At the age of 8, John Ondus was playing travel baseball for the Hamburg Dawgs.
Then came a few years with the Zoar Valley Eagles.
He then began to progress through the travel ball circuit all the time with the goal of playing baseball at the next level.
It is safe to say that entering his final year at Gowanda, Ondus has achieved this goal.
On Tuesday, the Panthers right-hander announced his verbal commitment to attend Niagara University and pitch for the Purple Eagles upon graduation.
“It’s every kid’s dream to play Division I baseball,” Ondus said Wednesday afternoon. “Getting this opportunity is something that is hard to pass up.”
Niagara went 22-32 last season, including 13-11 in the Metropolitan Atlantic Athletic Conference.
The Purple Eagles were 11-4 at home at Bobo Field, but 11-28 on the road and at neutral sites.
At the MAAC Tournament at Clover Stadium in Pomona, No. 6 Niagara lost to No. 3 Canisius 11-0 in the opener before going on to earn three straight wins. First, the Purple Eagles beat No.4 Monmouth 9-5 before defeating No.2 Marist 7-4. Niagara then beat top-seeded Fairfield 19-14 in 10 innings before losing 11-8 to the No. 5 runner in the elimination group final.
“I would watch their playoff games on TV and get a sense of the atmosphere,” said John, the son of Jay and Paula Ondus. “I wanted to support them because I knew it would potentially be a place where I could end up.”
Rob McCoy will begin his 15th season as Niagara’s head coach next spring and is the winningest coach in program history. Matt Spatafora, assistant coach and scouting coordinator, is entering his 11th season.
“I really liked the school and the coaches were really nice” said Ondus, who plans to specialize in corporate finance. “They’ve been contacting me for a while. I could tell they were really interested. I wanted to go somewhere I felt wanted and I knew they had my best interests in mind.
The Purples Eagles pitching team, led by junior starters Marcus Cashman, Evan Wilde and Blake MacMillan, pitched to an ERA of 7.13 and allowed opposing hitters to beat them to .289 last season.
“I went to see a match there. I felt like I could definitely compete at this level and make a difference. This was also a deciding factor for me,” said Ondus. “I think if I keep working hard I can work my way into the starting rotation.”
Last season for the Panthers, the 6-foot-2 ace went 5-2 with a 2.55 ERA in nine appearances, seven of which were starts. He pitched a no-hitter on May 7 in a 9-0 shutout against Dunkirk, walking two and striking out 14. For the season, Ondus struck out 76 in 35 2/3 innings, holding opposing batters to a .092 average en route to being named Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 Roger K. Moore Pitcher of the Year.
In three years on the varsity team — the 2020 season was wiped out by COVID-19 — Ondus is 10-5 with a 3.78 ERA. The league two-time and Post-Journal/OBSERVER All-Star has 119 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings. Gowanda won the Section VI Class C championship against Portville in 2021 and lost to Portville in this year’s final.
“Last summer, and even at the end of the school season last year, John and I talked a lot, whether in class or on the sidelines,” said Gowanda head coach Tim Smith. “He has always expressed an interest in playing baseball at the next level. Like all Gowanda kids, you kind of tell them that there are probably a few landmarks you need to reach.
This season at the plate, Ondus hit .351 with six doubles, a triple and a home run while making 19 runs and scoring 24. In the past two seasons, he hit .389 with 12 doubles, five triples and three home runs. to go along with 36 RBIs and 43 runs scored.
“With no disrespect to any of the schools we play against, but for some teams… it should be pretty easy to go out there and beat those teams,” said Smith. “If you think you can pitch to the next level, high school right now should be a bit like a 17-year-old playing the Little Leaguers. … The next level is going to be such a step forward.
According to Prep Baseball Report, the 6-foot-2 right-hander has a fastball that maxed out at 89 mph to go along with a 70-71 mph curveball and a 77-78 mph change.
With measurables like that, Ondus looks like a next level caster.
But first, he and his teammates have unfinished business at their current level.
“Obviously a state championship would be top of our list,” said Ondus. “I know a lot of guys worked really hard this summer and trained in the offseason to improve on the court. … I think we can definitely get back to the top of our games and be ready to go for the senior year.