ARGYLE — After seven long weeks of waiting to step on the mound, there was no uncertainty in the mind of Argyle senior Drew Gooch.
A few weeks of wondering how his left arm would recover from tendinitis turned into weeks of anticipation to get back to the place where he’s excelled for Argyle for the last four years.
“I was pretty nervous at first,” Gooch said. “But then once I started getting all the results and everything started to look good and it was just swelling, it looked a lot better for me and I was like, ‘OK, I just need to get back now.’”
When the TCU signee returned to the middle of the diamond for the Eagles, he showed why he’s played a huge part in Argyle’s success since he was a freshman. Gooch probably will start one game of Argyle’s Class 3A Region II quarterfinal series against Sanger (24-6-1). Game 1 of the best-of-three series is slated for 8 p.m. Friday at Ponder.
So far this season, Gooch has been nearly flawless for the Eagles (25-7-1). He boasts a 6-0 record and has a 0.43 ERA. In other words, in 32 1/3 innings, Gooch has allowed two earned runs — including a run that probably shouldn’t have scored in Argyle’s bi-district series against Bridgeport.
A lazy fly that fell in center field allowed a batter to reach and later score against the left-hander, slightly raising the impeccable ERA he’s built throughout the season.
For the most part, Gooch has been impeccable from the time Argyle head coach Ricky Griffin started putting Gooch on the mound.
Gooch’s first performance was a nonchalant win against Justin Northwest in a tournament during his freshman year. Gooch was called up later in the year to face Prosper in a win-or-go-home playoff game, and it was another nonchalant win for the youngster.
“I was just a little kid walking around with all the bigger kids, just trying to stay in the game,” Gooch said.
Griffin started throwing him against the opposition’s best pitcher, and Gooch kept delivering.
“We did that, and he just won,” Griffin said. “We kept throwing him out there for the next series against their ace, and he’d win then. He’s done that since we put him out there as a freshman.”
Over the years, Gooch has developed a fastball to complement his curveball and changeup, the off-speed pitches that keep opposing hitters off balance. Griffin said Gooch can consistently get his fastball to about 86 or 87 mph, while his changeup can fool batters and come in around 75.
Griffin said his ace knows how to change speeds, which allows him to throw a changeup or curveball when he’s behind in the count to a batter and the batter is expecting a fastball.
“To be able to throw off-speed [pitches] for strikes in that situation, that’s probably his biggest weapon,” Griffin said.
Last year, Gooch set the school records for strikeouts in a season (118) and career strikeouts (200) before he even threw a pitch as a senior. After he signed with the Horned Frogs in the fall, he came in looking to have another dominant year.
But those plans took a momentary setback when tendinitis in his left shoulder kept him out for most of the season. The lingering effects of the injury on his playing days at TCU started to creep into Gooch’s mind.
It wasn’t the first time that Gooch had come back from a serious injury. The summer after his stellar freshman debut, Gooch was playing with the Dallas Tigers select team. A simple infield fly and a clumsy first baseman that accidentally took Gooch down resulted in a tear of one of the posterior cruciate ligaments in his knees.
Gooch said he put on about roughly 40 pounds as he sat around during the summer. But he recovered then, too.
“Drew worked his tail off to get back,” said Lynn Vanlandingham, Gooch’s coach with the Tigers since he was 13. “The thing I remember most about it is even though he was hurt and he couldn’t participate, he was still a part of the team, and that’s just the character that the kid has.
“It’s really easy to go out and watch him play and see he’s a great player, but above and beyond that, he’s a great kid and he’s got tremendous character.”
Argyle senior Parker Mushinski, one of Gooch’s teammates with the Tigers and a Texas Tech signee, said he met his fellow lefty in eighth grade and it’s been fun to watch him make opposing batters look silly over the years.
“It’s awesome,” Mushinksi said. “I know that if I don’t have my best outing, he’ll pick me up the next day. I haven’t seen him have a bad day in a long time — knock on wood.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.