MONROE – When CATA’s Blake Little puts his mind to something, good things usually follow.
On the baseball field, the 6-foot-7 righty flamethrower has dominant stuff that’s produced a brilliant career on the mound.
This season, Little has career highs at the plate, too, after focusing more on taking a better approach while at bat.
Little has probably the most mind-boggling stat of any high schooler: From kindergarten to under 30 days left of his senior season he’s never missed a single day of school.
Even when the Cougars travel to their far away conference rivals and get home at midnight, Little is back the next morning ready to go.
“He beats me back to school most mornings,” third-year CATA coach Aaron Hammers said. “That’s the quality of him that most people don’t know. It’s not just on the field, but it’s in the classroom as well. Every single day he shows up and does what he needs to do.”
This season, with his commitment to UNC Asheville all locked up, Little said he’s embraced more of a player/coach role and is having fun with it.
“My goal this season is to make everyone around me better,” he said. “All season I’ve been pulling people aside and helping the coaches out. I want to spread as much information as I can and let them have success.”
That’s worked, too. For the third straight season, CATA has will finish with at least 10 wins although this year the Cougars could break the school record with one more victory. They also finished third in the Rocky River 2A conference, something that had never happened before.
“His leadership skills are phenomenal and especially so this year,” Hammers said. “He’s been like an assistant coach out here. The kids listen to him, they respond to him and all of that but his work ethic is his leadership. Every single practice and every single day, he’s the hardest working kid and they follow that. It’s led to a lot of success.”
On the field, Little has been dominant since his freshman year.
He says he played in rec leagues growing up, but he first got serious around the summer before ninth grade.
“I decided pretty early on that if I was going to play in Division I, I was going to play at the highest level possible and work as hard as I could to get there,” he said.
Little had developed a three-pitch arsenal with his fastball, a nasty curveball and a slider, but he thought they were too predictable.
The curve and slider both broke in toward left-handers and he though hitters were sensing that on his second and third trips through the lineup.
To compensate for that, this year Little added a fourth pitch to his repertoire with a split-finger fastball that he can command for strikes as it dives down and away from lefties.
“He’s 85-plus and he’s the real deal,” Hammers said. “He added a splitter and it’s been filthy this year. He can control his curveball and splitter for strikes…I’ve been coaching high school for a long time and he’s the best I’ve ever seen. I was at Marvin Ridge for a long time before I came over here, and we had some talent there, but he’s good. If he’s on the mound we always have a chance to win.”
Little is 4-2 this season with a ridiculous 0.92 ERA. In 45.2 innings, he has struck out 79 batters, walked 11 and given up just 28 hits and 13 runs, only six of which have been earned.
He’s 17-4 overall during his career, and his only allowed 11 earned runs over more than 90 innings the last two seasons combined, but that’s not the real story to Little.
“I’m not focused on the numbers this year,” he said. “It’s my last high school season so I want to go out and have fun. I think not over-analyzing certain things has really helped me a lot.”
Little’s said getting more comfortable at-bat and a few mechanical tweaks led to a season where he put up career highs in batting average (.423), hits (22), triples (three) while also tying his career low with 10 strikeouts. In the field, he hasn’t made a single error this season despite playing first base when he’s not on the mound.
It’s been an incredible season and career for Little who will go down as an all-time great at CATA, but it won’t be for a lack of effort.
“There are days when I feel tired or like I could use some rest, but my mindset is if I’m not working hard someone else is,” he said. “So whatever I can, whether that’s getting a few extra swings off the tee or taking ground balls. That makes all the difference for me and something I believe in.”