Lawrence High School baseball player Ryan Castoral. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

During his “adjustment” season, Ryan Castoral was a good hitter but a not-so-hot pitcher. Once he adjusted, he was good at both.

The senior was the leading hitter and ace pitcher on the Lawrence High baseball team this year, helping the Cardinals to a state tournament berth and the Mercer County Tournament semifinals for the first time in anyone’s memory.

“I think we took some steps forward as a program,” coach Andrew Septer said. “We got some young guys a lot of great experience, we learned and we played in some big games that Lawrence hasn’t really been in. The experience of playing in some of those games with the spotlight on was a big step going forward. And Ryan was the guy who did it for us at the plate and definitely gave us a solid outing when he was out there pitching.

“It’s nice to have a guy who can swing the bat and also pitch. He’s in a unique situation where it’s difficult to get him work on both sides of his game. He’s gotta get his hitting done and he also has to work on his pitching, and I think he handled that really well pulling double duty and doing extra work. It was good, he kind of started the game as a leadoff hitter for us and helped himself at the plate, and a lot of those games he went out there and won on the mound.”

Castoral came up through the ranks in town, playing for the Lawrenceville Little League from ages 8-12 before moving on to Lawrence Babe Ruth. He played some travel ball in Hamilton, but is mostly a home-grown guy. He also plays legion for Lawrence Post 414.

“Baseball is my main sport,” he said. “I bounced around to other sports but baseball is my big one.”

He played sub-varsity at Lawrence for two years before being called up to the varsity last year. Ryan had a solid season at the plate, hitting .366 with 15 hits in 41 at-bats. He drove in five runs and scored 12. On the mound it was a different story, however, as Castoral was 1-5 with a 7.44 ERA.

“Last year was my first year starting on varsity,” he said. “I didn’t do as good as I wanted to. I think it was sort of a transition period, just getting acclimated. My sophomore year I was bouncing around between JV and varsity, and I didn’t get a lot of time on varsity. So last year I was acclimating to the different speed and greater pace of the game.”

The good news concerning that season, is that Castoral did not let it get to him. While others might have gotten frustrated, he continued to focus on what needed to be done.

“He has a pretty relaxed mentality,” Septer said. “He doesn’t get flustered with anything, he kind of goes about his business. If he had any frustrations he didn’t really show it. He took our criticism, he took what we needed to tell him and he did what he needed to do. He got better and felt a little more relaxed this year because of the opportunities he had last year. “

The results showed, especially on the mound where he went 4-4 with a sparkling 1.06 ERA. He struck out 26 and, of the 25 runs he allowed, only six were earned as some errors behind him proved costly. Septer said the one-hit masterpiece he threw against Robbinsville in the MCT opener could have been a no-hitter as there was debate whether it was a hit or an error. Castoral continued to excel at the plate, hitting .339 with four doubles and 13 runs scored.

“Having been a starter for the year before really helped me feel comfortable,” he said. “The numbers looked good and all that, so I was happy with my season. Early on I got on a hot streak and that kind of helped my confidence.”

One of the ways Castoral improved over the years was by observing his teammates.

“Just looking up to guys on the team and seeing what they’ve been able to do helped me,” he said. “When I was eight, just watching the 12 year olds play in the All Stars. Just seeing the greater levels of play really helped propel me to become that better player.”

On the mound, Ryan developed a good chemistry with catcher Nick Ciuffreda. The key to his success was the ability to throw any pitch in any count.

“His off-speed really helped him out in situations where it maybe was a fastball count,” Septer said. “He did a good job of mixing everything. He was the guy we trusted to go out there against the tough competition, that’s why the wins and losses don’t always look great for him. But he was consistent with his work. We just didn’t play good defense behind him in some of those games.”

At the plate, Castoral stays within his limits. He doesn’t try and do too much and just puts the ball in play.

“He’s not a guy that’s gonna go bash a bunch of home runs,” Septer said. “He’ll get a lot of singles, hit for average and he likes to get on base and make things happen.”

When Ryan is not hitting or pitching, he is contributing in other ways by keeping the atmosphere light.

“He always knows how to get a laugh out of us and not be so serious all the time,” Septer said. “But he is a competitor. He’s not that big rah-rah guy but he keeps everyone on their toes and enjoying that we’re out there playing a game. When he goes out there and competes and puts up some good numbers for us, guys want to follow him and they understand when he’s feeling good and feeling right and everything is going our way, it’s fun to be out there.”

Castoral enjoys fun off the field as well. He is headed to Penn State next year to be a business major and is in the Lawrence DECA business club. He also takes part in the Game Design Club.

“It’s pretty self-explanatory,” he said with a laugh. “Just creating games. We haven’t met in a while but we had a couple good ideas.”

The best idea concerning his baseball career was giving Castoral a chance to play as a junior.

“He got a great amount of experience last year, he worked hard throughout the season along with the legion team,” Septer said. “The time he spent playing for us, I think he built some confidence and was ready to go for this year.”