Headed to Cincinnati

Standout on the hardwood, Batcho was even more dominant on mound

CHAMPION — Five or six years ago, if people in Champion mentioned the name Drake Batcho, they might’ve talked about how good he was as a young, up-and-coming basketball player.

Tall with a big frame, Batcho’s “first love” was the hardwood, but about midway through his high school career, it became clear that Batcho’s name would become synonymous with another sport.

“I liked basketball more, and then one summer I was at a (baseball) game, and there was a scout there, and I hit 88 (mph),” said Batcho, a pitcher at Champion. “I think I was going into my junior year, and I was like, ‘Wow, I could really do something with this,’ so then I started really focusing on baseball.”

It was a wise move on his part.

The hard-throwing left-hander earned a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati. Still, he never quit basketball, scoring over 1,000 career points (third best in school history) and leading Champion to a district final appearance in 2018.

He did it all while holding a 3.5 GPA, never earning a grade worse than a B and taking college-level courses. All his accomplishments equate to Batcho being the Tribune Chronicle’s 2017-18 Male Athlete of the Year. He finished comfortably ahead of Liberty’s Dra Rushton in voting by the sports staff.

The honor didn’t surprise either of his head coaches, who lauded Batcho more for his work ethic and leadership than his physical skills.

“He’s just a good kid,” Champion basketball coach Nate Kish said. “He’s a coach’s dream. He’ll listen, (and) he’ll do whatever you ask him to do. Kids like him don’t come around very often. They’re rare.”

The numbers he put up as a pitcher were pretty uncommon as well.

As a junior, he struck out 90 batters and owned a 0.78 ERA over 45 innings. His biggest moment came in the 2017 state semifinals, when he struck out nine and allowed just four hits and one run in a complete-game masterpiece that pushed the Golden Flashes into their first state final.

“The game he threw in the state semifinal was maybe the best I’ve seen him throw,” Champion baseball coach Rick Yauger said. “He was completely in command of all his pitches — his offspeed pitches, his breaking ball. When we talked to him (afterward), we said, ‘That’s the kid right there. If you throw like that all the time, you’re nearly unhitable.’ “

Velocity is only part of what set Batcho apart from others (he touched the low 90s throughout his final two seasons).

Standing at 6-foot-4 and more than 200 pounds, his left-handed throwing motion brought natural movement to his pitches. He also sprinkled in an array of offspeed pitches, ones that improved dramatically after his sophomore year — when he began to focus on baseball almost year ’round.

Maybe his most vital characteristic was how he always kept his emotions in check, regardless of the situation — be it good or bad.

“The way he controls his emotions on the mound is another thing that separates him from a lot of high school kids,” Yauger said. “He doesn’t ever get upset. He just knows, ‘OK, step back, take a breath, next pitch, best pitch.’ That’s one thing that he’s always had, and he’s gotten better every year with that emotionless focus and that ability to concentrate, regardless of what’s going on around him, to make his pitches.”

His mindset was slightly different during his senior year of basketball, but only because it had to be.

The forward was one of the only remaining starters from a star-studded team that included Trumbull County Player of the Year Lucas Nasonti and sharp-shooting Michael Turner (who both ended up being Division I college baseball players). Batcho was asked to do more than just score and rebound — though he averaged 21.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

The admittedly quiet Batcho had to be more of a vocal leader for a young, impressionable team, and while that type of role took him out of his comfort zone, Kish said Batcho always did what was asked of him. That was one of several attributes Kish saw in just one year as Batcho’s head coach.

“The thing that caught my attention wasn’t necessarily his play,” Kish said. “What sticks out is how competitive he is. If you don’t know him, he’s not going to go in there and scream and yell. He’s just even keel all the time. He never gets real excited. He just stays even all the time, and so you think that maybe because he is that way that he’s not going to be overly competitive or he’s not going to be someone who takes things serious, but he does.

“It’s almost like you mistake that calmness for him being nice (on the court), but he’s not. He’s a competitor.”

Batcho possessed the skills of a guard, with a soft shooting touch, quick dribbling and sharp passing, but he adapted into a post player, especially as a senior. He learned how to use his big frame to his advantage and score with his back to the basket, which led to him becoming one of the Mahoning Valley’s elite players.

“That’s why he was so hard to guard,” Kish said, “because he could do both.”

Even while he was dominating on the court, he was fine-tuning his baseball skills.

Yauger said Batcho called him throughout the basketball season to see if they could meet at the team’s indoor facility to “throw a bullpen or take some (batting practice).” The hard work paid off, as Batcho had another big year, and not just as pitcher. The cleanup hitter batted nearly .500 (.474) with three home runs and 22 RBIs in just 15 games. He also held a 0.58 ERA with 74 Ks in 36 innings.

It all derived from a work ethic that was ingrained into the Champion native.

“My parents,” said Batcho of how he established such dedication. “They pushed me to be the best I can be. Like, OK, I got a scholarship. I accepted it, but it’s not over yet. I can’t just coast through my senior year. I definitely had to keep pushing myself to keep those standards.”

He intends on doing the same with the Bearcats.

He had hopes of possibly being drafted during last week’s MLB Draft, and while that didn’t happen, Batcho said it will only drive him to work harder.

“My focus is one day at a time, but you’ve got to think big picture of why you’re doing it in the first place,” he said of his long-term goal. “That’s ultimately to get drafted and play at the next level. I didn’t get drafted out of high school, but I think that’s a blessing in disguise. That’ll just make me work harder.”

Hard work has already taken him this far.