It's been quite a year for Gabe Nard.
Early in the spring, Nard joined the Saint Ignatius JV team as a freshman. He claimed a starting role as an infielder and appeared in 6 games as a pitcher. After receiving the callup to varsity for the playoffs, Nard started the 2019 OHSAA Division I State Championship game. Over the summer, he toured the country at baseball tournaments.
And just a few days ago, Nard committed to Duke University on a baseball scholarship.
That's quite a lot for a young man who's just 11 days into his sophomore year at Saint Ignatius.
Gabe Nard is a name many Saint Ignatius fans did not know before June 9, 2019. Nard spent the majority of the season on JV, wowing coaches and teammates. He entered the Saint Ignatius program as a middle infielder, a natural shortstop who had never pitched before. The humble freshman quietly shined in all facets of the game.
In 20 junior varsity games, Nard tallied a .429 batting average and 1.223 OPS, knocking 10 doubles and 12 RBIs. He scored 15 runs and showed good discipline at the plate with 7 walks and 5 strikeouts. At the request of his coaches, Nard took the mound for a game for the first time in his life vs. North Royalton on March 28. He immediately excelled, throwing four scoreless innings. Nard walked three, but struck out seven.
Nard continued to dominate. He struck out 6 in 3 innings vs. Brunswick, earned the win in a 6-inning, 8-strikeout shutout of Olentangy Liberty, tallied another win vs. Holy Name, and K'd six Eagles in 4 innings of a win over St. Edward. His outstanding pitching (20.2 IP, 3-0 record, 32 K, 0.00 ERA) earned him a call-up to varsity. Nard made his varsity debut vs. St. Vincent-St. Mary in a quick relief appearance. Shortly thereafter, he drew his first offer from Xavier University. Nard then tossed a shutout 2-strikeout inning against South before allowing his first run vs. LaSalle. He wrapped the regular season with a scoreless inning vs. Canton Central Catholic and 2 shutout JV innings vs. Boardman.
The offers really started rolling in after his varsity appearances, including a 2-for-2, 2 RBI hitting display vs. Midview on May 13. Miami of Ohio and Ohio State offered him, as did several other schools.
"I started to build confidence," Nard said. "After that, I hit pretty well on JV and got some playing time on varsity, and sat on the bench to see the culture."
Nard made the postseason roster for the Wildcats. But with experienced pitchers in front of him, Nard mostly sat on the bench. Until June 9.
In the State Semifinal, the Wildcats played a 13-inning marathon with Hilliard Darby. The lengthiest semifinal in state history forced Head Coach Brad Ganor to utilize much of his bullpen and his second starter, Nick Fletcher. After earning a 4-2 win, Ganor had a decision to make. Who should we start for the State Championship?
Confident in his young rookie, Ganor trotted out Nard for the state title game. How's that for pressure for a freshman?
Nard reacted with grace. The first-year Wildcat pitched like a bulldog in his first varsity start. Nard pitched 4.2 innings, allowing just one hit and two runs, both unearned. He struck out 3 in an excellent performance that kept the Wildcats in the game vs. Mentor. As Ganor said afterward, Nard was unflappable.
"Pitching in the state championship game was a surprise but a great experience," Nard said. "That's not what triggered my recruiting, but it was a good experience."
The Wildcats eventually defeated the Cardinals thanks to a 2-run 10th inning, securing the first title in the Ganor era and the second in program history. Many marveled at Nard's command on the mound, with a bread & butter fastball touching 87-90 miles per hour and his fluid motion.
Having secured the trophy, Nard started summer ball. He traveled all across the country to different tournaments, drawing interest from college coaches all the way. Ohio State, Ohio University, Purdue University, and the University of Michigan all gave him extended looks.
Nard's major breakthrough occurred at the Prep Baseball Future Games in Cartersville, Georgia in late July/early August. Every year, the Future Games draw hundreds of the most talented baseball prospects from all across the United States. As PrepBaseballReport.com explained, "The Prep Baseball Report Future Games is the premier summer scouting event for Class of 2021 prospects and select 2022 prospects. Last year, more than 250 college coaches from all over the country were in attendance. The Prep Baseball Report services are subscribed by more than 800 colleges and pro scouts."
"When you get invited to the Futures Game, you're at a different level than most college recruits," Ganor said.
Nard performed well and his recruiting process fired up from there.
"I got invited to the Futures Game, and that's when it really took off. There were 250 scouts there. We had a tournament before that, and I was talking to Michigan pretty heavily," Nard said. "I kind of wanted to go to Michigan. After the Futures Game, I was talking to Michigan, Oregon, and Washington. Then I went to a Head First camp. There was a Duke coach at the camp. We talked there and we set up a few phone calls. After that, I talked to the Duke guy, and he said they were really interested and wanted me to come down to camp. I went down to the camp, met all of the coaches, toured the campus, and after that, I got the offer."
From the get-go, Duke stuck out to Nard.
Not long after taking his visit, Nard decided to become a Blue Devil.
"The coaches were of huge importance. [Head] Coach [Chris] Pollard and [Associate Head] Coach Josh Jordan are really influential and made a great impact," Nard said. "Duke is an excellent academic school, ranked eighth in the nation above some Ivy League schools. That's what triggered me to look into Duke, as well as Michigan. I was thinking a lot about Michigan, then Duke came along and impressed. They have two stadiums they play at, including a Triple-A stadium, which is really nice. Duke has a locker room there. The campus is obviously is beautiful, and the weather is nice. I have a recruiting coach who helped me through the process with a recruiting tree. I filled out all of the pro's and con's and then I decided on Duke."
As Ganor explains, baseball in the Atlantic Coast Conference is a big deal. With better spring weather than in the North, the ACC boasts several big-time baseball programs. Michael Holdsworth recently committed to Pitt after Nebraska's baseball coach decided to retire.
Several other Wildcat athletes have chosen Duke for other sports (Tom Sullivan '16 and CJ Ambrosio '17 for cross country; Nick Tsipis '07 for soccer – he became a 2-year captain goalkeeper; and most recently Kaden Russell '17 for wrestling), but never a baseball player.
Nard is a big-time college recruit with a high ceiling.
"I'm excited for him, this is a great opportunity. We've had a lot of players go on to a lot of great schools, but he's in rarified air with Derek Dietrich, Jeremy Farrell next level with Georgia Tech, Virginia, and now you put Duke in there," Ganor said. "Anthony Toth played at Michigan, Mike Horejsei at Ohio State. Those are big-time programs. Not to take anything away from guys who didn't go to that level, but he's at a different level than everyone else.
"The education, the high-level conference, and the coaching staff being committed to him, they won't over-recruit their class," Ganor continued on the commitment. "He'll be a guy for them and have an opportunity to play for them early in his career, and won't have to wait until he's junior. That was pretty important to him. It's nice that it's over with. It's a lot of pressure to make that decision, but it's over now, thankfully, and he'll be in a great place. Now he can focus on helping Saint Ignatius baseball and figuring out if he can be a draft pick eventually."
The commitment is a big deal for Nard, undoubtedly. But his work is far from over.
After all, he's just a sophomore. First and foremost, Nard needs to continue working hard in the classroom. Nard also needs to work in the weight room to bulk up and add muscle. Along with that, he needs to hone his pitches and his arm strength.
"It's a relief, but the work isn't over. All of my coaches have told me I need to put on muscle and keep working from here," Nard said. "I think I'm playing on a fall ball team to prep for college. We'll see where that goes. I just need to keep working and getting stronger and faster, and throwing harder. It's kind of relief off of my back because I don't need to make any more calls."
Nard has plenty of goals for his remaining three years at Saint Ignatius.
"Winning a state championship is a huge goal of mine, going back-to-back. But that's not the main focus – getting better is the [main focus]," said Nard. "For me, my main goal is getting bigger and stronger and helping others. If one of my teammates needs me, I'll help them out. My main goal is to throw harder. My mental goals are to stay calm, and I still have to perform in school and study for the ACT."
Based on Nard's work ethic thus far, it's a good bet that he'll continue to grow and develop.
If he does keep working, Ganor believes his ceiling is limitless.
"He has unlimited potential. I told one of the college coaches, I think there's 10 more miles per hour in his arm because he's so free and easy," Ganor said. "With age and size and everything that comes with it, he could throw 97 one day. He throws 87, almost 90 now. He has that kind of potential. It's God-given talent, but he works really hard at it, too. If he can keep progressing the way he has from year to year, he might end up 100 mph one day, who knows."
In the meantime, Ganor views Nard as a cornerstone player for the Wildcats.
"He's more of an infielder than a pitcher, but he's obviously going to pitch for us. Duke is recruiting him as a two-way guy but more of an infielder first," Ganor said. "That shows you how good he is because he was on the mound for us, but he hasn't played on the field at the varsity level. The sky is the limit for him. We're definitely looking for him to be a cornerstone piece for the next 3 years."
Before looking too far ahead, Nard wants to thank many people in his life who have helped him achieve a goal of his.
"I want to thank Coach Ganor and my parents, I couldn't be here without them. Thank you to anyone who has helped me along the way," Nard said. "Pitching in the state championship game gave me confidence in my play. Without Saint Ignatius, I would not have started pitching. I'm going into college with the label of "two-way guy," mainly as a shortstop and also a closer. I would never have started pitching if not for Coach Stewart and Coach McCoy. At JV, I started pitching and then pitched the state championship game, and took off from there."