No high school baseball player in the state of Indiana has ever collected more hits or runs batted in during his career than Adam Norton. It’s no surprise that the former Andrean High School standout has been a key piece to Notre Dame’s success on the diamond during the first half of this season. That he’s done it without a bat in his hands is the shocking part.
Irish senior Adam Norton is 8-1 with a 1.82 ERA so far this season.
Norton, now a senior for the Irish, came to South Bend as a smooth-swinging shortstop. He pitched at Andrean, as many top players do at the high school level, but assumed he would settle into a role in the infield at the college level. When head coach Mik Aoki arrived a year later, he had other plans. Aoki told Norton he could continue to take his hacks in batting practice and work on fielding ground balls, but he would have to do that before or after practice. His main focus would be on pitching.
“We all thought that his great impact on our program was going to be as a guy on the mound,” Aoki said. “That’s not to take away from his other abilities. … We just thought he could establish himself on our pitching staff.”
He has. Norton won his first seven starts of the year this season for the Irish — the first Notre Dame pitcher to do that in 12 years. He is currently 8-1 with a 1.82 ERA on the mound. He helped Notre Dame get back on track with a three-game sweep of Quinnipiac last weekend. He threw a five-hit complete game shutout Saturday afternoon. His consistency has been a key piece to a 22-15 record for the Irish.
Norton’s fastball doesn’t set radar guns on fire. His breaking ball is an ongoing project. Yet he’s managed to mow down some of the country’s top-ranked teams by nibbling corners and making opponents swing the bat.
He helped launch Notre Dame to its highest national ranking in program history in early March when he threw a complete game shutout to beat No. 25 Virginia Tech. The Hokies normally average 8.3 runs per game and were hitting .337 as a team this season.
He followed that performance a week later by frustrating rival USC for seven innings, allowing only one run on five hits in another victory. Those back-to-back outings earned him recognition as the College Sports Madness National Pitcher of the Week.
“I wouldn’t say that it was expected to go like this, but I can’t say I’m disappointed about it,” Norton said. “It’s been really nice to have this success after working hard at it for so long.”
Norton batted .261 and started 31 games on the right side of the infield as a freshman. He took some time to adjust to a more full-time pitching role as a sophomore and made some headway last year as a starting pitcher. He led the team with 98 innings pitched and turned in a 5-5 record with a 4.32 ERA.
This season, Aoki said his unexpected ace has matured and developed a better understanding of how to harness his pinpoint accuracy to make quick work of opposing batters. In years past, Norton would get frustrated with pitches that barely missed the strike zone and force strikes over the plate where opponent could tee off. Now, the senior isn’t afraid of throwing a few more balls (he still has issued a remarkably low 10 walks in 65 innings), which force hitters to swing at pitches they don’t want to.
Norton’s coaches say he wasn’t a strikeout pitcher even in high school, when he went 9-0 to lead Andrean to a state championship as a senior. He instead relied on his superior command.
“He’s got a Greg Maddux-like brain where he knows what he’s doing,” Andrean coach Dave Pishkur said. “He’s not going to walk guys and he’s not going to get himself in trouble by having a high pitch count or anything like that.”
Norton’s ability to keep his pitch count down helps Notre Dame even on days that he isn’t on the mound. Most college teams start their most dominant pitchers on Friday of the typical three-game weekend series. Norton pitches on Saturdays. Aoki said he left Norton there because he can count on the veteran to give his bullpen a rest by going deep into a game and because he can have a big impact on the momentum of a weekend.
“Winning that one allows us to potentially win the series if we take Friday. And if we lose Friday, Norty can get us back on track by shutting them down the next day,” he said. “It’s played out in both fashions this year.”
Aoki said he had no trouble convincing a younger Norton that he needed to spend his time with pitchers rather than trying to turn his prolific high school career at the plate into a similar calling card in college. Norton still participates in bating practice on a regular basis and would be the first man to fill in at shortstop if current starter Lane Richards wasn’t in the lineup. He’s also a viable option as a pinch hitter on days when he isn’t pitching.
Norton said he, of course, wishes he had more than three at-bats so far this season, but knows he is no position to complain.
“You want your cake and you want to eat it too. I want to be the best pitcher and the best hitter that’s just not my role on the team right now.”
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