Watts signs letter of intent to play baseball at St. Bonaventure

Bob Parana - Staff Writer

Rams senior Gabe Watts, the son of Tom Watts and Ginette Casilio La Strapes, will be furthering his baseball career at St. Bonaventure University (USB) in the fall of 2021. The talented left-handed pitcher, who excels both on the field and in the classroom, signed a letter of intent to play for the NCAA Division-1 Bonnies via video linkup Wednesday and was joined at a ceremonial signing with family, the school's Athletic Director Emily Mitchell, Superintendent Dennis Crotzer, and Principal Ray Kelly following classes Friday in the JAHS library.

Watts will join a St. Bonaventure squad that has enjoyed success recruiting local talent. 2014 Johnsonburg graduate Cole Peterson who is now with the Detroit Tigers organization played for the Bonnies through the 2017 season. Ben McDonald, a 2015 Ridgway graduate also played at the university. Watts joins head coach Larry Sudbrook’s Bonnie roster which will include area players - 2020 Port Allegany graduate Howie Stuckey, a right-handed pitcher, and shortstop (2018 Big 30 Player of the Year); Cameron County left-handed pitcher Adam Shaffer; and Bradford first baseman Danny Manion.

“I think it’s a great program to go to. I like how it’s small which keeps that hometown feeling,” Watts said noting his uncle Corey Casilio played at the school in Olean, New York in the early 2000s.

Watts, who will be playing for the Rams basketball squad which begins practice next week, is looking to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Finance before pursuing a Master’s in Business.

Having lost his junior baseball season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Watts continued to hone his skills over the summer and was featured at the Prep Baseball Report’s 2020 Pennsylvania State Games in DuBois in July.

The senior is looking forward to his last season with the Rams basketball and baseball teams and praised his school and community. “It’s a great environment to be around. Everyone is always thankful and they’ll support you in whatever you do,” he said.

The Bonnies' 2020 spring season began in February but was shut down in March. They hope to be back on track in the spring. The Atlantic 10 school plays both a spring and fall season.

La Strapes is thrilled her son will have the opportunity to not only play baseball but get a top-notch education.

“I think it’s a great blessing that he has a full-tuition scholarship. The financial burden is off so he can go out and perform and take care of studies and not have to worry about all the other stuff. It’s a great honor,” she said.

The proud mother echoed her son’s thoughts on the school and town. “All my kids have been very involved in all of the sports and it’s a big part of our family. Johnsonburg is a very supportive community. You not only have your family but the whole community behind you,” she said.

Son Tyler Watts graduated in June and is currently working in the area. He earned his 103rd career wrestling win last season. Twenty-five year old Brittany Watts lives in Florida and furthered her basketball and volleyball careers at the University of Pitt-Bradford, and daughter Ashton Watts is completing her final year at Pitt-Bradford in the nursing program after transferring from Mercyhurst where she played two years of volleyball.

La Strapes is happy her son will be playing in Olean after high school. “It’s close enough so we can go up and watch baseball and that’s very nice to be able to do. We’re looking forward to it,” she said.

Tom Watts is pleased to see his son take the next step. “I’m very proud and excited to go watch him play. He’s worked hard to get here. It’s been great to see him work his way up,” he said.

Johnsonburg Athletic Director Emily Mitchell spoke highly of Watts following the signing ceremony.

“Gabe is our first 2020 athlete going to a D-1 school. I’ve known him since he was in the seventh grade. He has always put his best foot forward. He is highly focused academically and in school. I know he is in the top 15 of his class. He has very good scores and he is determined to do what is best for him, and his teammates.

“I thought maybe he would focus on basketball but when he came up his freshman year I could tell his passion and dedication were for baseball. To have this happen for him is extremely impressive and we have nothing but good things to say. We’re proud that St. Bonaventure wants one of our small school athletic and smart kids to be part of their program. It’s tremendous,” she said.

Watts was named to the Allegany Mountain League All-Star basketball team last season and was a standout for the Elkers football team in his sophomore and junior seasons. He recorded 60 strikeouts in his sophomore season for the Rams in 2019.

Mike Porter who took over the helm of the baseball team before the 2020 season was wiped out due to COVID-19 has high hopes for Watts on the mound in 2021.

“I’m looking forward to having Gabe in the spring. He adds an element to our pitching staff that’s going to play a big part in what we do. I coached him a bit in his younger days and obviously, we didn’t get a chance to play last year but I know he’s a great athlete. I’m happy for him,” said the coach who feels St. Bonaventure has recruited a great player. “I think he’s going to do well. He’s definitely got the size, the body, the frame to throw hard, and he’s blessed with that lefty arm. I think he’s in a good spot,” Porter added.

Bonnies' head coach Sudbrook is a three-time Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year (2000, 2006, and 2017) and has over 700 wins at the school. He has accumulated 14 wining-seasons. Sudbrook is assisted by B.J. Salerno who has been with him for seven years and was a pitcher at SBU. Both were Major League Baseball draft picks.