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ODA baseball waits for underclassmen to make an impact

While the Thunder lineup is still trying to find the right fit, its seniors have stepped up.

ODA senior Nolan Naese (5) scores a run against ISANP. Naese is one of the Thunder's leaders and is helping teach younger Thunder players how to play the right way.
ODA senior Nolan Naese (5) scores a run against ISANP. Naese is one of the Thunder's leaders and is helping teach younger Thunder players how to play the right way.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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A month into the high school baseball season, The Out-of-Door Academy is trying to find its rhythm. 

After losing 10 seniors to graduation following its 20-8 2023 season, Head Coach Mike Mathews said the Thunder has been forced to rebuild its lineup and pitching rotation at the same time. That challenge has led to some early-season inconsistency. ODA is 5-5 through 10 games with up and down performances.

Matthews said the team has a talented group of seventh, eighth and ninth grade players who are trying to adjust to the varsity level, but that might take some time. 

While a lack of varsity experience can make things tough, the team also has a handful of seniors who are attempting to make the transition to varsity easier for those young players — while still fighting to end their high school career with a winning season. 

Nolan Naese, a senior infielder committed to Towson University, is the team's quiet leader, Matthews said, never getting too high or too low. That attitude is an example of the consistency Matthews wants the rest of his players to have. Naese is a steady defender and he's performing at the plate, too. Naese went 3-4 with a home run and two RBIs in the Thunder's 5-2 win over North Port High March 6. But Naese is not a power hitter by trade. He had just three home runs in 2023. His strength is to make an impact however he can. 

"I find a way to get on base," Naese said. "I'll do what it takes to get on and help my team win a game. I'm a good base runner as well.

Head Coach Mike Mathews said ODA senior Brandon Beasley keeps the locker room light.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Matthews said senior Brandon Beasley has also been a good locker room leader this season, making sure to keep things light after hard practices and games. Beasley suffered a shoulder injury during football season — Beasley played linebacker — that has limited his ability to play defense, but he is contributing as a designated hitter. Beasley, who hit .402 last season, is the team's middle-of-the-order threat and someone who can drive in players like Naese. Matthews said Naese and Beasley have helped younger players realize the standards that ODA baseball holds, like having a good approach with two strikes to make sure the ball is put into play. 

The pitching staff has also been a work in progress for ODA. The coaches knew it would be, even before junior pitcher Carter Malartsick had Tommy John surgery over the summer, causing him to miss the 2024 season as a pitcher, though he is still able to take at-bats. Malartsick's injury has forced other pitchers into bigger roles. Some, like freshman Cam Yates, have thrived. As of March 17, Yates has a 0.778 ERA over 18 innings, with 22 strikeouts and three walks. 

"He's exceeded expectations," Matthews said of the right-handed Yates. "He's competing and battling in the zone. He's throwing off-speed pitches for strikes. He's dealing with the pressure. And he works hard. You can tell from his attitude that he wants to be great."

Despite the stellar numbers, Yates' record is just 1-2. Matthews said Yates and other pitchers have been let down at times by the defensive play behind them, where mistakes have led to unearned runs. Mathews said an improvement in team defense is necessary if the team is going to have a successful second half of the season. 

ODA freshman pitcher Cam Yates holds a 0.778 ERA through 18 innings as of March 17.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Matthews also wants an improvement in the team's small-ball execution. The strategy has helped the Thunder make deep postseason runs in the past, particularly with strong base-running and the advancement of runners at the plate. According to Matthews, the execution is not where it needs to be in 2024, a symptom of inexperienced players learning how to play ODA's way. Against the Imagine School at North Port on March 14, the Thunder failed to execute on several bunts that would have either scored runs or put runners in scoring position as the team lost 5-2. 

But Matthews can see the team's potential. With leaders like Naese and Beasley showing the Thunder how to approach their at-bats, and young pitchers like Yates keeping opponents off the scoreboard, Matthews believes more success will come. 

"This year has been unique," Matthews said. "It has been an exploratory period, but guys are finding their roles. We just need to play consistent baseball." 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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