Spark at the Top

FORTVILLE — Noah Powell doesn’t know what downtime means.

Whether flashing the leather or raking at the plate, where he rarely misses his pitch, the Mt. Vernon senior shortstop is full throttle.

Every play. Every game. All the time.

“He’s just relentless, and I think the other guys see that. He doesn’t get too high or too low out there. He just does what he needs to do,” Mt. Vernon baseball coach Ryan Carr said. “He’s one of those leaders by example. For as gifted as he is, he still works hard at it, and that’s contagious.”

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Referred to as “the guy” by Carr, a label the coach reserves for those considered college ready, Powell has earned his stripes. He’s been named to the All-Hoosier Heritage Conference team twice — both as a sophomore and a junior — and All-Hancock County three straight years.

In the past, Powell showcased his hardball pedigree with speed at the top of the order by swiping a team-best 23 and 22 bases, respectively the past two seasons. This spring, he’s incorporated a power stroke with steady contact for three home runs, including a grand slam, to go with a .389 batting average.

This offseason, however, he added an element, he didn’t plan for — fortitude.

“I can’t say enough about Noah. He’s done everything that needs to happen for this team to be good,” Carr said. “And after coming back from major shoulder surgery, you can’t ask for anything more.”

Unexpected setback

When the 2016 season began, Powell wasn’t sure what to expect.

He was coming off a career-best junior campaign after hitting .432 (38 of 88), scoring a team-high 35 runs, which was second most in the county, and leading the area in stolen bases.

Powell positioned himself to grind out the summer months with a new travel baseball club, Indiana Nitro, after several years affiliated with Indiana Stix.

He was fielding college offers and was eyeing Saint Joseph’s College where he eventually signed this past December.

Then, everything came to a halt.

During a game, Powell made a routine dive up the middle for a ground ball. The impact dislocated his left shoulder, tearing his labrum and chipping a few bones. His summer season was done and his future was uncertain.

Powell had the shoulder repaired Aug. 11 and followed it up with six months of physical therapy and limited baseball activities.

He wasn’t able to field his first ball until late February. Hitting was an ongoing struggle. He came out two weeks before baseball tryouts in March, which was the first time he could really test everything.

“I was a little nervous in the beginning,” Powell said. “Hitting was the hardest part because it was my glove hand, so it wasn’t my throwing arm.”

While uneasy initially, Powell relied on instinct and the support from his coaches and teammates to overcome the situation. He decided to pick himself up and get back at it, just like fellow senior Travis Mason.

“He had it happen to him earlier last season, so I knew what he went through. As soon as it happened, I texted him. He told me to bear in there and keep going,” Powell said. “That helped me a lot, knowing it was possible.”

Hesitant at first

Noah’s older brother Nathan, 20, also tore his labrum while playing baseball.

Separated by two years, the duo climbed the ranks through the Mt. Vernon Optimist baseball leagues while their father, Christopher, coached them.

Noah was first introduced to baseball at the age of 3, joining Nathan’s T-ball team on the fly, a day he still remembers vividly.

The team needed a substitute, and his father looked over at Noah, who happily took the field and entered the lineup wearing a T-shirt and khaki shorts.

From there, baseball became a passion.

“I came up with the Fortville Diamond Demons,” Noah Powell reminisced.

Nathan’s baseball career ended years later after he tore the labrum in his throwing arm, which he never had repaired.

With rehab behind him, Noah was determined to get back. The challenge, however, was mental.

“At first, I was just worried about how I would play after surgery,” Powell said. “I still can’t completely dive. Some plays I wish I could because I know I could get it with a dive, but it’s part of the game. I just have to bear with it until I get back to that point.”

Though he said he thinks his range isn’t up to par from years past, Powell has hasn’t lost ground in the field. Through 17 games this spring, he’s turned three double plays, recorded 26 putouts and 28 assists. He has five errors and a .915 fielding percentage.

“I struggled a little bit in the beginning, but I bounced back. Coach helped me out a lot,” Powell said. “I started lifting weights as soon as I was cleared, took it slow, but I was able to build it back up.”

Providing a spark

A leadoff hitter the past three years for the Marauders, Powell occupied the same spot in the lineup once the season opened in April.

His presence was invaluable in Carr’s first year at the helm in 2015. Powell consistently put the Marauders in scoring position as the team finished the year 15-12 and 9-5 in the HHC.

While his overall statistics were strong, Powell’s RBI total capped at 17 as the runner and not the run producer. To give Powell a chance to drive in more runs, Carr has tinkered with the lineup this season, dropping his spray hitter to third and fourth in the lineup.

“He’s hit one, three and four in the lineup. He’s our best hitter, so it’s hard. You want him starting the game off, but at the same time, if he leads off the game with a bomb, you can’t say he would have hit that if he was in the four hole,” Carr said. “But the four hole should come up with more people on base in theory.”

Powell admits he was a little distraught when he was bumped down for a few games, but his numbers remained steady.

While batting fourth, Powell blasted his second home run of the season against Anderson on April 25, a grand slam to highlight a 2-for-3 outing. The team won 16-5.

“He gets it. He’s a baseball guy. He understands,” Carr said. “Everywhere we put him, he does what he needs to do. He just hits, hits and hits. Even when it doesn’t fall, he’s hitting the ball in gaps and hitting it hard.”

At leadoff, he’s hit two home runs and has three doubles on the year after lining six as a junior. He’s sitting at 12 RBIs, 13 runs and has a triple in 54 at-bats.

“I’ll do anything for the team. As long as I’m hitting the ball, I’m fine with it,” Powell said. “I love hitting one. When he told me to hit in the four hole, it made sense. I rode with it.”

Future in baseball

Powell knew he found a home at Saint Joseph’s College when he made his official visit to Rensselaer during his recruitment process.

The school wasn’t too big or too small, he recalled. The approximately 1,150 student body was perfect and offered a 14:1 student-to-teacher ratio. Plus, the Pumas provided a competitive NCAA Division II environment.

The baseball team is part of the Great Lakes Valley Conference and has had a history of success under coach Rick O’Dette, who has more than 430 career wins.

Powell signed with Saint Joseph’s in early December, along with nine other players and six others from Indiana.

“Two of them are on my travel team (Tyler Hoffman of Lawrence North and Jarrett Hammel of South Newton), so that was big for me to have guys in there I already know,” Powell said. “I’m actually rooming with a guy I know, so that should be fun.”

First things first, though, Powell emphasized. There’s the month of May and hopefully June.

At 11-6 and 5-5 in the HHC, the Class 4A Marauders have put together two three-game winning streaks and have scored two big wins against 3A ranked opponents in New Palestine (8-1 on April 23) and Guerin Catholic (4-1 on May 2).

“I love the team right now. I feel like we have the best chemistry we’ve had in my four years. We have a good coaching staff that really cares about everyone on the team,” Powell said. “They want everyone to succeed.”

So far, the team has done just that. Collectively, they’re hitting .306 with 32 stolen bases and a 1.74 ERA as a staff.

Junior Ryan Beck leads the Marauders with a .415 batting average, and Wyatt Vestal, a senior, has a team-best 15 RBIs. Both have hit behind and in front of Powell, who has responded. Though, he’d like to see his stolen base count catch up from his current four though 17 games.

“They’re all hitting the ball, so it’s been great. As long as I’m in the right spot, I can hopefully put up the RBI numbers,” Powell said. “This year, (the steals) are not going so well for me. Last year I was 22-for-22, but I guess I’m not there yet.

“Hopefully, I can get back into my groove. We have a lot of bats right now, and we’re all beating the ball, so when I do get going, hopefully, I’ll be in position to score. I’m not too worried about it, though.”

Neither is Carr.

“He loves baseball. Sometimes, I think, guys play baseball because they’re good at it and it’s the path they’ve been put on,” the coach said. “Noah loves the game. Even if he wasn’t good at it, he would still play and be around it.”

Oddly enough, when he isn’t playing, he usually is.

Powell is part of the school’s ICE program, which allows students to work half-days gaining employment experience. He is currently working in the athletics department and is often out preparing the field before every home game.

“Honestly, he doesn’t need to be out here. He could not play this year and still go to St. Joe,” Carr said. “I’m sure the coach over there wouldn’t like it too much, but he had major surgery in the summer, but the day he got cleared, he was right back at it, getting ready. He just loves the game.”

By the numbers

Powell Report

23: The number of stolen bases Powell racked up as a sophomore starter for the Marauders.

22: Powell was the king of speed in 2015, stealing a county-best 22 bases as a junior.

45: The total bags Powell swiped combined as a sophomore and a junior leadoff hitter for Mt. Vernon.

43: Powell hit a career-best .432 with 38 hits in 88 at-bats as a junior. He hit .388 as a sophomore and is at .389 as a senior.

3: Not known for his power, Powell has clubbed three home runs this year, including a grand slam. He’s also turned three double plays.

2: Powell has been named All-Hoosier Heritage Conference twice in his career as both a sophomore and a junior.

35: The fleet-footed shortstop crossed the plate 35 times as a junior, which ranked him second in the county behind New Palestine’s Keegan Watson.

8: Not only his jersey number, Powell has registered eight multi-hit games in 17 contests this season.

28: One of the team’s top fielders, Powell has 28 assists, 26 putouts and five errors this season though 17 games.

2016 Statistics

Name;Avg.;RBI; Runs; HR; SB; 2B

Noah Powell;.389;12;13;3;4;3

Author photo
Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.