WALKER – Ordinarily it’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment Lane Thomas got the rare chance to experience a second time.
More than a 1 ½ years after signing with Southeastern Louisiana during his senior year at Walker High School, Thomas went through the recruiting process once again that ultimately led to a different destination.
Thomas, who enjoyed a standout first season pitching of Jones (Miss.) College, was reunited of sorts with a familiar face when the 6-foot-1, 192-pound right-hander recently signed with Tulane University.
Thomas signed during a ceremony at Jones College campus where Tulane head baseball coach Travis Jewitt expects the former Walker High standout to fill a weekend starter’s role for the Green Wave.
It also bridged the gap in a relationship between Thomas and Tulane pitching coach Daniel Latham, who played a pivotal role in recruiting and getting Thomas to sign at Southeastern when Latham was the Lions’ pitching coach.
“I was not expecting to do that again,” Thomas said of a going through another signing day. “I can relax and have that weight off my shoulders and go into the (2020) season with domination on my mind, not worrying about where I’m going to school.”
There were several options to choose from where Thomas made official visits to Southeastern, Alabama-Birmingham and had several other trips set up to McNeese State, UL-Monroe and Arkansas-Monticello.
The visit to Tulane, though, left no doubt in Thomas’ mind where he was going to continue his baseball career.
“Out of high school all of my friends were committing to Southeastern to go play and it was only 30 minutes down the road,” Thomas said. “I didn’t really look at Tulane. I knew they had a good school for baseball. I knew they were expensive and a good academic school, so I had no interest out of high school.
“I knew New Orleans was a good city,” Thomas said. “The moment I stepped foot on campus it instantly felt like home. I fell in love with it and I immediately shut it (recruiting) down after that. Coach (Travis) Jewitt told me on my visit, he’s expecting me to come in right away and be one of the weekend starters. That’s my goal. I’d love that.”
Nearly a year after a horrific bout with mononucleosis, coupled with an enlarged spleen that cut short his first semester at Southeastern and led to a December transfer to Jones College, Thomas finds himself in a much better place in his life.
His signing with Tulane continued that trend.
“It’s a whole different feeling,” he said. “At this time last year, I was in bed, recovering from mono and still had the spleen injury. I couldn’t do anything at all.”
Because of his series of maladies, Thomas showed up at Jones College at barely 150 pounds – 25 pounds less than his senior year at Walker – where he began working his way back to being able to pitch once again.
Thomas slowly regained his strength, was able to get back into the weight room, and turned in a spectacular freshman season where he went 9-2 with a 3.01 earned run average. He struck out 73 batters in 71.2 innings of work, allowed 60 hits and walked 33.
Moreover, Thomas completed his first season at Jones at 184 pounds.
“I wasn’t expected to be the No. 1 last year at all, I wasn’t expecting to throw that many innings,” Thomas said. “I just went out there with the mindset that I was going to be the No. 1 guy and I did everything that I could.”
Fast-forward to the 2020 season for Jones, which begins at home with a doubleheader Feb. 8, and it’s the expectation for Thomas, as well as his coaching staff, that he’ll be the team’s ace.
He would have it know other way for a team that will carry high expectations into the season as well.
“This year from the first game I just want to set the tone,” Thomas said. “I want to let every team know that we play that I’m the No. 1 and I’m the best pitcher on the field. That’s the mentality that I’ve always had. You just have to go in there being the best you can be.”
Thomas has positioned himself for an outstanding sophomore season, one that can catapult him straight into Tulane’s rotation in 2021.
In retrospect what made Thomas’ first year at Jones all the more remarkable is that he progressed to the point of being one of the team’s most reliable pitchers without benefit of having a fall season or going through offseason conditioning and weightlifting.
Thomas was sidelined for all of that, but not only has the benefit of a full season to his credit, he’s also had a full summer of preparing for his second season. He pitched 10 innings during the fall for Jones and spent valuable time with new pitching coach Blake Beck, who’s taken a more analytical approach to pitching.
Thomas, who topped out between 88-91 miles per hour at the Mississippi Junior College Sophomore Showcase, continued to refine his four-pitch repertoire under Beck’s tutelage, where he’s also worked on a slider and is waiting for the green light on a knuckleball.
Thomas wants to try and get ahead of more batters next season and try to pitch to contact in an effort to produce more groundballs, thus helping to lengthen his outings. He would also like to lower his ERA and ratio of 4.1 walks per nine innings.
“I knew that I was going to work my butt off in the summer and fall,” Thomas said. “I want this upcoming spring to be one of my biggest years, to be one of the most consistent, best years of my career.”