Evans High School baseball coach Ricky Beale teaches weight-lifting. He oversees baseball workouts after school during the fall before heading to the football field.
Beale knows which of his baseball players put in the work during the offseason. Rick Thigpen was among those who did.
The senior's improved physical condition can be directly linked to the big role he has played for the Knights this season, Beale said.
"He's in a lot better shape than he was last year," Beale said. "That's probably the biggest difference in him last year and this year."
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Thigpen plays first base and pitches in relief. He hits in the middle of the lineup and has been one of the Knights' key contributors this season.
And it's almost as if he came out of nowhere.
In 2009, as a junior, Thigpen didn't see a lot of action. Matt Blume and Michael Farr held down first. Zack Minter handled relief duties.
Players graduated, returners shifted around and Thigpen hit the weight room, where, Beale said, he was one of the team's leaders.
The senior emerged with more bulk and more velocity on his fastball. His curve ball has done what he has wanted the pitch to do. At the end of last week, Thigpen had two saves and eight strikeouts in fewer than seven innings work.
"He's probably not going to be a real burner guy, but he's able to mix everything up," Beale said. "Usually, he's around the plate, which makes it a whole lot better. He's just come in with that mentality that he's going to try to throw strikes and see what happens."
The results also have been in the batter's box. Thigpen is hitting .421, with two home runs and nine RBI. His latest home run came during a 10-5 victory against Cross Creek.
Thigpen said he has worked all season to become more patient at the plate. He never used to let a first pitch slide, but has learned to often watch a first strike.
The senior has been productive in the middle of the lineup.
Thigpen said one of his goals this season is to earn a college scholarship. Attaining the goal would complete the turnaround for Thigpen, whose first goal will be to help the Knights mimic their success from a season ago. Evans reached the 2009 Class AAAA quarterfinals and is off to a solid start in 2010. Evans had won three consecutive region games through the end of last week and has won four of five nonregion contests.
At the end of last week, Evans stood 7-2 overall and 3-1 in Region 3-AAAA. Thigpen said the Knights have bounced back since dropping their region opener to Lakeside.
"We're coming together more as a team," he said. "It was weird losing all the people last year, (after) growing up playing with them. We're trying to pick up where they left off."
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