After having a stellar year last season with the JCHS baseball team, it was no surprise that bigger and better things were in store for star pitcher, Ryan Mahala. This proved especially true after Mahala received the opportunity to sign on with the Milligan College Buffaloes last week. Coach Nathan Mead made the trip to Mountain City to make the decision official and to welcome the newest member of his team.
With his senior year still ahead of him, Mahalas Johnson County coaches are holding out for one more great season. Ryan is a true ace of a pitching staff, said Assistant Coach Nicholas Perkins. We had Nevin Snyder in 2008 and Mark Jennings in 2011. When those two guys took the mound we thought we might have a chance to win, but when Ryan Mahala takes the mound we feel like we are going to win, regardless of who is in the other dugout. Thats a good feeling as a coach. Thats a good feeling to have. It all starts with your pitching staff. It all starts with what happens on that bump.
Pitching as a junior, Mahala was able to help his team pull out strong tournament wins over Elizabethton, Unicoi County, and Greeneville. His efforts earned him a 10-3 record with a 2.29 ERA. Of those big wins, most notable was a one hit shutout of rival Unicoi County as well as a five hitter against District 2 champions, the Greenville Green Devils. That outcome allowed the Longhorns to make history, earning them their first ever win in regional play.
When asked what he felt makes Mahala such a talented pitcher, Coach Perkins went on to say that, Ryan has velocity. There is no substitute for throwing the ball hard. He misses bats because he throws the ball by people. Hes developed into a true ace pitcher, very worthy of a college scholarship and we suspect that hell continue improving not only as a senior here at Johnson County High School but for the Milligan College Buffaloes as well.
Almost jokingly, longtime Head Coach Pete Pavusek went on to explain that Mahala has unique talent in his fastball. Id like to stand there, he said. If I knew he wouldnt hit me or throw one at my head, Id like to see where the ball comes out of; just see what it looks like as a batter. His height, his frame, as big as he is, the ball comes out of a funny location. Id like to try and hit off of him. I think I could take him, but Id just like to see how the ball comes in there. Especially the Unicoi game where they have such good hitters and you know last year he threw all fast balls and they couldnt catch up to him. It must be where the ball comes out of his hand, the window it comes out of. Its got to be hard, its got to be difficult to hit him, because based on last year, nobody did.
Yet even beyond his ability as an athlete, both coaches also noted Mahalas character as a part of the team. Hes a young man, a young senior, said Perkins. He easily could still be a junior considering his birthday, but has really matured since he entered our program. He really has a love for the game of baseball and I think he has been able to enjoy all this. He has been able to enjoy this ride, the success, and I dont think he takes it for granted.
Noting that these same qualities are what drew Milligan to Mahala in the first place, Pavusek continued by saying, Not only is Ryan a good ballplayer, hes a good guy, with a good family, and just an impact player and person all the way around. If Milligan didnt think so, I dont believe they would have offered him what they did. They obviously see what we see in him. When you see someone you want you go after them and give them everything you can. Thats what Milligan did. When youve got an ERA thats two or under and youve had so many games against such big teams, you know those are the kids hes going to be pitching against when they go on to Milligan, King, Alice Lloyd, or wherever they go. Hell be pitching against those same kids and if they dont do something to improve their game, theyll continue to have a tough time with him.
Yet the choice for college is a two-part equation, and not only does the school have to want the player, but the player has to want the school as well. Mahala himself admits that the Buffaloes were one of his top choices. I looked at a couple of places, Mahala said. But my sister goes to school down there and shell help me out a lot. They gave me an offer I pretty much couldnt refuse. I like the campus; its small, close to home, not far off. Its just a nice private college and I liked it from the first time I set foot on it.
With only one more season ahead, both coaches are looking to a future where they will have to try and fill several key positions, most notably at the pitchers mound. Weve had good teams in the past with strong senior leadership, but we bounce back, said Coach Pavusek. Any time youre in a high school setting, a college setting, youve got four years and then youre going to have a down year or two. They call those rebuilding years, but well bounce back. Weve got some younger kids coming up, but theyll be good, maybe not so much as freshmen and sophomores but hopefully their junior and senior years theyll be able to fit right in and help us out.
While its still too early to know exactly what impact losing players like Mahala will do to the teams outlook, even Coach Perkins admitted there will likely be a rough road ahead. I talk all the time about player development, Perkins said. It starts from the first day they enter our program, developing them for the future, improving our weaknesses to the best of our ability and making our strengths stronger. Its about developing players, but listen, you cant replace a Ryan Mahala, you cant replace a conference pitcher of the year, super 22 player, college scholarship pitcher. You cant replace him, but you hope collectively that you can develop players enough that you can remain competitive.
Mahala first started considering Milligan when he started taking lessons from the Buffalos pitching coach last year. Since then, Milligan officials got to see Mahala in action as the district tournament actually took place on campus. They kind of knew what I had, Mahala said. I know a few of the players, from when I went down and took my lessons, especially the catchers. I feel like we will have a pretty good season this year again. I hope we can take it a step farther. Afterwards, when I go to Milligan I just hope I can keep doing good work with it.
Pavusek seemed confident that everything would work out smoothly as Mahala handles the transition into college life. Hes got to be excited, the future is bright, Pavusek said. Youre far enough away to where you can have your own life but youre close enough to where your parents and friends can be there. Weve always tried to run our program first class. Weve always been about academics, weve always been about structure and discipline, and hopefully with that and the four years around us, maybe moving on to Milligan will be an easy transition. Thats what we hope in building our program and doing what we do, that hell be able to go on to Milligan and pick up where he left off here. Its good for the program, good for the community, and good for the county. Nothing but good comes out of it.
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