Zane Patton was a poster player for COVID-19’s domino effect on spring athletes who lost a full season in 2020.
He went from a sophomore understudy on a perennial region and state-contending baseball team at Scott County High School to the de facto senior leader of an overhauled roster, with no chance for a soft landing.
It also sabotaged his future plans by taking away the junior season that is so crucial in convincing college recruiters of one’s worth on the field and in the classroom.
Persistence and unselfishness do pay off, however. One month after graduation, Patton signed his national letter of intent Wednesday morning to continue his career about 15 minutes from home at Midway University,
“We didn’t know what we were getting into. My parents (Van and Missy) went to an associate school back in the day, so they didn’t know a whole lot what to do,” Patton said. “Coach (Scott) Willard and the other coaches were here to help me put my name out there, talk to coaches about me. It was a lot of Coach saying, ‘Hey, this is Zane. This is what he’s about,’ instead of me being able to show my talents to them last year.”
Patton co-anchored the Cardinals’ pitching staff with junior Joseph Garrison, was the team’s primary catcher, and also played shortstop on occasion.
He led the Cardinals with a .316 average and 31 hits, including two home runs and 16 RBI. On the mound, he defeated three of SC’s district rivals — Frederick Douglass, Henry Clay and Bryan Station — and went 4-3 with a 3.96 ERA. Patton carried a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning of a district semifinal at Sayre before the Spartans ended the Cards’ season.
“Zane just did everything that we needed him to do on the baseball field this year,” Willard said. “The biggest thing I think he did, we had a young team, only three seniors, and from day one I didn’t have to name a captain. Zane made himself a captain by his actions. He led our team this year, just a great example for a lot of younger kids of the way that you go about it.”
Scott County went 12-19 against what was rated the seventh-toughest schedule in the state out of 251 KHSAA baseball teams. Five of the Cardinals’ opponents — McCracken County, Lyon County, Lafayette, Hazard and Collins — advanced to the final eight of the state tournament.
“Our record might not have been the best, but we definitely had a harder schedule than a lot of other teams,” Patton said. “That was the biggest thing. I don’t know how many top 25 teams we played this year. For the most part we competed.”
On paper, SC didn’t add to the recent success of three district and two region championships.
Nevertheless, Patton lived up admirably to the reputation of former teammates Cam Hill, Trace Willhoite, Kyle Harbison, Jordan Fox, Cade McKee and others who are playing the pastime at the next level.
“All those big powerhouse players, I kind of followed their footsteps,” Patton said. “So I thought I had to do what they did and show these younger players, because they showed me what it was like.”
Patton was a multi-sport star at Scott County. He quarterbacked the football team to an undefeated regular season last fall. It was a sport he picked up in seventh grade “kind of as a hobby to get stronger and tougher,” he said.
The only other seniors in the baseball dugout, Campton Martin and Chase Grigsby, starred in football and basketball, respectively.
“I knew I was going to have to be a leader,” Patton said. “Campton was kind of our football leader, and Chase was a leader for basketball. I figured it was my role that I had to step up and help these younger guys, because it’s their team now.”
Willard said Patton’s guidance went beyond his timely success in the batter’s box and rally-killing strikeouts on the mound.
“Zane was just so patient with those younger guys on our team that didn’t have a lot of experience,” said the veteran coach, who logged his 500th career win when Patton pitched a complete game to knock off then-top-five Douglass. “Whatever I asked him to do, if it was play shortstop, pitch, catch, he did it for us. He’s just a great example of a great teammate.”
Midway is an NAIA program and member of the River States Conference.
University of the Cumberlands also was in the mix, but Patton said the Eagles’ proximity and the amount of his financial aid package were checkmarks in Midway’s column.
With the memories of that lost 2020 season still fresh in his mind, he would also love to be in a situation where he can get on the field sooner than later.
“It’s the best fit for me,” Patton said. “They gave me a good deal, and I have a good shot at playing early. They have a really nice baseball facility out there.”
“It’s an opportunity for Zane to go over there and get on the field right away,” Willard added. “It’s close to home, where his parents can watch him play. They just built a brand new baseball field and have excellent facilities. It’s going to be a win-win for Midway and for Zane to get to go over there and be a part of their program.”
Patton stayed sharp going into his senior year by lifting weights at Toyota’s gym, taking swings at home, and throwing on the side whenever he could find a partner to catch.
While he pitched throughout his younger years, it was never his primary role on a roster until this past spring, when he struck out 37 batters in 46 innings.
“I’ve been talking a lot to the (Midway) pitching coach, but he also said I’m a pretty good athlete, so I could switch positions and do whatever’s best for the team,” Patton said. “Growing up, I always had people tell me I was going to be able to play college baseball. I didn’t know what level or where, but I always had an idea I’d be able to do it.”
The coach is pleased to see his pupil’s good faith and deeds rewarded.
“Zane is an excellent student. He comes from a great family. We’re really, really happy for him, because he does everything the right way,” Willard said. “I just want to thank him for all he did for our school the past four years. Being our football quarterback, being our leader on the baseball team, it was just excellent.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.