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North Huntington's Patrick Ferguson rounds out game

| Friday, July 13, 2018, 3:57 p.m.

The raw power in Patrick Ferguson’s swing has been on display since his first collegiate at-bat last year at Kent State when he launched a homer.

Ferguson, a North Huntington native and Central Catholic grad, continued to demonstrate his abilities last year with the Butler BlueSox of the Prospect League, hitting a team-record 15 home runs.

The power isn’t going anywhere, but there were instances last season in school and summer ball when Ferguson struggled with strikeouts and contact.

He found himself pressing at times, and going into his sophomore year, he wanted to work on having consistent at-bats.

With adjustments in his swing and approach, Ferguson found that consistency this spring, helping the Golden Flashes win the Mid-American Conference championship and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

He has carried it over to summer baseball with the Waterloo (Iowa) Bucks of the Northwoods League, where he was hitting .268 with five doubles, one triple and three homers. The .268 average is 50 points better than where he finished with Butler a season ago.

“My head coach and assistant coach at (Kent State) had me drop my hands a little bit to get in a better hitting position more consistently,” Ferguson said. “I’ve seen more live pitching, and seeing it consistently has allowed me to have better pitch recognition. Those two factors kind of allowed me to be more comfortable.

“When you see better pitching consistently, the game starts to slow down a little bit. I’m picking up spin and seeing the ball a lot better.”

Ferguson joined Waterloo a week late because he was playing in the NCAA Tournament, where he went 2 for 5 in three games. He finished the college season with a .261 average, five doubles and three homers in 69 at-bats.

Since arriving in Waterloo, Ferguson has produced. He had at least one hit in 20 of his first 30 games and had six multihit games. There has been an emphasis on contact but also becoming more competitive against left-handed pitching. Ferguson has hit .292 against lefties in 24 at-bats this summer, opposed to .111 against lefties last year in Butler.

“Hitting lefties was something I really struggled with last year, and knock on wood so far, I’ve been able to put together better at-bats against them,” Ferguson said. “I’m making harder contact against them, too.”

Ferguson admitted as a freshman, he would attempt to make up for a tough at-bat with one swing his next time up, and that compounded the problem.

He has worked on letting the previous at-bat go, whether it’s a hit or an out, and starting fresh in his next opportunity.

“At times last year, I think there was some immaturity on my part, because it was really the first time I got to play every day at a high level,” Ferguson said. “After striking out, I’d get wrapped around thinking about doing some damage the next time to make up for it, and it led to a lot of swings and misses.

“I’m just trying to focus more on barreling up the ball. I don’t want to go to the plate and say ‘I’m going to hit a double here.’ I want to backspin balls and barrel them up. Whatever happens after I hit the ball is out of my hands. If I barrel a ball, it’s a success in my eyes whether I get out or get a hit. If you connect on a ball, more times than not it’ll often work out for you.”

The Northwoods League is known for its grinding schedule, which squeezes in 72 games from late May to mid-August. Waterloo road trips are mostly three- to five-hour bus rides, with a few longer ones in there, as well. Like many summer leagues, the Northwoods League is akin to an internship for minor league baseball. Ferguson enjoys having the opportunity to play tough competition and work on his game at the same time.

“It’s a grind, but you get used to it,” Ferguson said. “You have to get into a routine and take care of your body. We have a couple of scheduled days off, but for the most part we’re playing every day. We play in front of good crowds pretty much every day. The fans are into it, and it’s a good atmosphere. It makes it fun.”

Aside from hitting, Ferguson wants to improve defensively before he heads back to Kent State for fall ball. He hopes to help the Bucks win some games after a rough first half that saw them finish in last place at 10-25. The league is split into halves, so the Bucks get a chance to reset and win the second half to qualify for the postseason.

“We have some really good ballplayers here, and I think we have the potential to have a really good second half,” Ferguson said. “I think we can get hot at the right time.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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