lateral movement and range is so good, and the way he stays down and plays through a baseball is phenomenal.”

Then there is his ability to steal bases.

“He’s got a unique combination of speed and intelligence on the bases,” Ben McDaniel said. “He is very good at picking up on pitcher tendencies. He is very good at picking up off-speed pitches.”

The best news for North is that Mann is returning for his senior year. He should come back as a team leader.

“That’s definitely one of the areas where he has grown,” Ben McDaniel said. “Devin is not satisfied with winning a sectional title. He knows we could have, should have, done more.”

Mann agreed with his coach. “It’s nice to look back on a sectional title,” he said. “But we fell short of what we could have done.

“Next year, I don’t think a state title is out of the picture. We have a lot of potential.”

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