Liam Clarke carried his anger onto the field during State College’s home game against Chambersburg this season.
Clarke disagreed with the umpire’s call on a pitch call during his at-bat, so he “offered” his opinion from the outfield after seeing the same pitch go against Little Lions pitcher Christian Friberg. Clarke then received a quick talk from State College’s Gavin Schaefer-Hood: “Hey, knock it off. You can’t do that.”
Clarke listened to Schaefer-Hood, known as a leader by example who picks his spots to speak up.
“I think he’s got everybody’s respect,” Clarke said. “I don’t think there’s a kid on the team that doesn’t respect Gavin.”
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When the team’s focus drifts in practices or games, Clarke said, Schaefer-Hood chirps up to make sure the Little Lions recapture the necessary intensity. When teammates make a great play, Schaefer-Hood congratulates them. When they run through drills, he aims to set the tone for the team.
Schaefer-Hood’s leadership is only part of his value — the senior is the starting shortstop, a productive hitter and reliable pitcher for the Little Lions, who will face Altoona in the District 6 Class 6A championship game at 1 p.m. Friday at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Schaefer-Hood’s ability to excel in every role this season landed him team MVP honors from the coaches.
“I take pride in being able to do everything well, being an all-around baseball player,” Schaefer-Hood said.
According to State College coach Troy Allen, Schaefer-Hood’s leadership in the infield was his most important contribution.
Allen said Schaefer-Hood took over at shortstop after State College’s loss to Bellefonte in the fourth game of the season. Schaefer-Hood was the starting pitcher that night for the Little Lions, whose infield committed five errors. He brings a veteran presence and a steady glove to the defense, committing just two errors this season.
As the shortstop, Allen said Schaefer-Hood is the “boss” of the infield. As a leader, Schaefer-Hood knows his teammates have different personalities and react to criticism differently. He’ll tell some teammates to “Get ’em next time” — but he’s tougher on others. Second baseman Matt Tomczuk receives tough love from the shortstop.
Tomczuk said they’ve been a double-play combination for seven or eight years on the Huntingdon Redhawks and State College junior and senior legion teams, so Schaefer-Hood has high expectations. When Tomczuk makes a mistake, like forgetting to cover the bag, he doesn’t hear, “Get ’em next time” or “You’re good.”
“He’ll yell at me,” Tomczuk said. “Yell encouraging words.”
Added Schaefer-Hood: “I get on him a little more than everyone else.”
Though he’s not an “in-your-face leader,” he’s taken on that role at times this year.
“There’s been a couple that’ll stay in the locker room, but there have been a couple times where he had to get into it a little bit, and he was right on both counts,” Allen said. “In those situations, yeah, players don’t like to get yelled at, but you know what? He was right, we moved on, and we corrected what it is that happened wrong.
“And that’s the definition of a leader. If you’re a leader and all you do is bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, eventually, they tune you out.”
While he excelled as a leader and shortstop, he also proved to be a key cog in the team’s offense and remained a part of the pitching staff. Schaefer-Hood takes a .308 batting average and .417 on-base percentage into the postseason, and he owns a 2.55 ERA in 22 innings on the mound.
Due to his success in the field, at the plate and on the mound, Schaefer-Hood finished the regular season as the Little Lions’ MVP.
“Certainly for the all the roles that he plays for us, we couldn’t find a better player to fit that role,” Allen said. “When you talk about an MVP, they’ll do whatever it is to help the team.”