CORTLAND - Lakeview High School baseball coach Ron DeJulio Jr. saw the potential in David Lemasters a few years ago, but even he admits he never expected him to be this good.
Lemasters, a right-handed pitcher for the Bulldogs, threw in the mid-to-low 70s as a sophomore and experienced a solid season, with a 3.50 earned-run average and 34 strikeouts in 26 innings. Then came last year, and, well, things changed.
His velocity increased to the upper 80s. His command was pinpoint, and he started to mix up his pitches. The result was Lemasters blossoming into one of the elite pitchers in the state.
"I knew about him, but he's really developed," said DeJulio of watching Lemasters grow. "From where he was as a freshman to where he is now ... we never predicted he'd be this good."
The senior said his fastball can hit the low 90s, but that's not the only reason he led all of Division II with 104 strikeouts in 58 innings (that's 13 strikeouts per seven innings). He began throwing an array of pitches as a sophomore, and he continued to fine tune those secondary pitches in the offseason, leading to his 1.57 ERA as a junior.
"I try to keep the same arm slot with different pitches and use the same mechanics so people can't tell what pitch I'm throwing," said Lemasters, who offsets his fastball with a cutter and a curveball. "You've got to mix it up. Some schools, you can get away with just throwing a fastball, but moving up into a harder league this year, I'm going to have to start mixing it up even more."
Despite Lemasters' success, Lakeview finished 7-15 in 2013, and the Bulldogs now welcome Howland, Niles, Poland and Edgewood to the White Tier of the newly realigned All-American Conference. That means Lemasters has to improve in an area that Lakeview lacked last season.
"Being a leader was the biggest thing (that he needed to improve on)," DeJulio said. "And he has. He's been far and above one of the guys who's led us in the offseason and in camp. That was his biggest thing that he needed to work on. Not just for us, but he's one of the few guys who's going on to the next level to play baseball at a high level, and he's going to have to do that - now and in the future."
Lemasters, a Lake Erie College recruit, admitted that the Bulldogs lacked cohesion last year. He said the more they play the game, the closer they'll get to becoming a team.
"The main thing with us is we need better team chemistry," he said. "We didn't work as a team real well. We're getting a lot better at it this year. Last year, we were somewhat young. As seniors, I think we're going to work together real well."
Lemasters said he doesn't have any specific, individual goals for his final year at Lakeview. He worked all offseason on a number of summer-league teams, continuing to sharpen his command and keeping hitters guessing with different pitches. DeJulio said the improvement is obvious.
"He's really worked on not slowing his arm motion down when he's throwing a breaking ball," DeJulio said. "He has good movement on his fastball, and off that fastball, he throws a really nice cutter. And the motion is all the same. He's trying to keep the motion the same with the fastball, the cutter and the curveball - just to keep guys off target."
They were certainly off last year.