The Windermere Prep alum and Winter Garden native is putting up some eye-popping numbers for the Knights this spring — and he is not alone among local alumni having success at the collegiate level.
Rylan Thomas sure knows how to make a good impression.
Thomas, a true freshman for the UCF baseball team, already is leading the Knights in home runs (eight) and RBIs (34), while weighing in at third on the team in hits and fourth in batting average among regular starters.
The Windermere Prep alum and Winter Garden native isn’t playing for a rebuilding team or in a sub-par conference, either.
Thomas’ Knights are 26-11 and appear to be trending toward an appearance a few of college baseball’s top-25 polls. Baseball America has projected UCF to make the 64-team field for the NCAA Tournament.
For perspective — and some irony — Thomas’ senior season with the Lakers saw Windermere Prep fail to advance out of its district into the state playoffs. As a freshman playing Division I College Baseball, he is now looking likely to participate in a NCAA Regional.
Thomas also has had some big moments so far in his rookie campaign with the Knights.
Most recently, Thomas had what may be remembered as one of the biggest hits of the season for UCF. After the Knights had been swept by rival USF and defeated by FAU, UCF’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament were in serious jeopardy entering a three-game set with East Carolina. The first game saw the Knights fall behind early, and UCF trailed 7-5 entering the top of the ninth.
With two outs and the Knights staring down a fifth consecutive loss, Thomas stepped to the plate with the tying run on base. Despite falling behind the count, Thomas knocked a big time single to right field that tied the game and forced extra innings, during which UCF pulled out the 8-7 victory — the first of what became a crucial sweep of the host Pirates.
Thomas, who usually plays first base, also has allowed just three hits in eight innings of relief work on the mound.
What’s remarkable is that the former Laker is certainly not alone so far as being a local athlete doing well in the college baseball ranks.
Former Windermere Prep teammate Austin Bergner recently made his first start for North Carolina, and he and former West Orange Warrior Tyler Baum each have tossed roughly 30 innings for the Tar Heels — a ballclub ranked No. 3 in the nation by Baseball America.
In a recent game between in-state powerhouse Florida and FSU, a whopping four pitchers from the Winter Garden/Windermere area took the mound for either the Gators or the Seminoles — Andrew Karp (West Orange), Chase Haney (Windermere Prep), Michael Byrne (Olympia) and Garrett Milchin (The First Academy, previously West Orange).
The success isn’t limited to baseball, either. After redshirting in 2016, Olympia alum Tate McClellan is tied for the most hits on the East Carolina Pirates softball team and has the second-most RBIs on the team. West Orange alum Jade Caraway has one of the best hitters for North Carolina State as a true freshman, leading the team in batting average and triples.
There are others doing well, also — probably too many to track.
So, next time you are flipping through the channels and come across a college baseball or softball game, don’t change the channel quite so quickly — there may be a local alumnus who is about do something impressive.