North Marion seniors more than runners-up

North Marion beat Nature Coast 4-1 in the Class 4A State Baseball semifinals on Monday, May 24, 2021, at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers.

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Posted June 8, 2021 | By Ainslie Lee,

North Marion’s Connor Burks tumbles into the dugout chasing a foul ball. The Colts beat Nature Coast 4-1 in the Class 4A State Baseball semifinals on May 24. They lost the championship game a day later.

To most, North Marion baseball’s senior class will be remembered as the ones who came so close.

The Colts’ seven seniors helped North Marion to its first-ever appearance in an FHSAA state title game on May 25. But the Colts’ lost 8-4 to the North Broward Prep Eagles in the Class 4A championship. North Marion finished its 2020-21 campaign with a 21-9 record.

But for North Marion baseball’s head coach, Dale Hall, “runner-up” isn’t the term he’d use to describe North Marion’s seven seniors.

Hall has been coaching the Colts for 17 years – longer than some of his players have been alive, he joked.

“I just told these guys the other day. ‘It’s gone by in a flash,’” Hall said after the Colts’ title-game loss. “But this senior group will definitely be one of the most special groups I’ve had the opportunity to coach.”

North Marion’s seniors accounted for 207 of the Colts’ 250 hits during the season and 118 strikeouts.

The Colts are losing a lot.

Connor Burks

It’s hard to capture a person’s character in a photo. But the picture of first baseman Connor Burks diving heels over head into a dugout chasing a foul ball says it all.

“Connor is one of the hardest working kids we’ve had come through our program,” Hall said. “He is a guy that is not going to be outworked.”

After playing behind former first baseman Noah Lukas for three years, Burks patiently waited for his chance. When he got it, he made the most of his shot.

Burks maintained a .309 batting average through the season, including 25 hits, 20 RBIs, five doubles and a home run.

Currently uncommitted to play at the next level, Burks has workouts planned with a handful of college programs, Hall said.

“Very intense, very driven,” Hall said. “Connor is going to get an opportunity somewhere to play college baseball. We just don’t know where yet.”


Wyatt Campbell

Wyatt Campbell

Wyatt Campbell couldn’t have planned to finish his high school career any better.

In the state semifinal game against Nature Coast Tech, Campbell started on the mound for the Colts and pitched a gem through 6.2 innings, tallying eight strikeouts en route to the 4-1 win that sent North Marion to the title game.

“His performance in the postseason kind of spoke for itself,” Hall said. “We’ve never seen a pitcher, in my tenure as a head coach, dominate like he did against quality opponents. He’s just a guy you want on the mound as much as you can.”

But in the championship game, Campbell showed his offensive ability.

One day removed from his outing on the mound, Campbell led the Colts.

He went 3-for-4 from the plate and had a hand in each of North Marion’s four runs – three of which he drove in and one he scored himself. Campbell maintained a .359 batting average and 1.77 ERA through the season, garnering him an offer to play college baseball for Lipscomb University in Nashville.

“For whatever reason, the light just came on for him this year… he just kicked it into a higher gear this year,” Hall said. “He wanted to leave his mark on the program, and he did exactly that.”

Deric Fabian [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Deric Fabian

Like most coaches, Dale Hall loves gushing about his players. So his loss of words when talking about Deric Fabian speaks volumes.

“I told him after the state championship game that you could take your baseball ability completely away from you and…,” Hall said trailing off. “I just cannot put into words how I feel about him.”

Serving as the Colts’ starting shortstop, Fabian is the leader of North Marion’s defense.

And according to Hall, Fabian’s ability to stay grounded is what made him the baseball player that warranted an offer from the University of Florida.

“You never see him too high; you never see him too low,” Hall said. “He’s very consistent.”

Fabian’s consistency spans beyond his post at shortstop, where he tallied a .934 fielding percentage with 75 putouts and just five errors on the season. The future Florida Gator is also surefooted in the batter’s box, where he posted a .462 batting average and a team-leading 13 home runs.

If neither is drafted in this year’s MLB draft, Deric will join his older brother, Jud, in Gainesville next season.

Nate Fennewald [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Nate Fennewald

Though Nate Fennewald spent just two years at North Marion, one being the abbreviated 2020 season, he instantly contributed to the Colts’ success.

Fennewald, who came to North Marion after previously playing for Belleview, was the Colts’ battery behind the plate.

“We always loved the way he controlled the game over there,” Hall said. “We got the good news that he was coming to us and couldn’t have been more excited.”

When not behind the plate, Fennewald generated offense, including clutch hits during the postseason run. In the state semifinal game, Fennewald stroked a base hit in the third inning. He later scored the first Colts’ run en route to the 4-1 win.

According to Hall, Fennewald recently committed to play for the College of Central Florida.

“We couldn’t be more happy for him,” Hall said. “He’s definitely earned it.”

Eli Garcia

Eli Garcia

It isn’t often that a high school coach has the opportunity to mold a player before the student-athlete ever steps foot on campus.

But Hall first started working with Eli Garcia when the Colts’ outfielder was just nine or 10 years old, and Garcia began attending North Marion’s summer baseball camps.

One of the first things Hall noticed about Garcia was his speed – a quality college program also picked up on.

Following Garcia’s senior season, which saw the outfielder post a .386 batting average and .949 fielding percentage, he garnered a scholarship offer from Ave Maria University, a private university near Naples.

“They’re building their team around speed,” Hall said. “They got some video on him and really liked what they saw.”

Gavin Miller

Gavin Miller 

According to Hall, Gavin Miller’s stats don’t jump off the page like the average leadoff hitter. However, Miller’s intangibles make up for it.

“Stats are important, but what most people don’t see is how he pushes his teammates every day in practice,” Hall said. “He does everything he possibly can to not only make himself better but his teammates around him better.”

From the leadoff spot in the lineup, Miller maintained a .297 batting average while also playing third base for the Colts and recording 39 putouts. He also led the team in walks after drawing 34 free bases on the season.

“We don’t have the success that we have without a guy like Gavin Miller,” Hall said.

Jacob Walton

Jacob Walton

Jacob Walton playing in the postseason was far from guaranteed.

The Santa Fe College pitching recruit had elbow surgery scheduled just weeks before the Colts’ games in Ft. Myers. Walton was slated to undergo Tommy John surgery before the postseason after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament earlier in the year. But Walton put it off.

“This just meant too much to him,” Hall said following the Colts’ loss in the championship game.

Unable to pitch, Walton served as the Colts’ designated hitter throughout most of the season and finished the season with a .340 batting average and struck out just 12 times through 94 at-bats.

“Even when he got the worst news you can possibly get as a baseball player, he stayed positive. He just wanted to help the team out any way he can,” Hall said. “We couldn’t be more thankful because he was a huge key for us in our lineup.”

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