North/East Xtra: Shady Side graduate delivers big for Buffalo

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Customers of Lucci's Pizza in Squirrel Hill might not realize it, but there's something unique about one of the employees who could be delivering their pizza.

He also delivered one of the best seasons by any freshman relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball this spring.

Ben Hartz, a 2012 graduate of Shady Side Academy, has worked hard earning a bit of summer income in his hometown the past few months -- this after he continually worked opposing hitters in his first season at the University of Buffalo, helping the Bulls to their best season in more than 30 years.

Hartz was named a 2013 Louisville Slugger Freshmen All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, one of 19 relievers selected.

"It was definitely a surprise," Hartz said. "It was awesome to be considered one of the best freshmen in the country. I was honored."

Hartz, strictly a starter in high school, was a middle reliever and setup man at Buffalo. The goal was to have Hartz pitch the seventh or eighth inning, but that sometimes changed depending on the situation.

In 18 appearances, Hartz, a left-hander, went 6-1 with one save and a 2.01 ERA. He struck out 19 and walked 11 in 401/3 innings. Opposing batters hit .236 against him.

"It was awesome," Hartz said of his freshman season. "I had a great team behind me. I just tried to get outs and let the defense work behind me. It was definitely a big change [moving to a relief role]. I realized I throw a lot harder coming out of the bullpen."

Buffalo finished second in the Mid-American Conference East Division with a 19-7 record and was 33-24 overall.

Given the success Hartz had in high school, what he has already accomplished in college should be no surprise. At Shady Side Academy, Hartz was a four-year starter and three-time Post-Gazette North All-Star. As a freshman, he helped the Indians win their first WPIAL championship.

His senior year, Hartz went 6-1 and hit .489 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in the regular season. He was named Class AA player of the year by the WPIAL Baseball Coaches Association. He finished his career as Shady Side Academy's career leader in home runs (16) and RBIs (106).

"I think the first thing with him is intangibles," said Shady Side Academy coach Bob Grandizio. "You can never account for a person's desire to win. He's as competitive as anyone I've encountered. He's a kid that wants the ball in his hands. There's no way to measure something like that. If you could, he'd be off the charts."

Grandizio, who has coached at Shady Side Academy since 2000 and was a Division I player at Furman, said he was surprised more schools weren't in pursuit of Hartz after what he did in high school.

Only a few Division I schools showed interest, but there was a reason for that -- height.

"I'm 5 [feet] 10 ... on a good day," Hartz said with a laugh.

Hartz said there was a good chance he would attend Division II University of Charleston (W.Va.) but Buffalo called late last July to tell him a scholarship became available.

"I always had dreams of playing Division I," he said.

Hartz said there is one negative to his new role on the mound: he didn't get to bat this season.

"Oh yeah, that's the worst part," he said.

While home this summer, Hartz has played Palomino baseball with the Pittsburgh Diamond Dawgs.

Hartz said he wants to move into a starting role next season at Buffalo but with all three of the team's weekend starters returning, he knows it might not happen. However, the team's closer graduated, so there's a possibility Hartz could move into that spot.

Wherever he ends up, there's an excellent chance Hartz will deliver yet again.



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