The Times West Virginian

Prep Sports

April 4, 2014

Naternicola reaches 500th career win

FAIRMONT — It came on a Tuesday in the form of a 16-7 victory on the road.

It took six Fairmont Senior starters driving in runs, all nine starters crossing the plate and Bailey Mohr and Austin Norman taking care of things on the mound for it to happen.

But a milestone was finally reached.

Career milestones can cement a coach’s or a player’s legacy into the record books.

For coach Steve Naternicola of Fairmont Senior, his 500th career win set a new benchmark for the longtime Polar Bear coach. But for the coach, the milestone belongs to his team, not him.

“It’s a team game,” Naternicola said of the accomplishment. “It’s nothing to do about me. It’s about our program.”

The program ushered in a new era when Naternicola took over the reins in 1989.

A graduate of Fairmont Senior in 1979, Naternicola and the Polar Bears have won 18 sectional titles — including 12 straight, 14 conference titles, have been the state runner-up eight times and have made the state tournament in 10 of the past 11 seasons. Naternicola took the team to a NCAC title in just his third season as head coach and has had success since despite having some young teams along the way.

But that, he said, has to do with the preparation and expectations of the team.

“We try to do the same thing every year,” the coach said. “We take pride in it, and we strive to do the best we can. Our kids do a good job at working hard. They know that we’ve never won a state championship, and that’s what their goals are every year.”

Being able to regularly make the state tournament undoubtedly left a lasting memory on players who have come through the Fairmont Senior program under Naternicola’s tutelage.

Fletcher DeVaul, who graduated last year, remembers well the time spent on the team and said the highlights of his baseball career were the trips to the state tournament.

“It’s a combination of going there each year and it still being different,” he said. “Having a coach who has been there a lot gives you a constant and gives you confidence in the program.”

Since graduating, DeVaul has been waiting for a time to free up in his schedule to make it back to a Polar Bear practice, where he knows he’ll be welcomed by the coaches and players. That simple fact, he said, means a lot to players who pass through the program.

“It means that you had an impact on your program and that your coach enjoyed you playing for them and has confidence in your personality,” DeVaul explained. “It gives you some kind of pride in the program and that’s a big part of Fairmont Senior baseball.”

With pride being one word associated with Polar Bear baseball, senior catcher Gage Hannah said Naternicola’s name is another.

“He is the program,” Hannah said, putting an emphasis on the word “is.” “He’s just done so much for us.”

Just his coaching style alone is worthy of mention, Hannah noted, saying Naternicola was never too pushy in practice or during games but instead puts his players in a position to succeed.

“He gives you the tools, but he kind of lets you figure it out on your own,” Hannah said. “He wants the whole team to get better.”

With that, Hannah even said that he plans ahead in the development of his players.

“In the cage,” he said, “freshmen get the same amount of cuts as seniors. You just just spend a lot of time doing the things you need to do during games.”

It’s fitting that, in return, the players in which Naternicola dedicates his time to would want to repay their leader. And so it came on Tuesday, with the players knowing before the start of their game at Elkins that this win could give their coach his 500th victory.

But it was a silent knowledge.

Once the game started, the 500th victory was like a no-hitter in the making: you don’t talk about it.

“We didn’t want to lose his 500th game,” Hannah said of the silence surrounding the milestone during the contest. “We didn’t want to jinx it. It was close for a while and we all knew, ‘Oh, crap, we have to step it up.’”

And they did, of course, win the game, adding another accomplishment to their program’s ongoing list of accolades.

But those accolades, whether viewed by some as collective or individual, will always represent the hard work and dedication of the players, Naternicola said. Because, in the end, they’re the ones who hit, pitch and field.

“In 25 years, I’ve never hit a home run or thrown a no-hitter,” Naternicola noted. “It’s about the program.”

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.

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