Whether Nashville High senior Ryan Brink was playing shortstop or pitching, domination was his game.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Brink batted .366 with 13 doubles, six home runs, 32 RBIs and 35 runs scored for the Hornets, who finished 30-7 and reached the Class 2A Sauget Super-Sectional before being eliminated 4-3 by eventual state champion Teutopolis.
On the mound, Brink was 10-0 with a 0.94 ERA, allowing just 37 hits and striking out 95 in 67 innings.
Brink’s performance proved irresistible to area coaches, who voted him the Belleville News-Democrat’s Small-School (Class 1A-2A) Player of the Year for 2017.
“In the offseason, I put in a lot of work in the weight room. That really helped me,” Brink said. “I hit for more power this year. That was something I focused on — taking my swing and trying to hit for more power than I did last year.”
Brink said the improved conditioning also manifested itself when he pitched.
“This year, out of all the years I’ve ever pitched, my arm felt better than it has any other year,” said Brink, who throws a fastball, changeup and curveball. “I don’t know what it was. It might have been getting bigger and quicker, stuff like that. My arm felt great. I had no problem pitching and then going to play short the next day.”
In the offseason, I put in a lot of work in the weight room. That really helped me. I hit for more power this year. That was something I focused on – taking my swing and trying to hit for more power than I did last year.
Nashville senior Ryan Brink
Nashville coach Chad Malawy agreed that it was Brink’s dedication to the weight room that elevated his ability on the field. Malawy said as a junior, Brink’s arm would occasionally be sore after pitching, making it difficult to use him at shortstop in the next game.
“What helped him is he had goals,” Malawy said. “He loves the game of baseball, so in the offseason, he put in the time working on his arm strength. He put in time in the weight room. He was a stronger, better-looking athlete even this year than he was last year.
“I expected him to have a special year because he put in the time and came in ready for his senior year. He took it to another level when he made a commitment to the weight room.”
Brink, who also starred in basketball, said he would lift weights after practice during the winter, a plan he carried over into the baseball season this spring. He also worked specifically on exercises that would strengthen his shoulder.
The process has continued this summer as Brink prepares for his college career at Lindenwood-Belleville, an NAIA team in the American Midwest Conference.
“I think it will be a challenge,” Brink said of playing in college for the Lynx. “I’ll have a good chance to play. It will be a challenge as far as it being the next level, college baseball.
“I’m about 195 (pounds) now. I’ve been in the weight room a ton this summer. I’ve changed the way I had been eating and I’m doing everything I can to put myself in the best position. I’ll do my best and hope it works out for me.”
Pitching or hitting?
Brink pauses when he considers what part of baseball is most fulfilling. He enjoys limiting opponents on the mound about as much as driving in clutch runs at the plate or making a key defensive play that can swing momentum.
It’s all Brink can remember doing.
“My whole life, I’ve always done both, so it’s come pretty natural,” Brink said of pitching and playing shortstop. “It’s tough. You have to focus on both things.
“A lot of kids would rather play their (one) position, but I enjoyed giving the team a chance to win on the mound, too. When your arm felt like mine did this year, your fastball is reaching top velocity – for what I can throw – and your pitches are moving, it’s a good feeling. But I enjoy playing short. If I had to pick one, it would probably be short.”
What helped him is he had goals. He loves the game of baseball, so in the offseason, he put in the time working on his arm strength. He put in time in the weight room. He was a stronger, better-looking athlete even this year than he was last year.
Nashville baseball coach Chad Malawy
Lindenwood-Belleville could employ Brink much like the Hornets did.
“I think I’ll have a chance to be a two-way player,” Brink said. “I know for sure I’ll probably do infield. But really, it’s wherever they need me. I’ll do whatever I’m needed to do and I think there’s a good chance I’ll get to pitch.”
Malawy doesn’t dismiss the possibility.
“I see him as a position player in the college ranks, for sure,” Malawy said. “But he’s such a fierce competitor and he’s got good stuff on the mound. As a college coach, he would be a guy I could hand the ball to and say, ‘I need you to get me out of this jam. I need you to come in right now and throw to this guy with the bases loaded and get us out of it.’
“I would have no second thoughts with that. He can throw any pitch at any time in the count.”
Brink didn’t need much time to settle on making a commitment to the Lynx.
“(Coach) Logan Johnson is a real nice guy and all the assistant coaches are nice guys,” Brink said. “I met some of the players and they’re real nice. So that made it a lot easier for me choosing Lindenwood. I like what I’ve seen so far.”
Turning on the power
Brink said he never envisioned himself as a player who could hit for power. His frame, however, suggests otherwise. He has gained 10 pounds in the last few months and is coming off his second strong summer with the Southern Illinois Quakes, a travel team comprised of players from Nashville, Breese and Mascoutah.
“Playing in those better tournaments, you see a lot of good pitching,” Brink said. “Coming back to school last year, I felt better after seeing pitching like that.”
Brink, who clubbed a three-run homer in the super-sectional at GCS Ballpark, is a proclaimed ambush hitter. If the first pitch is a strike, he’s typically swinging.
“As much work as I’ve put in, (power) is a part of my game that’s really come along,” Brink said. “My whole thing was always being aggressive early in the count. The first good pitch you get could be the best one you see. That was my approach. ... When you’re that focused and you’re seeing the ball well, it makes things a lot easier.”
As much work as I’ve put in, (power) is a part of my game that’s really come along. My whole thing was always being aggressive early in the count. The first good pitch you get could be the best one you see.
Brink, a three-year starter, vividly remembers the time when he suddenly realized it was time to make the evolution to varsity competition.
“I started as a sophomore and got the start (on the mound) in the regional championship game,” Brink said. “That was a big situation there. It’s something where you have to mature and do your best in that situation. We won that game. The light bulb kind of clicked there, like, ‘This is real. This is varsity.’
“Then my junior year, I got moved up to fourth in the lineup. That was different, too. The ultimate was this year when the light clicked on. The ball looked bigger (at the plate) and I had a lot of success on the mound.”
Brink said he wouldn’t have wanted to play for any other coach than the intense and determined Malawy.
“He demands a lot out of his players. He puts a ton of time into our program,” Brink said. “He’s always a part of a winning program. Just how intense he is shows how passionate he is about the program. I personally don’t know if I would like to play for any other high school coach that I’ve seen. We’ve become real close.”
Malawy feels the same way about Brink.
“Ryan is such a fierce competitor on the field,” Malawy said. “He plays with emotion and fire. He’s the kind of player I love to have. It helped the other Hornets around him be better players themselves. I think we were a good match. We’re very similar people.”
Malawy said Brink could become a coach if that’s the route he chooses in his future.
“Ryan is an advanced player for his age,” Malawy said. “He sees so many things on the field that coaches see, but not every player sees. He sees them and he also does a lot of little things that helps separate the great players from the average players. He’s just so hungry and wants to win so bad. I feel fortunate to coach a player like Ryan.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm
BND Small-School All-Area baseball team
This is the 2017 Belleville News-Democrat Small-School (Class 1A-2A) All-Area Baseball Team, as selected by coaches:
Player of the Year
- Ryan Brink, Nashville, sr.
Coach of the Year
- Greg Reinhardt, Valmeyer
- Pitcher: Trevor Davis, Gibault, sr.
- Pitcher: Dylan Wilson, Central, jr.
- Pitcher: Philip Reinhardt, Valmeyer, fr.
- Pitcher: Austin Anderson, Nashville, sr.
- Catcher: Austin Francis, Dupo, sr.
- First Base: Nathan Parkinson, Marissa, sr.
- Second Base: Cole Juelfs, Valmeyer, jr.
- Shortstop: Kolby Schulte, Central, sr.
- Third Base: Easton Wallace, Valmeyer, sr.
- Outfield: Jake Krekel, Valmeyer, jr.
- Outfield: Carter Truong, Central, sr.
- Outfield: Joel Mattingly, New Athens, jr.
- DH: Jacob Eversgerd, Carlyle, jr.
- Utility: Matt Wolf, Gibault, sr.
- Pitcher: Nolan Robben, Mater Dei, sr.
- Pitcher: Jack Strieker, Central, jr.
- Pitcher: Brogan Kemp, Nashville, sr.
- Pitcher: Zach Swaim, Wesclin, sr.
- Pitcher: Collin Kessler, Gibault, sr.
- Pitcher: Lucas Tobin, Red Bud, sr.
- Catcher: Cody Bauza, Nashville, sr.
- Catcher: Dru Johnson, Carlyle, sr.
- First Base: Jack Strieker, Central, jr.
- Second Base: Blake Bernhardt, Wesclin, sr.
- Shortstop: Trevor Davis, Gibault, sr.
- Third Base: Jayce Timmerman, Central, sr.
- Outfield: Brogan Kemp, Nashville, sr.
- Outfield: Lucas Tobin, Red Bud, sr.
- Outfield: Hayden Heggemeier, Nashville, sr.
- Outfield: Tony Stoddard, Marissa, sr.
- DH: Sam Mosby, Roxana, sr.
- Utility: Zach Swaim, Wesclin, sr.
- Pitcher: Shane Ganz, Okawville; Jamie Roustio, Wood River
- Catcher: Wil Rakers, Mater Dei
- First Base: Noah Crocker, Carlyle; Eli Jacobs, Metro-East Lutheran; Blake Metzger, Gibault
- Second Base: Jensen Lake, Central; Drew Ratliff, Roxana; Austin Sweeney, Gibault
- Shortstop: Joe Range, New Athens; Kyle Smith, Marissa
- Third Base: Mark Branz, Gibault; Chase Daugherty, Marissa; Jake Ysursa, Althoff
- Outfield: Tyler Brinkmann, Gibault; Josh Dima, Althoff; Trevor Meier, Nashville; Jared Niemeyer, Mater Dei; Logan Pressley, Roxana; Philip Reinhardt, Valmeyer; Connor Sheehan, Althoff; Robbie Smith, Dupo; Alex Stern, Gibault
- DH: Jacob Dumstorff, Mater Dei; Shane Ganz, Okawville
- Utility: Payten Harre, Okawville; Andrew Kash, Nashville; John Woods, Red Bud