Few know adversity as intimately as West Forsyth’s baseball team.
There are few who have overcome it as often as Blake Whitfield.
Whitfield, a pitcher for West Forsyth and the football team’s starting quarterback, spent the past two seasons the same way: rehabbing his injured throwing shoulder after suffering a broken collarbone.
In fact, both injuries occurred against McCallie (Tenn.), coincidentally, right around the same point in the game.
Each time, Whitfield fought through physical therapy to make sure he was healthy for baseball season.
“Both years he got hurt in football, I would text him and say, ‘Man, I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.’ I mean, I know that he loves to play quarterback too and I know it’s crushing to him,” West Forsyth baseball coach Mike Pruitt said. “I’m sure it upsets him, but he just looks at you and says, ‘I’ll be ready, coach. I’ll be ready.’ And sure enough, every spring he’s ready to go.”
Whitfield said his status as a captain motivated him to set an example.
“I was a captain for the team, so I couldn’t let that injury get me down,” Whitfield said. “I think that showed all the other guys that when we go through adversity, you can’t give up. That’s what what we talked about all season long, is when adversity hits, what are you going to do? How are you going to get up from it?”
Whitfield returned for his senior year and was a key cog for West Forsyth’s pitching staff, which opened the season with a 5-1 record and 1.13 ERA. The Wolverines also threw two combined no-hitters early in the year.
West Forsyth had seemingly bounced back from last season’s 11-18 campaign, where the Wolverines won just three games in region play.
“It was probably going to be one of our best years,” Whitfield said. “We’ve all played together since we were kids. It’s kind of heartbreaking.”
Pruitt embraced those expectations and often let his team know.
“I told them over and over, even at the point of the season where we had to stop, that they were shaping up to be one of the best senior classes that we’ve had here since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here 10 years,” he said. “They were doing the right things and saying the right things. They were so much fun to be around and so much fun to coach and then — gone.”
Whitfield isn’t the only West Forsyth senior who fought through injury to reach his senior season.
Bryce Hawkins was part of the Wolverines’ pitching staff and had missed his entire junior season because of a UCL injury.
Wyatt Crowell, who signed to Florida State as a pitcher, hit .414 last season and was on track to be cleared for the start of region play before the season was shut down.
Then there’s catcher Collin Ekerberg, a senior who missed a chunk of his high school career after being in a car accident during his junior year.
Pruitt recalls Eckerberg making an errant throw to the pitcher earlier this season and wondering what happened.
“I kind of looked at him and he was rubbing his fingers,” Pruitt said. “I thought maybe it’s too cold, but then he walked out from behind the plate and said, ‘Coach, I can’t feel my fingers.’ It’s a flare up of this car accident he was in -- it was a neck and a back injury.”
Whitfield is a finalist for the USA Today Sports Comeback Player of the Year and will be honored next month at an event scheduled for May 11 at the Atlanta Symphony Hall.
“There’s so much more to Blake than just playing a sport,” Pruitt said. “He preaches, and I’ve gone to watch some of his sermons. I just think he’s wired a little bit differently ... there’s more of a calmness and a coolness to him that a lot of guys have a hard time and they struggle with, especially when face adversity, or when they might have failed in a certain situation. You just don’t see that out of Blake.”
The 11 seniors who make up West Forsyth’s baseball team are Luke Cartenuto, Griffin Clark, Wyatt Crowell, Bryce Hawkins, Collin Ekerberg, Brock Imbornone, Miller Jones, Dylan Reilly, Dalton Roush, Ethan Vaughan and Blake Whitfield.
“Knowing that those guys are like that — not just the ones that were fighting through injury — but knowing those kids have faced adversity and gotten through it, this is just another bump in the road for them. They will be fine. Whatever avenue they choose to take, whether baseball takes them down that road or whatever, these guys are prepared for that. They’re tough as nails.”