The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 29, 2013

Tribune-Democrat Boys' Athlete of the Year | No game plan could slow Strasiser

Mike Kovak
mkovak@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — It took Chris Evans nearly four years, but the North Star baseball coach finally accomplished something that opposing pitchers couldn’t contemplate.

Evans struck out Tony Strasiser.

Granted, it happened during batting practice, but it didn’t make the event any less memorable for either party involved.

“It started my freshman year, we had a little competition and it was something he did against my brother (Max) too,” Strasiser said. “He got my brother by his junior year. Now, keep in mind batting practice is from about 40 feet. The second to last week of my senior year, he finally got me. I was a little mad, but I tried not to show it. I’m sure I hit the next couple pitches pretty hard.”

For Evans, it was a moment worth celebrating, even if the Cougars were in the midst of a season-opening 21-game win streak.

“I yelled so loud, it stopped batting practice. My own assistant thought something happened to me,” Evans said. “I think he cranked the next four out.”

Whether the opponent came from the WestPAC, the District 5 playoffs or the PIAA postseason, the key to beating North Star in baseball or football meant finding some way to limit the damage inflicted by Strasiser.

It’s something the four-year letterwinner in both sports, who also played basketball and wrestled during various stages of his scholastic career at North Star, grew accustomed to seeing.

“You have to find ways to be unique. You can’t do the same thing every time. The only way to be good is to beat it, to find different ways to attack a team,” Strasiser said. “A couple (football) teams literally double covered me at 10 yards. There would be two kids standing there waiting for me. In baseball, it’s a little harder to do unless you use the intentional walk.”

Not that teams didn’t get creative with The Tribune-Democrat Boys’ Athlete of the Year and future West Virginia University baseball player.

“There were times after he got on base where he told me, ‘That one was in the other batter’s box and I had to go get it,’ ” Evans said. “Imagine what he could have done if teams were pitching to him.”

Considering the statistics Strasiser put up, it’s difficult to understand why teams would even take the chance.

In 22 games, Strasiser batted .625 (40-for-67) with 47 runs, seven doubles, seven home runs, 41 RBI, 26 stolen bases, 18 walks and, yes, two strikeouts.

Though North Star had two aces in senior Brantley Rice and junior Shane Supanick, Strasiser proved nearly as effective on the mound as at the plate. He posted a 5-0 record with a 1.05 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched.

North Star, a state semifinalist in Class AA in 2012, entered the PIAA Class A tournament with a 21-0 record before losing in the first round to Bishop McCort. In an interesting twist, Bishop McCort’s baseball coach – Chris Pfeil – is Strasiser’s AAABA manager for Martella’s Pharmacy.

“Things didn’t end the way we wanted, but it was a great year,” Strasiser said. “When you look at the athletes we had, Supanick, Rice, you don’t find pitchers like that on teams around here. It just shows that we were willing to work hard and we worked well together.”

Strasiser’s willingness to work hard was something his coaches noticed immediately.

“He’s a tremendous athlete, which is obvious, but one of his strengths is his competitiveness. He’ll do whatever it takes because he has such a strong will to succeed and a strong work ethic,” said North Star football coach Stacy Schmitt, who also serves as the school’s athletic director. “His brother Max was the same way. They’re super tough kids and they realize what it takes to be successful.”

Strasiser certainly was successful on the football field, and it may be some time before this area sees another player with his receiving statistics.

Despite the best efforts of opposing defenses, Strasiser caught 45 passes for 811 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior. In an effort to get Strasiser the football as often as possible, Schmitt played him at quarterback and in the backfield.

“Normally, if we put the ball in the air, he’d find a way to catch it and come down with his feet inbounds,” Schmitt said. “The great thing is for all the catches he made in games, he did the same thing in practice. He always gave full effort.”

Strasiser leaves North Star with 3,548 receiving yards, which ranks third in PIAA history. His 182 career receptions rank seventh and his 31 receiving touchdowns are tied for seventh.

His ability to catch the football is why schools as large as Syracuse expressed interest in the 6-foot-6 pass catcher’s abilities.

His play helped the Cougars reach multiple District 5 Class A championship games, including 2012, and two appearances in the state playoffs.

Possibly, Strasiser’s biggest impact at North Star will be made in the future.

There’s no denying the success of sports teams at the school in recent years in sport’s not normally associated with the school.

“That’s something my brother and I talked about. Our classes helped change certain aspects of North Star,” Strasiser said. “We were always a wrestling school, and it is cool how much North Star has accomplished in wrestling, but we’ve become a football and a baseball school, too. We’re more well-rounded.”