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Friday, June 17, 2011

Tall Ohioans choose baseball

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – They look like they could be two frontcourt starters for the Ohio State basketball team, but these two young Ohio natives have other plans – and they involve baseball.

Solon (Ohio) High School left-hander Matthew Smoral and Vandalia Butler High School (Dayton, Ohio) right-hander Taylore Cherry are two highly ranked baseball prospects who could have been tabbed “The Twin Towers” had they chosen to hit the hardwood instead of the diamond.

Cherry, PG’s No. 4-ranked national prospect in the class of 2012, stands 6-feet-9 and weighs-in at a hefty 260 pounds. Smoral, ranked No. 22 nationally, is listed at 6-8, 225, just a couple of belt notches smaller than Cherry. They are considered the two top prospects in the state of Ohio.

Cherry and Smoral could be seen walking in lockstep at City of Palms Park late Friday morning as they prepared for Day 2 of the four-day 11th annual Perfect Game National Showcase. Smoral pitched for PG National Columbia Blue Thursday night and Cherry threw for PG National Gray Friday afternoon.

“It’s been awesome down here. It’s a really good opportunity to come and compete against the very best competition in the country, and you really get to see what you’re made of,” Smoral said. “I came in expecting to do pretty well. I really wanted to come down here and just get the most out of it and face this competition and see where my stuff ranks among the rest of these guys.”

Cherry wasn’t quite as animated as Smoral.

“I didn’t really come in with any expectations,” he said. “I really just came down here to go out and throw the ball like I always do.”

Cherry certainly threw well in his PG National debut Friday, allowing only one hit and striking out five in two innings of work. His fastball consistently hit 92 mph and reached 94 on one occasion. His change was a steady 85 and his curve a sharp 79-80.

Smoral wasn’t nearly as sharp on Thursday. He gave up one run on three hits with a couple of strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings, although his fastball also sat in the 91-93 range, with an upper 70s slider and a mid-70s curve.

“I had some control problems but once I can get that first-pitch strike, I feel like my stuff can go up against anybody,” Smoral said.

Despite living in different Ohio cities and attending different high schools, Smoral and Cherry consider themselves good friends.

They play together for Ohio-based Midland Baseball, and while they didn’t sit down and make the decision together, they both gave verbal commitments to the head coach Mike Fox and the University of North Carolina during their junior years in high school.

Their friendship first began to grow when they played together with Midland/Royals Scout Team at the 2010 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship at Terry Park here in Fort Myers.

“He’s a real nice kid … and we have a good relationship. We enjoy competing against each other,” Smoral said.

“We’ve got a good friendship,” Cherry added. “We play together on the same summer team and we can spend a lot of time together during the summer.”

They haven’t faced one another in a high school game yet, but they’re working with their high schools to try to make that happen next spring in their senior seasons.

Both young men have played basketball in their pasts, which should come as no surprise considering their height.  Smoral said he finally decided to concentrate only on baseball after attending the 2010 PG Junior National Showcase at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I came down (to St. Pete) and I really didn’t know what to expect, but I did pretty well,” he said. “I had a good summer last year and I got a lot of college interest and I committed in the fall. That’s when I knew baseball was the path I wanted to follow.

“From my freshman year of high school, I started to notice it could be something,” Smoral continued. “It’s been a lot of hard work – long hours in the gym and lots of running. I’ve really been trying to focus on my mechanics … and keep everything compact.”

Cherry and Smoral certainly look like they should be a formidable 1-2 pitching punch for Midland this summer and for the UNC Tar Heels as early as the spring of 2013. There is, of course the not-so-small matter of the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the results of which will determine if Cherry and Smoral ever step foot in Chapel Hill, N.C.

In the meantime, the PG National Showcase provided an excellent diversion.

“I’ve really enjoyed it down here,” Smoral said. “Perfect Game is an awesome organization.”

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