SARASOTA — Senior Zach Quillian can’t afford to let his mind wander.
As the undisputed leader on the field, the Sarasota Christian School catcher has to stay mentally focused from the moment he and his teammates set foot on the diamond until the final out has been made.
There’s no room for error. One mental lapse on Quillian’s part could change the entire outcome of the game.
It can be exhausting and taxing at times, but Quillian wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a grind,” Quillian says. “You have to stay mentally ready every pitch. Anywhere else on the field you can zone out for a pitch or two, but, as a catcher, with every pitch you have to catch the ball or do something.”
Quillian has been a fixture behind home plate for the Blazers since he was a freshman.
It’s a position he’s grown accustomed to, and one Quillian, who also pitches and plays third base, knew he wanted to play from the moment he saw former major league catcher Jamie Burke playing one day on ESPN a decade ago.
“It stuck out to me,” Quillian says. “I thought, ‘that looks like fun position.’ (Catchers) are the leaders on the field and are involved in every play. They see everything happen.”
Over the past four years, Quillian has developed into one of the Blazers’ premier players. He batted above .400 his freshman and junior seasons and helped lead Sarasota Christian to back-to-back district championships in 2011 and 2012.
Last season, Quillian and his teammates dedicated their season to Lewy Ebersole, the father of their former coach, who died before the season began. Ebersole was a fixture at all of Sarasota Christian’s practices and games for years; and after securing their second-consecutive district crown, the players put up the letter “L” instead of a No. 1 in honor of Ebersole.
“It was definitely one of those special moments — one of those movie-type moments,” Quillian says. “He was an elderly man who was just awesome. He loved baseball and he loved us.
“It was definitely a special experience to have him around, and we miss having him around,” Quillian says.
Now, with Ebersole looking down on them, the Blazers are off to an impressive 6-0 (1-0 Class 2A-District 9) start.
Sarasota Christian has its sights set on a third-consecutive district championship and beyond; but, with 13 regular-season games still left on the schedule, Quillian and his teammates don’t want to get too far ahead of themselves.
“We have a special team this year,” Quillian says. “We don’t want to get hot heads, though. A district championship is definitely something we’re looking for, but right now we’re just taking it one step at a time.”
But, this season, Quillian and his teammates aren’t just simply playing for district dominance. In addition to Ebersole, the Blazers are playing for another fan who left her seat in the bleachers for a different vantage point.
In December, Sarasota Christian coach Chris Lee’s wife, Stephanie, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Stephanie Lee, who taught at Sarasota Christian, died Feb. 15.
The following week, Quillian and his teammates wore their baseball uniforms to her funeral, and a bold “SL” was painted on the field behind home plate.
“She impacted so many lives,” Quillian says. “So, there are two people we’re playing for this year. Win or lose, we’re dedicated to playing hard for them and their families.”
With his final season upon him, Quillian will try to enjoy every moment on the field. Quillian, who missed part of the preseason while helping lead the Blazers basketball team into the regional finals, has aspirations of playing collegiate baseball next year and hopefully following in the footsteps of the other catchers who have come before him.
“Ever since I was little, I would watch ESPN and that was something I really wanted to do,” Quillian says. “I’ve been blessed at Extra Innings (Sarasota) to be around a lot of professional players who workout over there.
“The question you have to ask yourself is, what are you doing everyday to make yourself better,” Quillian says. “It’s about working hard — not necessarily physically, but mentally preparing for each game.”
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.