Thursday December 20, 2012 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
Lake Shore senior Christ Conley signs his National Letter of Intent to play baseball for and attend Canisius College during a ceremony Tuesday (Dec. 11) at the high school. He’s surrounded by his mother, Evangeline, and father, David, who are seated, while standing from left are his brother, Gregory; baseball coach, Bob Kowal; and athletics director Daryl Besant.
When Christ Conley stepped into Lake Shore’s varsity baseball lineup as a freshman, the coaching staff thought the catcher would be a serviceable player but might go through some growing pains at the outset.
Instead, what they got to see was the makings of one of the best players in program history, certainly one of the most steadiest hitters ever to lace them up for the Eagles.
He delivered at the plate right away, with a signature left-handed swing that could lace the ball all around the field just as well as it could to the outfield fence. And the troubles a young catcher might go through behind the plate were never really an issue for the strong-armed Conley.
“When he came up to the varsity as a freshman, we never would have thought he’d be our best player for four years now,” Lake Shore head coach Bob Kowal said. “He just stepped in and has been our most consistent hitter ever since. Defensively, I can remember our pitchers saying, ‘we’re not going to throw any runners out,’ and I think he threw out two in the first game he played. Defense has never been a problem either.”
Even before he came to Lake Shore, Conley had the makings of a player that could eventually compete in big-time baseball if he continued on the right path. His high school career has only solidified that.
Conley signed his letter of intent to play for Division I Canisius College on Tuesday (Dec. 11) at a gathering held for him at Lake Shore High School.
“I started playing travel baseball and back then, my coach mentioned I could do these things so I kept working hard and it came to this,” said Conley, who also competes with his Showcase Team, the Academy Stars, under coach Justin Santonocito, who played at Mercyhurst and in the minor leagues. Conley began playing baseball in the local Evans Youth League.
“I started playing baseball when I was four and just kept working at it, and then started travel baseball and started coming in during the winters to work inside and it started paying off,” he added.
Conley, who was selected to the All-Western New York First Team as a junior, hits to contact and for power. He was in the two hole as a sophomore on a team that won a rare divisional title for the program and became more of a middle of the lineup hitter last year.
Kowal said Conley should wind up second on Lake Shore’s all-time hit list, behind only Jason Radwan, who’s now playing at St. Bonaventure, and first in home runs and base on balls. Conley not only has a good eye at the plate but is also pitched around or intentionally walked quite a bit. Conley has 95 hits and 19 homers to this point.
“When he strikes out it surprises me. He’s never had much trouble putting the bat on the ball,” Kowal said. “He’s worked hard for four years here and has been a true leader.”
Conley is also quite the hockey player, having played in high level leagues in that sport as well, but he decided to fully commit to baseball as a sophomore.
“I just decided I didn’t want to play hockey anymore so I can play baseball all year,” noted the former Defenseman of the Year for the West Seneca Wings Minor Midget team in 2010.
Also expressing interest in Conley was Niagara, Marist, Niagara County Community College and Erie Community College. He’s competed at showcases and competitions were scouts from schools such as Virginia Tech, Tufts and Dartmouth were present and contacted him afterward.
Among the many fine coaches helping Conley get to this level was also Joe Pinter, a former catcher himself who played at St. Bonaventure. Pinter and Santonocito were both at the signing, too.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have him after many of these guys had him through the tough years,” Kowal said. “I’ve had the easy job...When he came to me, he was pretty well finished thanks to these guys.”
Conley will eventually join former teammate RC Hubbard, who’s now a sophomore at Canisius after pitching for two years at East Carolina. Kowal feels blessed that he will soon have three players playing at Division I colleges in a matter of six years.
When Kowal makes those visits out to Canisius, the veteran coach believes he’ll get to see Conley playing pretty quickly. Conley should vie for some time at catcher and first base thanks to his big bat from the left side.
Before he goes off to college, Conley said he is hoping to make a few adjustments to his swing in preparation.
“It’s a pretty good feeling. Now, I just can’t wait to get on the field and start playing with the team,” Conley said. “I feel like the coaching there can help bring me to the next level.”