March 31, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
There wasn''t a defining pop.
A piercing pain didn''t course through the elbow.
Instead, Blake Roberts saw a dispiriting loss in velocity on his fastball and control that signaled something wasn''t right.
"My mom was (in the doctor''s office) when he told me," Roberts said. "There was dead silence. I was already preparing for going to Oklahoma in about four days."
The diagnosis was something pitchers never want to hear: Bone chips in the right elbow. Roberts had seven bone chips in his elbow, and he still bears the reminders of the surgery on his elbow.
But Roberts is making people forget he had surgery.
The Hew Hope High School junior right-hander allowed one earned run and struck out eight in a complete-game victory last week against Kosciusko.
For his efforts, Roberts is The Commercial Dispatch Prep Player of the Week.
Roberts admits he didn''t know if he would be able to return to last year''s form that saw him emerge as a key contributor on the mound.
Thanks to a quicker-than-expected recovery from surgery and plenty of preparation in the offseason, Roberts is back and is working himself into even better top shape.
"I was hoping I was (going to be able to come back)," Roberts said. "My teammates helped me a lot. They know I worked hard and they helped me back a lot."
Roberts said his performance earlier this season against Neshoba Central, when he struck out Donnie Tabb, one of the state''s top players twice, gave him the confidence to know he was returning to his comfort zone. Roberts allowed only one hit in the game.
The rehabilitation and work in the offseason has paid off. Roberts has moved into the No. 1 spot in the rotation and will go at 7 tonight for the Trojans when the play host to Class 4A-District 4 rival West Lauderdale.
Roberts is 8-0 with a 0.99 ERA. He has one shutout and three complete games in eight starts. He has allowed 25 hits and 15 walks and has struck out 44 in 42 1/3 innings.
Opponents are hitting .162 against him.
"He has held up to the challenge (of being the No. 1 pitcher)," New Hope High coach Stacy Hester said. "He has a great attitude. Good folks have raised him and all of that goes into him being the complete package."
Roberts was supposed to miss six months recovering from his surgery but he returned in four. He said he had to "start from scratch" once he was cleared to resume workouts. He said his approach this season isn''t drastically different from last season. The only difference is he is trying to work in more offspeed pitches to help keep hitters off balance.
Hester said Roberts had impressive credentials from his summer league team before he arrived at the high school level.
As a sophomore, Hester said Roberts'' signature game came in a nine-inning effort against Ridgeland in the state playoffs.
"He wants the ball," Hester said. "That is what you want to see in a kid. He had a phenomenal year. He was our co-Most Valuable Pitcher as a sophomore."
Hester invited Roberts to accompany him to play in the Junior Sun Belt Classic in Oklahoma, but Roberts was forced to miss the trip after he discovered the bone chips in his elbow.
Hester said Roberts has worked hard to get himself back in shape and to regain the form he had last season.
"After the first two weeks we put a charge in him," Hester said. "He was winning games but he was winning just because he had control and he knew how to pitch. Now we have got him at a point where he knows he is getting back to his form of last year."
Roberts said he wants to continue to improve his velocity and his control. He said his goal is to pitch in college. "I want to get stronger and get a lot more stamina," Roberts said.
Hester believes Roberts has the potential to accomplish his goal if he continues to work hard and to be a student of the game.
"He has really bought into what we are trying to do now," Hester said. "As the game gets longer, he gets stronger. That is something you can''t coach. He has a good mind, he works with the catchers, and he knows how to pitch and to mix it up.
"He is the type of kid you don''t get many to come along like that."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.