La Roche pitcher Tre Thomas had a 2018 season many of his peers would envy. Then a sophomore, the Ambridge grad went 9-1 with a 1.47 ERA, earned honorable mention All-American honors from D3Baseball.com and was the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Pitcher of the Year.
But Redhawks coach Chase Rowe said he believes that was just the appetizer.
“I think he’s got a lot of ceiling,” said Rowe, in his 13th season at La Roche. “It could be a special year for him.”
Creating the AMCC’s best pitcher took some work. Thomas arrived at La Roche as a raw athlete who was hoping to pitch and play infield for the Redhawks. When the coaches told him he needed to pick one, he chose pitching.
“When I’m on the mound, I like to be in the spotlight,” the right-hander said. “And it’s my game when I’m on the mound, and I can control it.”
First, however, he had to learn to control his body. An over-the-top thrower in high school, Thomas was switched to a delivery that was more three-quarter arm. He also had to correct the mechanics of what Rowe called “a terrible lower half.”
The idea, Rowe said, was to channel Thomas’ athleticism — he also was a key member of playoff basketball teams at Ambridge — into his pitching motion.
“He did a lot of athletic things in his life,” Rowe said. “But when he got on the mound, he was like a robot. We needed to convince him he needed to make some adjustments, and every single thing we have told him to do, he has done.”
The changes helped Thomas have his breakout season last spring, and he did it using only a fastball and a changeup. Mostly, he lived on the fastball, saying he threw it “80 percent” of the time.
To take the next step in his evolution, Thomas added a slider to his repertoire in the offseason. He experimented with different grips before settling on one that worked, and now he has a pitch that looks like a fastball until it cuts at the last moment.
Opponents still will see plenty of his fastball — or perhaps only hear it as it goes by them. Thomas’ velocity is starting to touch the low 90s, and Rowe said he expects to see radar guns reading mid-90s by April.
Still, the normally low-key Thomas can’t help but smile at the thought of showing the opposition a new pitch.
“Now that I have that third pitch,” he said, “I don’t think they’ll know what’s coming.”
Thomas also has been working on the cerebral aspects of his position. His work ethic, Rowe said, never has been in question. What he required was more diligence in studying opponents and focusing on the other day-to-day minutiae of preparation.
“I started studying the batters a little bit more to see what they do,” Thomas said. “Then, when I step in there, I’m prepared. They’re going to have to battle me more than I have to battle them.”
He also changed his demeanor. A self-described hothead in high school, Thomas said he is more poised and calm on the mound — qualities he will need if he and the Redhawks are to live up to expectations.
He was voted the preseason AMCC Pitcher of the Year and to D3Baseball’s preseason All-America honorable mention list. On top of all that, La Roche, which went 35-10 last season and advanced to the NCAA regionals for the sixth time in seven seasons, is ranked in three preseason top 25 polls.
Thomas takes the accolades in stride. He sees them as motivation to prove he and the team deserve to be honored.
“(The honors) mean a pat on the back and, ‘Good job.’ I’m not going to preach about it,” he said. “I’ve got to move on and show why they picked me.
“This team here, we’re going to go a long way. We’re not just going to go to (the D-III World Series). We’re going to win it. We’re loaded this year.”
And that starts at the top of the pitching rotation.