Photo courtesy of Tony Lenahan/Saline Courier
During the Bryant Hornets’ run to a Class 7A State championship and a number 10 rating in the country last spring, Blake Patterson proved to be as clutch at the plate as anybody on the team. Mostly used as a pinch-hitter, Patterson came through time and time again including a game-breaking double in the Hornets’ first game of the State Tournament against Fort Smith Southside. Patterson ripped one to the wall in left to drive in the cap-off runs in a 5-0 win. He also knocked in a run in the 10-0 win over Fayetteville in the title game.
“It was crazy in the State Tournament because it was like my first real big game to be a part of,” he recalled. “When I went up there to bat, I was nervous as all get out. I got there and I just said I’m going to do what I can and it happened. It got me hyped up. I still get chills just thinking about it.”
Then, in the summer, playing for the State champions Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team, he ascended to top tier status. He was second on the team with a .392 batting average, with 45 runs batted in, 51 runs scored and 58 hits and led the team in walks with 45.
And he blossomed on the mound, going 9-0 for the 46-5 Sox who reached the championship round of the MidSouth Regional Tournament, just a win away from playing in the World Series. He led the team with an 0.97 earned run average, struck out 54 in 58 innings with just nine walks all season and, along the way, fired a perfect game against a team from Milwaukee, Wis., in the annual Battle of Omaha Classic in Nebraska, held in conjunction with the College World Series.
The right-hander had a big win over Mountain Home in the State Legion tourney then shutout the renowned Oklahoma Outlaws in the Regional.
“I didn’t really pitch that much last spring in high school for the varsity,” he recalled. “When I got to Legion, I pitched a lot. I started getting into pitching a lot more and I found out all of my pitches were starting to work. Once I threw that perfect game in Omaha, I told myself I’m going to work on everything I can to help myself out.”
He’s developed a curve, a change-up, and both two-seam and four-seam fastballs. And his out-pitch? “It’s whatever’s working mainly,” he replied. “My curveball’s usually the one that’s more on.”
It figures that Patterson will be an instrumental ingredient as both the Hornets and the Sox make a bid to repeat as State champs in 2015.
And one thing that now won’t be a distraction to that was taken care of on Monday, Nov. 17, when Patterson, the son of Bob and Brenda Patterson, signed a letter of intent to continue his education and his baseball career in the fall of 2015 at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, a baseball program that is fast becoming Bryant West (as opposed to Bryant North at Arkansas Tech and Bryant South at Arkansas-Monticello).
Blake joins former Hornets Jordan Taylor, Hayden Daniel, Landon Pickett, Hunter Mayall, Hayden Lessenberry and Justin Emmerling on the Reddies’ squad.
“They’re getting a steal,” asserted Black Sox manager Darren Hurt. “A guy that’s going to be able to pitch and help them offensively, big-time. When the game was on the line, we wanted him up to bat and we wanted him on the mound in big games too.”
“Henderson’s getting a quality two-way guy,” agreed Hornets head coach Kirk Bock. “Everybody’s looking for arms and looking for a guy that can swing it and that’s exactly what they’re getting with Pat. I don’t thing he’s going to have any problems on the mound and, if he continues to get better like he did last year offensively, he’s not going to have any problems whatsoever there either.”
Said Patterson, “I liked the school a lot. I had a couple of other offers from UAM and a couple of other schools but I really liked Henderson. I liked the school and I liked the coaches down there. I like all those guys that are already down there playing ball for them.”
Bock acknowledged that the lefty-swinging Patterson had a knack of coming through when the Hornets needed it, particularly as a pinch-hitter.
“Coach (Travis) Queck and I were talking about that,” he mentioned. “Travis reminded me of about three different times where we brought Pat into the game and he sealed the deal for us. He reminds me a lot of Lucas Castleberry. He had that knack also. Where Lucas was getting singles to do it, Pat — he’s going to bounce one off the wall for you and get it done.”
Asked about what Henderson planned for him, Patterson related, ““They say I’ll be a good two-way player, playing first base and pitching. They said they really like my swing.”
He credited Bock with helping him develop as a player.
“Coach Bock helped out a lot with all the work he puts into us in the mornings and stuff,” Patterson said. “He helped me get through a lot of stuff. He kept pushing me to the point where I almost didn’t want to play anymore but I was like, ‘Well, this is the sport I love, so I’m going to keep playing it.’
“My determination kept me going, trying to make myself better at what I was doing,” he concluded. “I went from pitching in B games — I broke my hand and didn’t play my sophomore year — to starting a couple of varsity games. It made me feel like I could do a lot better than I was doing.”
How much better? Time will tell but, it’s certain, Henderson State’s coaches are looking forward to finding out.