Walsh's Erik Stern ready for state baseball, but not ready to choose college

Michael Leonard
Akron Beacon Journal
Walsh Jesuit pitcher Erik Stern pitched both the district and regional championship games for the Warriors, who will play New Albany in a Division I state semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday at Canal Park. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

Erik Stern has been a two-sport superstar at Walsh Jesuit.

Stern graduated with his class Sunday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, carrying a 4.2-grade-point average. He plans to study finance in college.

Most All-Ohio athletes with those academic credentials know their college destination long before they get their cap and gown.

Stern, however, still has not chosen which college he will play for — or even what sport.

"It's been kind of stressful, the process of choosing," Stern said. "I'm pretty close to making my decision."

Before he does, Stern hopes to have one more weekend of success with the Walsh baseball team.

Stern will start at pitcher or first base when Walsh takes the field Saturday at Canal Park for the Division I state semifinal against New Albany.

More:Stern's gem leads Walsh past Dover 3-1 in Division I baseball district final

Like his college choice, where Stern plays will be a last-minute decision, but not because he's not valuable.

The tall, left-handed senior was the winning pitcher in Walsh's district and regional final games.

"I've had a lot of people that have been behind me," he said. "It's been nice having coach [John] Ventura back this season, because he's been my pitching coach since I was eight years old."

Stern's pitching statistics tell the story: He is 6-0 with a 0.00 ERA, having allowed just one unearned run this season. He has allowed just seven hits and 15 walks, and has struck out 58 batters.

He has been excellent at the plate as well, hitting .425 with nine doubles, three triples, one home run and 30 RBIs.

"My defense has been excellent all year," he added. "This is most talented team I've ever been around."

Ventura returned to Walsh's staff as an assistant coach this spring after a couple of years away. He first met Stern at his IVL Baseball Academy in Wadsworth a decade ago.

"The first time I saw him, I said, 'This kid is at least 11 years old,'" he said. "His father, God rest his soul, brought him to me and said he had heard good things about me and he wanted me to coach his son. I immediately said yes."

Those expecting Stern to throw nothing but heat will be surprised.

He considers a change-up his out pitch, but Stern throws four different pitches for strikes from a sidearm angle.

"A lot of people say my mechanics are unorthodox," Stern said. "I like to command the zone and throw a lot of pitches for strikes. It's just kind of how I've always thrown. I've always kind of thrown from that arm slot."

Ventura said he never wanted to turn Stern into a Randy Johnson-type of pitcher.

"I feel like there's a lot of coaches that try to make everything the same," he said. "Right away, I knew I was dealing with someone different. I thought, 'We need to play to his strengths.'

"Having that little bit of three-quarter action with the ball going downhill makes it tough on hitters," he added. "I coached what he was comfortable with. He developed into what he is by working hard. All the credit goes to him."

A two-sport star at Walsh Jesuit, Erik Stern has yet to decide if it will be basketball or baseball that he pursues in college. [Kent weeklies file photo]

Despite all his success on the diamond, Stern said "basketball is still in the picture" regarding his college choice — with good reason.

Stern led Walsh basketball with 21.1 points and nine rebounds per game this winter. He was named third-team All-Ohio in Division I by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association.

At 6-foot-8, Stern can play the coveted role of "Stretch 4" in college, He has power forward size, defense and rebounding skills, but also shoots well from 3-point range.

Basketball also was Stern's first love, as he recalls learning the game at age four at the Shaw JCC of Akron.

"I remember I always looked forward to playing those games," Stern said.

He resides in Copley, but Stern's ties to Walsh started early. He was a youth baseball teammate of both Henry and Stanley Kaczmar, the sons of Walsh coach Chris Kaczmar.

His sister Allie Stern graduated from Walsh in 2017 where she was a state champion in the pole vault. Allie Stern recently set the school record in the pole vault at Oklahoma State University.

Reflecting on the loss of his junior season due to the pandemic, Stern said that gives him and his teammates more incentive to bring home the state title.

"I think it's really important that we stick together and play for the kids that didn't get to play last year," Stern said. "We had a really good team and a lot of guys weren't able to play. We're trying to do this for them."

Having already graduated this week, Stern's focus is laser-like on playing two more games in Walsh maroon.

After that, he's got the biggest decision of his young life to make.