Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan South Gwinnett's Ryan Patterson serves as a double threat for the Comets, excelling on the mound and at the plate this year.
Finding a player whose career suddenly takes off in his senior season is hardly unusual in high school baseball.
However, it's not every day that one comes across a late bloomer who has made a jump as large as Ryan Patterson has this season at South Gwinnett.
The 6-foot, 210-pound senior has made an impact on the South program ever since joining the varsity team as a freshman three years ago. But this season, he's really been a force with his bat, arm and legs beyond anything he's accomplished before.
"He's definitely made progress in every phase of the game," South coach Steve Teschner said of Patterson. "We've always had high expectations for him, but ... he's really come a long way. We've known it was in there. He's been a four-year varsity player for us, and he's been really close to everything clicking. But this year, it's finally all come together for him, and it's been a lot of fun to watch."
The Comets were already having fun watching Patterson hit last season, when he posted a .347 average, a home run, six RBIs and 10 stolen bases as a junior.
But opposing pitchers are having considerably less fun pitching to him this season, as his bat has come alive to lead South in pretty much every offensive category with a .472 average, seven homers, 35 RBIs and 15 steals.
Those numbers also place him among the leaders in all of Gwinnett County in those categories.
But if Patterson's hitting has improved significantly over the past season, it's nothing compared to the jump he has made on the mound this season.
After only making scattered appearances a year ago, he has become the ace of South's left-handed dominated staff by winning his first six decisions before a rough outing in a loss to Grayson on March 13.
Still, his 6-1 record, 1.36 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 36 innings have made him one of the county's top pitchers this season, as well.
While there are players with a much higher profile in the county -- such as Grayson's Austin Meadows and Taylor Allum, Parkview's Josh Hart, and Peachtree Ridge's Tyler Haswell, among others -- Patterson's overall numbers definitely put him in the conversation for the county's Player of the Year honors.
As sudden as the light switch seems to have flipped for Patterson, he says the beginning of his improvement isn't quite that rapid, and actually dates back to last summer's offseason.
"I definitely worked harder than I ever worked before," Patterson said. "I did a lot of work with Brandon Phillips' dad (James) at his performance center in Stone Mountain, and I guess it was over the summer that things really started to click.
"I really focused on my flexibility, and (South) pitching coach (Zach Shelnutt) has done an awesome job with me on my mechanics. My change-up has definitely come around. It's been my best pitch this year. And throwing a lot more (innings) has definitely helped me to get better this year."
And as Patterson has gotten better, so have the Comets.
South has been quite competitive throughout his career, with a brief playoff appearance his sophomore season and finishing just a game out of the postseason in his freshman and junior campaigns.
But this season, the Comets (18-6, 11-3) have already locked up a postseason berth heading into Wednesday's play and still have a shot at gaining at least a share of the Region 8-AAAAAA championship, though they need some help.
Patterson says that while he has made an effort to become a better leader this season, he attributes the team's improvement as much to the shared experience of South's eight other seniors.
"We didn't have a lot of seniors (last year), so I kind of fell into (a leadership) role," Patterson said. "This season, I think we were all kind of hungry for more."
And nobody could be happier for the success Patterson and his senior teammates have enjoyed this season than Teschner, who has watched the group persevere through some tough years.
"Ryan's not really a rah-rah kid. He leads by example," Teschner said. "That whole senior bunch has taken some knocks along the way. They really wanted to come out and make (the) state (playoffs) this year."