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Watertown’s Simmons named Times All-North FL Baseball MVP

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Kyle Simmons knew it was a gamble. But it paid off in another highly successful year at the plate.

Changing his batting stroke after a superb junior season, the Watertown High School senior experienced very little drop-off as he concluded his four-year varsity career with another sensational season at bat.

And this year, Simmons also stepped into the breach when No. 1 starter Dustin Pond suffered an injury and did yeoman work on the mound for Matt Covey’s team, leading WHS to Frontier League regular-season and playoff crowns.

Simmons’ all-around contributions, as well as his leadership on and off the field, have earned him Times Frontier League Most Valuable Player honors for the 2012 season. He is also a first-team All-North repeater, along with Immaculate Heart Central’s Santino Alteri and Sackets Harbor’s Cameron Allen.

“It’s well deserved because Kyle works as hard on his game as any player I’ve ever coached,’’ Covey said. “He wants to improve, and is willing to put in a lot of hard work to see it through.’’

After hitting .479 and driving in a school-record 30 runs as a junior, Simmons went immediately to work to improve his power numbers and quicken his bat. To that end, he shortened his stroke, and concentrated on hitting the ball to the opposite field more.

It took Simmons awhile to find his comfort level with the new swing, but when he did he ravaged Frontier League pitchers. Along with batting .444 (32-for-72), Simmons smacked a school-record 13 doubles, many of them in the left-center field gap. He also had three triples, two homers and scored 28 runs.

“That was one of my intentions, to increase my opposite-field power,’’ Simmons said. “It was difficult at first because I wasn’t seeing the results. But the more I became comfortable with it, the more I figured it out.’’

Simmons had a team-high .792 slugging percentage, a .593 on-base percentage and struck out just eight times while drawing 16 walks.

“Kyle became a lot more selective at the plate, and learned the strike zone a lot better,’’ Covey said. “He’s a perfectionist that always is striving to do better. Whether it’s working on his stroke or on his defense. That’s why he leaves this program with so many records.’’

Simmons’ bat was a given. However, his prowess on the mound was something neither he nor Covey anticipated.

After pitching just 15 innings a year ago, mainly in late-inning relief situations, Simmons figured to be the No. 3 starter this season behind Pond and senior Caleb Bettis. But when Pond injured his arm during the team’s spring-break trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and could not pitch again, Simmons was asked by Covey to assume a bigger role on the mound.

“I thought I’d do some pitching, but not that much,’’ Simmons said. “I found out how tough it is to pitch and play in the field because my arm hurt just about every day of the season.’’

Simmons finished as the Cyclones’ workhorse, accumulating a team-high 50 2/3 innings. He struck out 76, allowed just 22 earned runs and finished with a 6-2 record and a respectable 3.04 earned-run average.

“He was a life savor, no doubt,’’ Covey said. “Kyle stepped into a tough situation and really bailed us out. Who knows where we would have been without him?’’

Like his new hitting stroke, Simmons said it was a process to feel comfortable on the hill. “By the end of the season, I felt pretty good. I kind of surprised myself how well I pitched,’’ he said.

Covey said Simmons also improved immensely in the field as the Cyclones’ starting shortstop. “He’s as good as we’ve had, with good hands and a really quick release,’’ Covey said.

Simmons committed just four errors, had 39 assists and a fielding percentage of .947.

After much debate, Simmons chose to stay close to home and attend Jefferson Community College next season. He had toyed with the idea of heading south to play, but decided the Cannoneers were a good fit.

“I guess I wasn’t ready to go that far away from home quite yet,’’ Simmons said. “JCC has an up-and-coming program and they return a lot of kids. I feel as if I can make a name for myself there and still move on after a year or two.’’

Simmons will play shortstop and work some weekend relief at JCC.

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