Rich Condeelis is used to competing, and winning, at a high level.
He was a district champion and played in a state championship game, all before his senior season of high school.
Now, Condeelis continues to excel at a high level of competition, and wouldn’t mind another chance at playing in a championship game.
Condeelis, who graduated from Tunkhannock Area High School in 2012, is now a sophomore first baseman and relief pitcher for the Lackawanna College baseball team, and has made his presence felt in the lineup since transferring from Florence-Darlington Technical College in South Carolina, including Eastern Pennsylvania Athletic Conference Athlete of the Week honors earlier in the month.
“It was obviously an honor for me,” Condeelis said. “It was a good week for our program and a good week for me to get hot. We play so many games at a time that I feel like if you get hot, you stay hot, but if you’re struggling it’s hard to get going.”
For that stretch, Condeelis led the Falcons to a 5-1 record by hitting .619, which included two doubles and two home runs. He also scored nine runs and had 13 RBIs, and even took the mound in an inning of relief and struck out two batters.
As of Monday, Condeelis is batting .404 with an on-base percentage of .509 and slugging percentage of .652. He has 36 hits in 33 games, with four home runs, 28 RBIs and 28 runs scored.
“We all kind of feed off each other,” Condeelis said of his role in the Falcons lineup. “I don’t think anyone is pointed out as the go-to guy because we all play as a unit. We compliment each other and my role is to do the job that I’m supposed to do and pass it on to the next guy.”
That same philosophy was what helped carry the Tigers to the 2011 Class AAA state championship game when Condeelis was a junior. The year before, Tunkhannock was district champions, and made it to the quarterfinals of states.
“It was awesome to be part of something like that, it honestly had to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in baseball,” Condeelis said. “I’ve played in a lot of big events and big games but nothing like that. It was almost surreal, like some days you wish you could do it all over again.”
Playing in big games at such an early point in his career has given Condeelis a certain level of calmness when the intensity of a game rises.
“I think the biggest thing for me is the ability to control my emotions and mental side of the game,” he said. “Having played in bigger games with more pressure, if you can control what you’re thinking, the better chance you have at succeeding. I’ve kept the winning and competitive edge with me and Lackawanna definitely has that same attitude.”
After playing summer ball in Connecticut, Condeelis made the decision to come back home to play for the Falcons, and realized the amount of hard work he would have to put in to play at such a competitive level.
“You start realizing that the college game is 100 percent different than high school,” Condeelis said. “You have to put in the extra reps and put emphasis on getting your body in shape and getting faster, stronger, bigger, etc. The big thing was surrounding myself with great people and working hard.”
Over winter break, Condeelis worked with former teammate and University of Virginia star Mike Papi almost every day, even on Christmas Eve.
“It was nice to get back with him,” Condeelis said. “We’ve been really close since middle school and always loved playing with each other. He has that same winning attitude and it was great to surround myself with that.”
While Condeelis worked hard to make physical changes, he also had to make changes to the pace of his game.
“You’re really not going to go out and have a game where you might not be at your best and you can still do well,” Condeelis said. “The game speeds up and you’re going out there against the best because everyone is gunning for you. Talent can carry you in high school but in college it’s different.”
One of the necessary adjustments that Condeelis has made it to slow the game down in order to remain focused at the plate.
“I try to have a simpler approach and have the same approach in batting practice that I have in the game,” Condeelis said. “I try to simplify things and take the game one pitch at a time and not dwell on the bad things or get too high on the good things. You need to stay in the moment and that’s what’s helped me this year.”
Staying in the moment also eliminates him from any superstitions or rituals that most baseball players carry with them either on or off the field.
“I think if you put yourself in the right position good things usually happen, so I don’t like to think if my left shoe isn’t tied first then I’m not going to get a hit that day,” Condeelis laughed.
If anything, Condeelis has certainly made the necessary adjustments, and has continued to remain one of the Falcons’ top hitters.
“I love that I can be leaned on in the lineup and that teams are gunning for me,” he said. “I look at it as competition and that pitchers will be giving me their best game and I’ll be giving them mine. I love that pressure, it helps me focus more and hopefully if I hit well it will carry through the rest of the lineup.”
Teams should definitely expect to always get the best game from the Falcons, who are guaranteed a spot in the Region XIX Division II Baseball Tournament with a 24-13 overall record, 9-2 in the conference.
“The biggest difference from last year is that we’re almost demanded to come together as a team and we definitely have a brothership between each ohter,” Condeelis said. “We have each other’s backs and that’s a big thing for me. Last year, those guys were individualistic for their own reasons, but coach (Chris Pensak) has done a great job finding guys working toward the same goal and that’s what wins ball games.”
Condeelis said his final goal for the season is to continue helping the team any way he can with the hopes that the Falcons will make it back to the World Series and possibly win a national championship by season’s end.