Times Sports Editor
The pipeline existing between Northview High School's baseball program and the one at Olney Central Junior College in Illinois has produced quite well for both schools over the years. A wealth of talent has joined the Blue Knights in Olney, Ill. following a four-year stint with Northview.
Former Northview athletes Brad Pierce, T.J. King and Brady Shoemaker each were Blue Knights who went on to four-year programs as well as Bowie Johnson and current Northview coach Scott McDonald. On Tuesday afternoon, the number grew by one as Northview senior hurler, Caleb Mason, signed his letter-of-intent to join Olney Central and Hall of Fame coach Dennis Conley.
Mason, a right-handed fireballer, has had a couple of years of success with Northview despite missing his sophomore season due to Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. McDonald, now in his second year as the head coach with the Knights, worked Mason back in as a reliever last season with great success.
Mason appeared in 11 games and threw 26 2/3 innings with 37 strikeouts, a 3.41 ERA and 15 walks.
McDonald is expecting even bigger things from his senior, who has continued to get stronger while drawing interest from four-year schools around the country.
"Obviously he's going to head the staff, he's got great stuff, probably the best stuff of any pitcher we've had in 20-25 years at Northview," McDonald said. "He's got a great curveball, his fastball just explodes, but more than anything, I think it's his work ethic that is going to help lead us. He works his butt off in conditioning and the kids really respect and look up to him.
That is evident when talking to Mason, who is hoping to accomplish some special team goals after Northview was knocked out by Terre Haute South in the sectional semi-final last year.
"I'm hoping for at least a sectional championship," Mason said regarding what he'd like to accomplish his senior season. "I think this is definitely the best team we've had since I've been here. I'm looking forward to a good year."
Mason also did plenty of damage at the plate with a .418 average with 33 hits in 79 at-bats. He slugged .696 with 10 doubles, three triples and two home runs while driving in 25 runs and stealing 20 bases.
Mason has flown a bit under the radar after sitting out his sophomore year after his elbow surgery, but he admits that he made him that much more determined to reach the next level.
"Obviously I had a lot of time to think about what I want to do and how I want to do it," Mason said. "I wanted to stay closer to home so I did a lot of work to get that offer, the best offer I could get. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to come in as a starter, pitching at least once a week and then maybe some third base."
While playing third base will keep his bat in the line-up, McDonald believes Mason has the talent to reach the highest of levels with his arm.
"He's got Division I stuff without question. We had a lot of contacts from places like Pepperdine and Oregon State, all the big-name schools, but maybe they were a little leery because of the arm injury," McDonald said. "He can go anywhere from (Olney Central). I played over there and Coach Conley is going to the Hall of Fame. Caleb is going to have a chance to be drafted, which could even happen this year, or he's going to have the opportunity to play someplace big and get a lot of things done academically."
Some athletes shy away from the academic side of things, but Mason has excelled in the classroom with a 3.6 GPA according to McDonald.
While Mason's father, Jeremy, is proud of his son's talent on the diamond, he was quick to mention that grades were also high on the list.
"I'm very proud of him," Mason's father, Jeremy, said. "I'm very proud of his grades as well, he's an excellent student and a good kid. "It's been unbelievably quick," Mason said of his son's four-years at Northview. "I can't believe high school is almost over. I'm going to miss that more than anything. He deserves it though, he's put a lot of work into it."
Mason joins a very successful program at Olney Central where the Blue Knights open its 29th season under coach Conley.
With Conley at the helm, Olney Central has had 26 straight winning seasons, won 40-or-more games in a season 13 times and won 15 sectional titles. There are 32 Blue Knights playing professionally and 196 have played at the four-year level. Conley has compiled a 1,006-496 record.
Conley and academics were important in Mason's decision to join the Olney Central program.
"It's a small school with smaller classes," Mason said. "I really like their coach and their team seems to be really good and puts up good statistics."