Smith headed to Hofstra

By on February 18, 2016

 

Warwick senior Justin Smith (right), who will continue his baseball career at Division-One Hofstra University, conferences with third base coach Todd Smoker during a District playoff game last spring. (Lititz Record file photo)

Warwick senior Justin Smith (right), who will continue his baseball career at Division-One Hofstra University, conferences with third base coach Todd Smoker during a District playoff game last spring. (Lititz Record file photo)

Ever since Justin Smith was little, he has loved the game of baseball.

The Warwick senior will now get the opportunity to play for at least four more years.

The 6-foot-0, 187-pound catcher is headed to Division-One Hofstra University to continue his athletic and academic career with the Pride.

Expecting to major in engineering, Smith gave a verbal commitment to Hofstra in mid-September and will sign a letter of intent in the coming days. He is receiving academic scholarship money to attend the Hempstead, N.Y. campus.

“I definitely preferred to play (D-I),” Smith said, “but I was also looking at some really good academic schools … Johns Hopkins showed some interest and the University of Chicago’s coach emailed. They’re both great academic schools, but they’re also Division-III athletics.”

Catcher Justin Smith batted .319 for Warwick last season and was among the Warriors’ team leaders with 14 RBI’s.

Catcher Justin Smith batted .319 for Warwick last season and was among the Warriors’ team leaders with 14 RBI’s.

In addition to Hofstra, Smith received offers from a couple other schools and visited Division-One Holy Cross University and Marist College, where Warwick grads Zach Shank and Mark Stuckey recently played. Shank is currently playing professionally in the Seattle Mariners’ system.

“I got a chance to speak with Zach about his experience there when I was still talking with Marist, and he said he really enjoyed it,” Smith remarked.

Ultimately, though, he just felt that Hofstra was a better fit.

“I think Hofstra just offers some better opportunities than the other schools I was looking at,” he said. “They have really good academic programs for what I’m looking for and I think they just have more opportunities in general, especially being located near New York (City) where a lot of internships and stuff are available … It’s a really esteemed school, especially in New York. So they brought the athletics and the academics together, which made a nice package.”

In 2015, although the Hofstra baseball team finished just 19-28 overall (6-18 CAA), it marked the first time since 2011 that the Pride failed to reach the 20-win mark.

Last spring, the Pride opened their season at UCLA and Hawaii. In Smith’s freshman season, Hofstra will play at LSU.

“That’s going to be incredible,” Smith said. “They’re in the Colonial Athletic Association, so they play Northeastern University, Delaware, Elon University, James Madison University, William & Mary and College of Charleston in-conference.”

Redshirt junior Chris Hardardt and sophomore Chris Weiss handled the bulk of the catching duties last season for Hofstra. But Weiss also made 12 appearances on the mound and is listed on the roster as a pitcher.

Smith has been told that he will probably get some games behind the plate next spring in mid-week and non-conference games.

“They said they only have two catchers on the team right now … so they’re going to need more than just the two guys,” said Smith, who also was an Honorable Mention inside linebacker for the Warrior football team last fall.

In Hardardt, the Pride has a catcher who batted .326 in 86 at-bats in 2015. Smith will give Hofstra a backstop who is solid defensively.

“They said they’re really looking for a guy who’s been catching for a long time who knows how to control the game and handle a pitching staff,” Smith said.

Warwick baseball coach Bob Locker can certainly affirm that was one of Smith’s strengths.

“Unbelievably solid defensive catcher, excellent arm, good footwork behind the plate,” Locker said. “Defensively speaking, he blocks the ball very well, he understands the game. There’s little things like he receives the ball very well, he’s got soft hands, and like I said, he’s got a very good arm, quick release, and he understands the game.”

Make no mistake, though, Smith is no slouch on the hitting side. A year ago, after getting a slow start offensively, Smith finished the season batting .319 and was among the team leaders with 14 RBI’s.

“I think last year more than anything else, he put a little too much pressure on himself,” Locker said. “I think he may have tried to do a little too much at the beginning of the year and then like I said, he made some adjustments and by the end of the year, he was hitting the ball very well.”

As he prepares for his senior season with the Warriors, he is investing long hours to be on top of his game. Besides investing time in the cage at Warwick’s indoor facility, he also traveled south to Myrtle Beach last weekend for a pre-season tournament with his summer league team.

“You can always get better at everything, but I’m really focusing on my hitting right now,” Smith said. “I’ve been pretty good at catching and blocking and defensive stuff, but I have to focus on my offense to go with it.”

“There’s always going to be an adjustment period when you go from one level to another, especially in regards to hitting,” Locker said. “But catching-wise, I don’t think there’d be a lot of changes he would need to make to be a good catcher at the next level.”

Hofstra skipper John Russo, who is entering his eighth season on the Pride staff in 2016, would no doubt be pleased to hear of the work that Smith is doing. Hofstra has compiled a record of 99-102 in four seasons with Russo at the helm. Five of his players have been signed by Major League Baseball teams, including two that were drafted (Danny Poma by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012 and Bryan Verbitsky by the San Diego Padres in 2013).

“They’re a great staff,” Smith said. The head coach, John Russo, has done very well, he’s been there for awhile. They just brought another coach aboard there I met who seemed like a really good influence, so I’m excited.”

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