The value of a spring trip often is felt off the field as much as on. The Thomas Worthington baseball team made its first such excursion since before the COVID-19 pandemic, playing four games in Tennessee from April 13-16.
The Cardinals went 0-4 on the trip and were 4-7 overall, including 3-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division, after a 3-1 win over Marysville on April 21.
But coach Chris Olson believes the trip will serve Thomas better in the long run.
“I think from a bonding and a camaraderie standpoint, the trip was awesome,” he said. “From a competition standpoint, it was tough. But that’s what we want. We want to be exposed to the best talent and the teams we played (in Tennessee) were all excellent. That’s only going to make us better.”
Three of the four teams Thomas played – Knoxville Christian Academy (third in Division II-Class A), Knoxville Hardin County (fourth in Division I-Class 3A) and Farragut (sixth in Division I-Class 4A) – were ranked in the latest Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association state poll.
“As coaches, we’re still trying to figure out some of (our players) and what they’re capable of,” Olson said. “We’re playing a lot of new faces. The more we can figure out (the makeup) of this team, that’s only going to help us. Most of these kids haven’t played together. There are a few returning guys. But outside of that, it’s a newer group of guys.”
The team stayed in a house together, visited NASCAR Speedpark and took in a Tennessee-Tennessee Tech college baseball game, where they got to use the facilities at the ballpark of the minor league Tennessee Smokies.
“I think it was overall a good trip even though we didn’t have the best win-loss record,” senior Josh Rock said. “I think it definitely (made) all of us better because we got to see better pitching.
“I think it made us closer, bonding-wise, because we got to do a ton of fun activities together. At the house, there was foosball, arcade machines and a hot tub. Everybody was just talking to each other and having fun, (especially) on the bus rides.”
Rock, a left-handed pitcher and outfielder, was 1-1 with a 2.23 ERA and 27 strikeouts in his first four starts on the mound. Against Marysville, he pitched a complete game, allowing one earned run on three hits and a walk with 10 strikeouts.
Sophomore Jacob King was leading the Cardinals at the plate, batting .312 with four walks, two runs and a couple of stolen bases.
Senior Gannon Wentz has been battling an elbow injury, limiting his time on the mound after being one of Thomas’ top pitchers last year. He had thrown only 3 1/3 innings this season, all in relief.
“(My elbow is) getting progressively better,” Wentz said. “I was able to throw down in Tennessee with little to no problem. ... It’s (taken) a lot of ice and rest, but I’m slowly getting back.”
Wentz is making an impact behind the plate as the team’s main catcher.
“It’s a hard balance (between pitching and catching),” Olson said. “We haven’t had many guys that have been able to do that. He’s an ultra-talented player. He enjoys playing the game and he’s really competitive.”
Wentz’s father, Bradley, and brother in-law, John Birkbeck, are helping out as assistant coaches. Bradley was a freshman on the 1981 state championship team and went on to play at Illinois as a catcher, and Birkbeck pitched at Kent State.
“Having (my dad) there really helps me emotionally,” Wentz said. “Having someone to talk to during the game is just better for me, personally.”
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Baseball: Thomas Worthington benefits from Tennessee trip