Decked out in a black and garnet South Carolina Gamecocks tracksuit Tuesday, it was apparent that Jake Wright’s athletic apparel wardrobe revamp has begun.
The Chester High School junior committed to play baseball for the Gamecocks on Monday, an about-face for a teenager who along with his family has supported Clemson his entire life.
When Wright told his mother Amy that he wanted to go to South Carolina, she rationalized her son’s 180-degree shift with some New Testament scripture: “The Lord will open doors that man can’t open, and he will close doors that man can’t close.”
Wright said he truly believed that statement, which includes two of the biggest focuses of Wright’s life, his Christian faith and baseball. Both led him to commit to South Carolina.
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“God is my No. 1 priority and I’m really close with Jesus,” said Wright. “He helps me out through everything I do. He sets my heart on stuff and my heart was set on South Carolina. I don’t know why; there has to be a purpose for everything.”
As a sophomore Wright made second team All-Area last spring, and Region 3-3A’s coaches named him the league’s player of the year. He hit .357 with 21 runs batted in and a .552 on-base percentage, and on the mound went 3-6 with a 2.23 earned run average and 71 strikeouts in 47 innings. Wright has played varsity at Chester since seventh grade, and his coach that season, Dennis Jensen, could think of three or four games where Wright made an impact against players five and six years older than him in some cases.
“He was one of the top-five bats in the lineup,” Jensen said on Tuesday. “It’s a lot of practice. He goes home and hits on that little tee he’s got. I don’t know how many times his dad has had to re-string that Hit-A-Way he’s got.”
John Owens owns Showcase Baseball Academy in Charlotte, and has coached Wright’s summer team the last three seasons. He said the Chester lefty was his team’s go-to player, whether on the mound, in centerfield or at the plate.
“As a pitcher, he was definitely our go-to person on the mound. He was our lefty and would come in and close in some situations, and start in most of the big games,” said Owens. “And when he wasn’t pitching, he was playing centerfield or DH because his bat was equally powerful.”
Owens said colleges were interested in Wright as a two-way player, but that “any time you can get a left-handed arm on the mound, you try to take advantage of that. I think that’s what the Gamecocks are looking at him as.”
Wright commands three pitches – a fastball in the mid-to-high 80s and an above average curveball and slider – and coaches praise his poise and demeanor. All of those, plus the bat, were on display during a South Carolina prospect camp a week and a half ago. Wright sufficiently impressed the Gamecocks’ coaching staff and they made an offer.
“They really liked me; the coaches could tell I’d been working hard,” said Wright who spurned an offer from Winthrop and increasing interest from Clemson and North Carolina.
Chris Powell, who took over the Chester baseball program from Jensen this season, said Wright is the only teenager he’s ever seen in the YMCA on a Friday night squatting repetitions of 325 pounds. It’s that desire to work that should carry Wright like a high fly ball down his baseball career path.
“He just needs to continue doing what he’s doing,” said Owens. “Jake’s work ethic is incredible. His work ethic is as good as anyone’s. He’s gonna out-work the next guy. So if Jake keeps his work ethic the way it is, he’s going to have success at the University of South Carolina.”