By his own admission, he once was a non-descript, angular 6-foot-2 second baseman, lacking physical strength and only moderately motivated – a player who presented little threat at home plate, an athlete in need of a compass.
Then Mitch Sewald decided he would prefer positioning himself on the dirt of the pitcher's mound instead of the dirt between first and second base.
With the assistance of a North Shore pitching coach he located on the Internet, with another assist from Mother Nature that provided a three-inch growth spurt in one year and with a pivotal attitude overhaul, Sewald has since emerged as a transformed individual who has become a pitcher of serious concern for opposing high school hitters.
Now a 6-foot-5 senior right-hander at Rummel, the former second sacker will take the mound as the Raiders' ace Friday against Hahnville in the Class 5A quarterfinals at Tulane's Turchin Stadium at 4 p.m.
Appearing in just 10 games for the 24-10 Raiders, Sewald has thrown 57 1/3 innings and compiled a stingy 0.98 earned-run average with 80 strikeouts and a 4-1 record.
Other recent changes include a weight gain of 23 pounds from 182 as a junior to 205 as a senior, said Raiders coach Nick Monica.
In September, at an LSU camp, his fastball, clocked at an above-average 86-87 MPH as a junior, suddenly lit up the radar gun at 92 MPH. That earned a quick visit from and conversation with LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri.
"He (Mainieri) said he liked my composure and the way the ball came out of my hand clean, meaning I didn't have any weird arm motions.
"I kind of thought I wanted to go to LSU all along. He (Mainieri) offered me a scholarship that afternoon," said Sewald. "I thought about it for about two hours and called him back and accepted."
Rummel, a five-time state baseball champion, has reached the state tourney despite a team batting average of .248. Seniors Zach Thiac (7-3, 2.18 ERA) and Justin Sinibaldi (2-0, 0.95 ERA) will follow in the rotation should Rummel get past hot Hahnville, the District 8-5A champion which was 10-0 in district and has eliminated No. 2 seed Zachary 2-1. The surging Tigers (24-12) have claimed 18 victories in a row entering tourney play.
Sinibaldi had been hampered by shoulder inflammation much of the season and only recently returned to duty on the mound. As a first baseman and cleanup hitter, Sinibaldi led the Raiders with a .366 batting average to go with 20 RBIs.
The Raiders' lack of offensive pop and tight pitching resulted in 14 one-run games, including six in succession from March 16-29. The Raiders were 7-7 in those matchups.
"We are confident in our pitching," said Monica, in his second season as head coach. "Our biggest concern has been our offensive struggles. But we have had better plans at the plate recently.
"We are an old team – with 15 seniors but seven of those are first-year players," said Monica. "So we don't have too many who have been in this (tourney) yet."
Sewald moved from The Woodlands, Texas, near Houston, to Mandeville prior to the 8th grade. He planned to enroll at St. Paul's, he said, but the school's enrollment was full so he opted to cross the Causeway daily to Metairie. He discovered a North Shore coach named Brent Pourciau as someone who could assist his positional changeover.
"He helped me with my mechanics," said Sewald. "And he got me in the weight room. I taught myself the curve by just playing around with it and the fastball is just natural."
"He has gotten to be good," added Monica, referring to Sewald's revamped work ethic.
Sewald hopes the weight gain trend will continue to about 215 pounds for college where he also hopes to master a slider. But first, the 3-games-in-2-days tourney, for now, remains uppermost in his mind.
"I just like helping the team win," he said. "We are close knit, all good friends. We play together real well. It's a great atmosphere here.
"I have learned a lot about myself and my character in the last five years at Rummel.
"I feel much better as a pitcher," he said, "because I was never really much at the plate."
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