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BASEBALL: Player of the Year: Trent Rider's dominance can't be ignored

From the start of the 2015 season, Trent Rider seemed destined for excellence.

With a fastball touching 90 miles per hour, and a deadly curveball and changeup to boot, Rider was the only person who could get in his way.

That didn't happen.

Rider went above and beyond expectations for Southern Fulton, delivering one dazzling performance after another to lead the Indians all the way to the PIAA Class A semifinals.

The junior pitched in nearly every big game for Southern Fulton, making 12 starts and throwing 69 1/3 innings, and what he did in those innings would be hard to match in a video game. He struck out 108 batters, that's 1.56 strikeouts an inning and almost 11 Ks per seven innings. He finished with a 9-1 record, a 1.27 earned run average and a 0.61 WHIP (walk and hits per innings pitched).

But what's most impressive: he walked just five batters, which equals a 21.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

On top of that, he batted .427 with a team-high 11 doubles and 27 RBIs – this from a guy who says he has no interest in hitting. Put everything together, and it's no surprise that Rider is the Public Opinion Baseball Player of the Year.

"When Trent is on the mound, we don't plan on losing," Southern Fulton coach Dustin Fischer said. "He just has such great command. He doesn't walk people, he doesn't hit people and he's so tough to hit."

Rider said, "I feel like I met every expectation I set for this year, except winning a state title. My biggest goal was to have better command and cut down on the walks, and I feel like I accomplished that."

Rider's rise to the top has been by the book in a new-school era for pitchers that focuses on arm care and preservation.

Rider has been playing baseball for as long as he can remember, and by the time he was 9, he was blowing 11- and 12-year-olds away on his all-star team, all without the use of a curveball. And even as a little leaguer, Rider's dad, Brian, would make him run after pitching appearances.

Once Rider was 14, he finally put the curveball in his repertoire, but his routine after and between starts never changes.

"I usually run long distance after every game, and I have a certain workout schedule between starts," Rider said. "I don't use any weights, but I use bands and work on my core to get as much lactic acid out of my arm as possible.

"I feel like I've never really taken a big jump in my velocity. It seems like I get about three or four miles per hour faster every year, and hopefully I can keep doing that until I peak."

Fischer said, "Trent's a hard worker, and his dad is a big part of that. He sticks to a very good routine, and I've never heard him say that his arm is sore or hurting, because he takes care of it."

But Rider doesn't rely on just his strong arm, he is also a student of the game. Rider watches a lot of baseball – he's a New York Yankees fan – and he's always looking for ways to get better both mentally and physically.

"I really pay attention anytime a pitcher is being interviewed," Rider said. "Whether they are talking about a certain way they hold the ball for a pitch, or how they handled a certain game situation, I'm always listening. I think a strong baseball IQ is one of the most important things to have as a pitcher."

The biggest way he took that information to the field this year was with his curveball. The first time through an opponent's lineup, Rider focused mainly on using the fastball to get ahead of and get hitters out.

"Once I got through the order once or I felt like they were starting to catch up to my fastball, I'd start throwing a lot of first-pitch breaking balls and working in a lot more offspeed stuff," Rider said.

Fischer said, "He really improved in that aspect this year. Last year at times he would always try to get guys out with his fastball, but kids at this level can get the barrel on any fastball. This year, he really started mixing in that breaking ball, and it had hitters off balance."

Even though pitching is his bread and butter and true passion, Rider's work with the bat can't be overlooked, even if it's not a big focus of Rider's game. He batted fifth in the Indians' lineup most of the season and finished near the top of the team in every offensive category.

"Honestly, I usually take no more than 10-15 swings even at practice," Rider said. "My focus is always on conserving my arm and being in the best shape to pitch. My dad was always a great hitter, so hitting for me has always been a raw talent. I've never really put the work in, but I've always been right in the middle of the lineup. I'll just keep hitting until someone tells me to stop."

Now, with his junior season wrapped up, Rider is more focused on his future than ever. He plays summer ball with the Mid-Atlantic Red Sox, and he has gotten several looks from Division I colleges. He said that his dream school would be the University of North Carolina, and even though going pro right out of high school is not out of the question, he is leaning more and more toward going to college.

Trent Rider, Southern Fulton

Position: Pitcher/first base

Grade: Junior

School: Southern Fulton

Parents: Brian and Tracy Rider

Other interests: Rider also plays basketball for the Indians, and he likes to hang out with friends.

Surprising fact: Rider and his teammates sat on the bus in exactly the same seat every game during the season and put their eye black on exactly 15 minutes into their bus ride.

Favorite team: New York Yankees

Pro athlete most admired: Derek Jeter

Three people he'd like to have dinner with: Jeter, Mike Trout, Mariano Rivera.

Statistics: Rider was nearly untouchable on the mound for the Indians this season. In 69 1/3 innings, he gave up just 16 runs, 12 earned, with 108 strikeouts and just five walks (a 21.6 strikeouts-to-walk ratio). In 12 starts, he finished with a 9-1 record and had eight complete games with four shutouts. He also tossed a no-hitter in SF's District 5 Class A semifinal win over Berlin.