All-Area Baseball: Another run for 'Big Game James'
James Georgakas built an impressive resume in a three-year varsity career for the Ellsworth baseball team. And when the Panthers needed a victory, they turned to “Big Game James.”
Georgakas pitched the most postseason games in Ellsworth program history, but it was about more than quantity for the Panthers’ senior.
Georgakas toed the rubber in the most important games and compiled a 19-6 career record to go along with a 1.47 earned run average and 224 strikeouts in 171 career innings.
“Over the years, I’ve had the chance to coach a lot of players but for a player to have that mental edge and rise to the occasion and not let the big moment get to them. James was one of those athletes that could overcome that,” Ellsworth head coach Steve Block said. “That’s very rare in athletes but he had that.”
Last year, Georgakas led Ellsworth to its first state tournament in program history and pitched a complete-game 5-1 win in the state semifinals as the Panthers finished runners-up in Division 2. This season, he provided an encore, helping the Panthers back to the state tournament with a 1-0 two-hit shutout victory in the Division 2 Regional finals against Viroqua and kept them close in a 4-1 loss to Notre Dame Academy in the state semifinals.
“We lost a lot of our leaders last year so I felt like I needed to take that spot,” Georgakas said. “That’s my favorite part about baseball is being put in the big games and the tough spots.”
For his dominant ability on the mound and consistent performance at the plate, Georgakas is the 2013 Republican Eagle All-Area Baseball Player of the Year.
“This year it was mostly about wanting to go back to state; ending the senior year strong again like that,” Georgakas said. “All throughout high school, I just loved to play baseball and I just played to the best of my ability.”
Georgakas possessed plenty of ability as he went 5-2 with a save and a 1.43 ERA this season. He allowed just 35 hits and struck out 73 in 53 2/3 innings, boasting a 1.04 WHIP, the lowest of his high-school career. He also piled up 13 pick-offs, a skill the lefty honed throughout his three years with Ellsworth.
“I’ve had a few lefties and James is right up there at the top,” Block said.
On offense, Georgakas led the team with a .386 batting average and 19 RBI as the Panthers’ cleanup hitter. He had four doubles and a .435 on-base percentage.
“I think it was a confidence level. I don’t think there was any fear this year of failing,” Block said. “In the four spot, even though he wasn’t a huge power guy, it was just his consistency. He would have really good mental at-bats; he’d really be tough in big situations.”
Multiple nominations rolled in for Georgakas’ performance this season: All-State Honorable Mention, All-District 1, First-Team All-Middle Border Conference and he will play for the West All Stars in the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Classic this weekend in Oshkosh, Wis.
“I think we’re getting to the point in our program where we expect to have a player selected every other year or so,” Block said. “James was very deserving. I never doubted he wouldn’t get selected.”
With Georgakas’ help, the Panthers finished with a 16-4 record and were ranked in the Division 2 polls all season.
For the last two years, Georgakas’ stats speak to his place as one of the best pitchers in Wisconsin high school baseball, let alone the area. In 2012, Georgakas went 9-1 with 92 strikeouts as the Panthers went 20-6 and made the state championship game.
“Going to state two years in a row will be a big memory I’ll have and always pitching in the big games,” he said. “It was really exciting, it doesn’t happen very often for anybody and I got to do it twice.”
The best pitch in Georgakas’ repertoire was a biting curveball that caused hitters’ knees to buckle. He didn’t learn the pitch until ninth grade when Ellsworth assistant coach Ryan Christenson showed him how to throw it.
“I’ve been throwing it that way ever since,” Georgakas said. “It just keeps getting better.”
Smooth throwing mechanics also gave Georgakas an upper hand with off-speed pitches. His delivery was very repeatable, Block said.
“Anytime you can throw an off-speed pitch in a hitter’s count, that’s a luxury,” Block said. “That’s what makes a pitcher successful, especially one with as much break as James’ did. Another thing on James’ curveball, having coached good pitchers, what really benefited him was his release point. It was always the same.”
The relationships with his coaches brought out the best in Georgakas on and off the field. Georgakas struggled with depression and baseball was his escape.
“I just get to be myself on the mound and just pitch. I don’t have to impress anybody,” Georgakas said. “(Block)’s been my favorite coach out of every sport I’ve played. He may yell a lot but he knows what he’s doing.”
Georgakas’ success is an uplifting end to his career at Ellsworth after nearly ending his own life less than two years ago.
“Baseball was his outlet, baseball was his passion, and baseball is what got his mind off life stuff,” Block said. “We talked during the off-season. James has really come around. I think James is in a really good place. He seems very relaxed and I think he’s looking forward to the next part of his life.”
The future involves more baseball as Georgakas will attend Division II Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D. on a baseball scholarship. He wants to major in Elementary Education.
Georgakas knows plenty of work remains to make his goal of starting as a freshman at the college level but he is excited for the opportunity. As a freshman for the Panthers, he wrote that his goal was to play in a state tournament at a time when Ellsworth had never made it. After making it during his junior and senior seasons, it’s one goal down, one to go.
“I think what I’m most excited for is to keep playing baseball and especially at an upper level,” Georgakas said. “It’s a really big deal to me; it’s what I’ve always wanted.”