No longer the 'new kid,' Deatherage making a big impact at O'Fallon

News-DemocratMay 10, 2014 

— Because of his family's military background, O'Fallon High School senior Blake Deatherage is used to being the "new kid."

Born at Scott Air Force Base, Deatherage and his family lived in the metro-east until he was 5, then moved to California before eventually returning to the metro-east.

He was starting all over again.

Through it all, he never lost sight of two things --his love for baseball and his love for his family.

"I've probably been to like eight different schools growing up," Deatherage said. "I was the new guy a lot. It was tough getting comfortable on teams, but once a few practices got going I fit in really well with a lot of teams."

It's safe to say that Deatherage has been an amazingly good fit at O'Fallon after transferring from Belleville East following his sophomore year.

He leads the Panthers with a .474 batting average and has six doubles and 37 RBIs, the second-highest RBI total in the St. Louis region.

Deatherage's 9-0 record as a pitcher is the best in the St. Louis area this spring. The McKendree University recruit also has a 1.24 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 51 innings, along with a shiny 15-1 record in two seasons with O'Fallon.

With nine wins already, Deatherage has a shot at O'Fallon's single-season record of 14.

"He's really turned into a dominant pitcher in our league -- and that's not a phrase you can use very widely in that (Southwestern) Conference," O'Fallon coach Jason Portz said. "He's as consistent as any player that we've had in our program."

Not an imposing specimen at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, Deatherage illustrates the importance of hard work, mixed with good coaching and an incredibly strong desire to succeed.

Deatherage cited the work of all his coaches growing up, most recently at O'Fallon and especially pitching coach Nick Seibert, for helping him reach his potential.

He has taken the tools he has been given and made the most of his situation.

"We have a lot of kids a lot like Blake, kids that don't have extraordinary athletic ability but really buy into the program," Portz said. "They have to believe in what your coaches are preaching and teaching and Blake is that kid."

Believing his future in college was as a pitcher, Deatherage even offered to leave hitting and position play behind.

"We told him absolutely not," Portz said. "That was not an option, get back in the cage and start working."

Portz and his staff saw great promise in Deatherage, a player so versatile he can be used virtually anywhere on the field. Deatherage applied himself to hitting and pitching last summer and during the offseason.

"It's been really surprising," Deatherage said. "In the offseason, I was attempting to be a pitcher-only and it turned out that my coach really wanted me to be in the outfield. I had to start pretty late to catch up with everybody else to be on their level. I was working really hard on my swing."

Deatherage added strength and fine-tuned his swing, all the while never losing focus on the pitching skills that helped draw recruiting attention.

On a team with at least two and possibly more future Division I players, Deatherage is leading the team in both pitching and hitting.

The results are statistics that jump off the page. The results helped Deatherage gain the attention of not only McKendree, but also Missouri-St. Louis, Southwestern Illinois College, Kaskaskia College and Rend Lake.

"We weren't in any way expecting him to come out and be a .400-plus hitter," Portz said, "but as he's worked through the process he's really becoming a skilled hitter. The real backbone of high school sports is giving kids opportunities to play and building lifelong memories.

"Blake is a great high school athlete and fortunately he's going to be able to move on and have it pay for his education."

Early years

Some of Deatherage's earliest memories involve playing catch with his father, Russ Deatherage.

"It's just something I've always loved," Blake Deatherage said. "It was my dad throwing balls to me or playing catch with me when I was younger, raising me with the game. Just growing up with the game, it was all we did in free time ... playing catch, going to games or practicing by ourselves."

Things changed a bit when Deatherage's parents divorced when he was 8. He moved to Belleville with his mother, Becky, in July, 2005 and has been in the area ever since.

Transferring midway through his high school career wasn't the easiest for Deatherage, who was leaving friends behind and readying himself to begin the "new kid in town" process over once again.

Baseball helped smooth the transition.

"It was a little scary at first, I didn't really know why my role was coming from a rival school so it was pretty tough," he said. "They just embraced me really well. The team really likes me and I really liked them. I'm just one of the crew now."

Portz said Deatherage's friendly demeanor and serious baseball attitude made a big difference.

"We definitely saw a lot of potential in his arm initially," Portz said. "With us having as many transfers in and out from Scott Air Force Base, our kids really do a good job of welcoming new players into our program.

"Blake adapted really quick to our program expectations."

Deatherage enjoys being a double-threat on the roster, able to help the Panthers with a bat or on the mound.

"It's the best feeling, especially when I'm pitching and hitting in the same game, he said.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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