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Baseball Player of the Year: Rider chases lofty goals to record-breaking season

This is the thing about goals: You might as well set them as high as possible, because even if you don't quite reach them you can still put up some monster numbers.

Case in point: Mitch Rider, 2007.

The North Gwinnett catcher wanted to hit over .500 for the Bulldogs this season and drive in 50 runs.

He didn't do either, but he still did more than enough to be the Daily Post's Player of the Year.

"Well, I have really high expectations," said Rider, who hit .391 with 6 HRs and 25 RBIs as a junior in 2006.

Apparently so. But even the senior catcher has to admit he had a pretty sensational 2007 campaign.

Rider hit .427 with a county-best 13 home runs and 45 RBIs in leading the Bulldogs to the Class AAAAA quarterfinals.

In the last two rounds of the playoffs he was a hitting machine, belting four home runs and lining shots all over the field.

"I was (locked in)," said Rider, a Georgia State signee. "I don't think there was anything they could have thrown that I wouldn't have hit hard. The ball looked like a watermelon coming up there."

And once it got there, Rider did his best Gallagher impression.

"He had a real consistent season," North head coach Frank Vashaw said. "There were times when I think he tried to do too much, and kids with ability like he has have a tendency to do that. But there were very few games where he didn't contribute something."

Batting third in a powerful North lineup, Rider had plenty of opportunities to contribute. The two guys batting ahead of him, leadoff hitter Justin Rahm and No. 2 hitter Jim Moreland, seemed to always be on base in front of Rider.

Rahm finished with a .400 average and a whopping 48 runs scored. Moreland hit .462 to lead the Bulldogs in that category and had an on-base percentage of .544.

"It was ridiculous," Rider said. "It was almost like every game in the first inning I was coming up with two runners on base. I'd hit a single and get two RBIs."

Those RBIs just continued to pile on as the season went along. Though he didn't hit the 50 mark like he was hoping for, Rider did set a school record with his 45. He also broke the North single-season home run mark with his 13 bombs and finished with a slugging percentage of .874.

"The amazing thing was that he was doing all that while catching," Vashaw said. "He was playing the most demanding position on the field."

And he was playing it very well.

"He had two passed balls all year," Vashaw said. "He only had like two or three errors total for the entire season. For as many times as he handled the ball, that is really phenomenal."

Rider takes great pride in his defense. Even more so than his record-breaking numbers at the plate.

"I think defense is more important than offense," he said. "Especially at my position, where it can mean a ball game if a runner is on third and there's a passed ball."

Not only did Rider do a great job of playing the position his senior season, but he really enjoyed thinking the position as well.

He was one of the few high school catchers that was allowed to call pitches in a game, and this season he did it very well.

Want proof?

The Bulldog starting pitchers had a combined record of 25-4 on the year.

"I love shutting guys down," Rider said. "I don't really tell people this, but I look at it like the win is just as much mine as the pitcher's ... and it feels good to help the team win."

Which, of course, the Bulldogs did quite a bit this season.

Their 28 victories were a school record and they advanced further in the AAAAA playoffs than any other North team.

Now Rider will turn his attention to his new team, the Georgia State Panthers. Though he was drafted in the 47th round (1,380th overall pick) by the Florida Marlins on Friday in the 2007 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, if he does indeed attend college he could go much higher in 2010, when he will be draft eligible again.

"I've got three years of baseball left to get bigger, stronger and better," Rider said before the draft on Thursday. "It can only get better from here."

It's hard to imagine that if Rider hits in college like he did in high school that there wouldn't be a ton of interest for a defensive-minded catcher that has some serious pop in his bat.

"Yeah, I think that helps," he said. "Because most of the catchers I see around the county are 8-9 hitters. They're just there for their defense. Me being a No. 3 hitter, being a power-hitting catcher, that's a rare commodity."

And as Vashaw would tell you, it's a very fun commodity to coach.

"Mitch is the type that embraces that role as a leader," Vashaw said. "I think when it was all said and done, he did a super job. And that was something we really needed."

Those school-record offensive numbers - even though they feel short of Rider's lofty goals for himself - sure didn't hurt either.

GWINNETT DAILY POST

ALL-COUNTY BASEBALL SELECTIONS

• Pitcher of the Year: Elliott Coor, Brookwood, Sr.

10-3 with a 0.94 ERA

• Player of the Year: Mitch Rider, North Gwinnett, Sr.

Batted .427 with 13 HRs and 45 RBIs

• Coach of the Year: Rick Howard, Brookwood

Led Broncos to Region 8-AAAAA title and spot in Class AAAAA semis

First Team

• Travis Blackburn, Dacula, IF/P, Sr.

Batted .421 with 10 HR and 35 RBIs

• Bobby Cole, Hebron, OF, Soph.

Hit a county-best .642 with 5 HR and 18 RBIs

• Zach Cone, Parkview, OF, Jr.

UGA commit hit over .400 with 5 HR, , 5 2Bs, 5 3Bs and 25 RBIs

• Ryan Lewis, Brookwood, OF, Jr.

Hit .367 with 2 HR, 26 RBIs and 10 SBs

• David Johanningmeier, South, OF, Sr.

Hit .448 and had a .565 on-base percentage

• Tyler Maloof, Norcross, Jr.

Hit .411 with 39 hits and 16 RBIs

• Jim Moreland, North, OF, Jr.

Batted .462 with 3 HR, 21 RBIs and 49 hits

• Justin Rahm, North, 2B, Sr.

Hit .400 with 8 HR, 25 RBIs and 48 runs scored

• James Ramsey, Wesleyan, 2B, Jr.

Hit .468 with 11 doubles, 8 HR and 25 RBIs

• Jarrett Rivera, Berkmar, OF, Sr.

Batted .403 with 3 HR and 30 RBIs

• Chris Wages, Providence, 3B, Sr.

Hit .495 with 3 HR and 44 RBIs

• Connor Winn, Wesleyan, SS, Jr.

Batted .421 with 12 HR with 26 RBIs and 41 runs scored

Pitchers

• Justice French, Collins Hill, Sr.

6-2, 1.44 ERA, 60 Ks in 581⁄3 IP

• Grayson Garvin, Wesleyan, Jr.

10-1, 1.80 ERA, 125 Ks in 812⁄3 IP

• Brent Hendrick, Brookwood, Sr.

3-0, 7 saves, 52 Ks in 37 IP

• Lars Mitchell, North, Sr.

7-0, 1.62 ERA, 2 HR allowed in 472⁄3 IP

• Taylor Wood, GAC, Sr.

Tech signee was 5-4 with 2.67 ERA, 83 Ks in 63 IP

Second team

Position Players

Seth Adkins, Brookwood, Jr.

Theo Asher, Parkview, Sr.

Landon Bennett, GAC, Sr.

Nick Blount, South, Soph.

Chase Burnette, Buford, Sr.

Kenny Duckett, Grayson, Sr.

Tyler Hampton, Central, Sr.

Sam Kauffman, Shiloh, Sr.

Zach Kilday, Parkview, Sr.

James Martone, Dacula, Sr.

Kevin Ruiz, Wesleyan, Jr.

Andy Vess, Providence, Sr.

Pitchers

Jesse Meier, Providence, Sr.

Tyler Roach, Norcross, Soph.

Michael Romeo, Mill Creek, Sr.

Matt Creel, Peachtree Ridge, Sr.

Cody Simpson, Shiloh, Sr.