Henry Ryan constantly hears about the line of great Ardrey Kell pitchers that have preceded him.
There is Jordan Darnell (Elon University), Alex Wood (Atlanta Braves), Ryan Butler (Marshall and Charlotte 49ers), Brad Stone (N.C. State), Trent Thornton (North Carolina) and Doug Norman (Louisiana State).
Ardrey Kell coach Hal Bagwell and pitching coach Ray Korn have developed a load of pitching talent in the nine years the Knights’ program has existed.
While Ryan is proud to be a part of Ardrey Kell’s pitching tradition, he is intent on making a name for himself.
After committing to North Carolina as a sophomore, the Knights’ junior ace is off to a good start.
“Coach Korn and coach Bagwell have talked a lot about the great pitchers we have had here, and I’ve not only watched a lot of those guys but also gotten to learn from some of them,” Ryan said. “But I can only be Henry Ryan, so that’s what I am focused on.”
“I want to be the guy at Ardrey Kell that everyone talks about, I don’t want to be listed with other guys,” Ryan said. “I want to be the No. 1 guy, because I feel like if you’re not at the top, you’re just average. I always want to better than that, I always want to be the best.”
Bagwell said he loves Ryan’s confidence.
“We’ve had some unbelievable pitchers here, the Alex Woods, the Trent Thorntons,” said Bagwell, who is quick to credit Korn for developing the pitchers at Ardrey Kell. “But the best thing about Henry is that he is only focused on being Henry Ryan. He’s very confident and very driven.
“The transformation he’s made from last year to this season has been huge.”
Ryan was impressive as a sophomore, going 2-0 with a 0.89 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 23.2 innings.
But the 6-foot-5, 230-pound right-hander has gotten even better in 2015. He is 3-1 this season as a starter, with 40 strikeouts in 27 innings and a 0.51 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .165 when he is on the mound.
Ryan, 17, said he relishes pitching against the best hitters and teams and has thrived in that role this season, getting wins against Providence High (eight strikeouts), Myers Park and Olympic and a save against South Mecklenburg.
Ryan’s only loss was 1-0 to Charlotte Catholic, where he dueled with future North Carolina teammate and Cougars pitcher Nick Bruno.
Ryan has a fastball that reaches the low 90s, a power breaking ball, a slider and a change-up.
“I love getting the ball in the big-time situations against the best players,” said Ryan, who also plays showcase baseball for coach Jeff Schaefer and the Demarini Stars NC, as well as the EvoShield Canes, in summer.
“I’m not going to be afraid to go (against) any batter. There’s no better feeling than seeing coach Bagwell call in a fastball in a big moment. I’m always thinking, ‘Here’s my best stuff and see if you can hit it.’ I love that kind of pressure, I thrive off of it.”
The Knights returned only one starter, junior All-American Aaron Pilkington, from last year’s 28-3 team, but already are off to an 11-2 start (7-1 SoMeck 8 through March 30) this season, their only losses coming to Charlotte Catholic and Marvin Ridge.
Ryan showed his versatility when Bagwell put him on the mound in middle relief against South Mecklenburg on March 27, just three days after he started against Catholic.
The idea was for Ryan to get the Knights through to their closer, Pilkington, but instead Ryan closed out the final two innings for the save.
“I will do anything for my team, whether it’s start, close, middle relief, pinch run or hitting,” said Ryan, who also laughed while admitting that he is 0-for-11 at the plate this season with eight strikeouts. “I love competing and I hate to lose. I’ll do whatever it takes to help get the win.”
Ryan says the Ardrey Kell team is intent on doing what it takes to win championships.
“We know some people out there that say we are young and so they don’t have big expectations for this team,” Ryan said. “But for us, the expectations never change, no matter what year it is or how old or how young we are, we expect to win, because that is what the Ardrey Kell baseball team does. We expect to be competing for conference championships and state championships every year.”
Bagwell said that’s exactly the kind of confidence and focus that makes him believe Ryan’s future is even brighter.
“I don’t think Henry has even scratched the surface of how good he’s going to be in three or four years, or even five or six years from now” said Bagwell, who had has 395 wins in 18 years as a head coach. “I think the sky is the limit for him. Henry will be pitching in the big leagues one day.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.