As Legacy baseball continues its march through the postseason (please check www.dfwvarsity.com for results of this weekend’s Class 4A Region II semifinal series vs. Prosper), there’s no denying that pitching is playing a key role.
The Broncos allowed just 10 runs over their first eight postseason contests and Legacy hurlers have posted some dominating performances. If you ask coaches and players what the secret is, they’ll tell you that part of it is a special strength and conditioning program that pitching coach Brian Tickell instituted two years ago.
“It’s a big reason we’re able to do half the things we do,” senior starter Blake Wilson said. “We’re able to bounce back faster than most pitchers who don’t do the things we do. We have more stamina and can usually go long and push through and push harder than other pitchers.”
Tickell first heard of the program while coaching at Colleyville Heritage. He was hesitant to try it initially, particularly because of the use of weighted balls in training.
“I thought the weighted balls would hurt our kids,” he said. “Their shoulders are going to be torn up. But the more (I heard) about it, the more it made sense.”
A colleague trying to sell Tickell on the program noted that quarterbacks throw footballs – which are heavier than baseballs – hundreds of times a day during practices and don’t suffer from residual soreness. Tickell finally decided to give it a try and implemented the program at Heritage. While it didn’t provide an increase in velocity – one of the touted benefits – it did have a dramatic impact on recovery time for the athletes, something Legacy pitchers report as well.
“He has it set up where we do something different each day and all year we’ve been doing that. It’s definitely given us a lot of arm strength,” Cole Hearren said. “We recover real fast, and I think that has a lot to do with the strength and conditioning program.”
“Their bounce-back time is so much faster,” Tickell added. “We have very few sore arms. It’s just a great program and I really enjoy teaching it and the kids enjoy doing it.”
Another important person sold on the program is head coach David Walden.
“It is off-the-charts difficult and challenging, but our kids are just strong as bulls,” Walden said. “Blake Wilson threw 10 innings the other night, and he was ready to go to the 11th inning (had we not scored to win the game), and he had no tenderness the next day.
“I just think it’s got those kids in fantastic shape,” he continued. “I have no earthly idea how a guy can throw as much as Cole (Hearrean) did (May 15) and even think about wanting to pitch two days later. I was watching him during in-and-out and he was throwing the ball about 90 miles per hour and I was wanting to go over there and tell him, ‘Hey, take it easy.’
“But his arm was feeling like it had a lot of juice in it and when he came in, it did. He threw as well (May 17) as he did in the middle of the game on (June 15). I don’t know how they’re doing it, but they tell me they feel great and they feel strong.”
The basis for the program is weighted balls and a variety of different drills, such as a daily one that Tickell calls flat-ground work, in which the pitchers throw their repertoire of pitches to a catcher without a mound.
“It cleans up their delivery and gets them on top of the baseball and throwing downhill and throwing strikes,” he said.
The unique aspects of the program were a tough sell to the players initially.
“At first we were like, ‘This stuff is crazy,’” Wilson said. “The logic behind it was a little weird to us. But then, within the first few weeks, we started seeing results and then we jumped onboard. Ever since then it’s been nothing but good stuff.”
“Anytime you start something new or different, in the back of your mind, you’re wondering if it’s going to work,” Tickell said. “Over time they just felt like they were getting stronger and stronger and they started buying into it more and more.”
The pitchers are now sold on the program, in large part because of how they feel and the results they see on the field. So even when the hard work is challenging, they know it’s worth the effort.
“We do this stuff at the end of practice and even though we’re tired, we know that extra work will definitely pay off,” Wilson said. “So we have to be in the right mindset and get after it because it will pay off on the field.”