Brock Netter, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — Once you get a taste of success, there’s a burning desire to never lose that feeling on your taste buds.
For Huntington standout Gavin Free, that desire started back on May 22 when his Huntsmen defeated Whiteoak by an 8-3 final to claim the school’s first-ever district championship.
“When we won the district championship, it was an experience I will never forget,” Free said. “Not only did we win, we made school history at the same time. [Huntington] Coach Ed Yates taught me so much about the game of baseball, but never stopped there. He always tried to show and teach me life lessons at the same time. We never did anything without thinking and praising God for our talents and accomplishments, but most importantly our failures.”
Instead of taking the summer completely off to relax, Free spent his time playing the game he loves and improving his skills.
“Coming back to travel ball after what our school ball team had just accomplished, it gave me a lot of energy for the game,” Free said. “I guess you could say I just didn’t want to stop playing.”
Free plays for the Columbus Cobras 15U travel team. He’s spent the past two months playing in different tournaments across the Midwest from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis.
Even more important than just playing the game, he’s learned more about himself and playing his part.
“Summer ball has helped take my game to another level in so many ways,” Free said. “When playing teams from around the world, it teaches you that one mistake can change the whole game. It’s helped me as a player by teaching me to capitalize on mistakes and try and limit mine. This summer has showed me what it takes to get to the next level and it’s showed me what I need to do to better myself. I have learned so much about myself through the game I love. I’ve learned that once I set my mind on something, I do it and I’ve learned that I can deal with failure. But I definitely had help learning that baseball is so much more than a game.”
With summer wrapping up, Free had the chance to play in one final tournament at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He made the most of it.
He was tabbed with being the starting pitcher against the Alabama Colts and did what he does best, tossing a complete game, one-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in an 8-0 victory.
“I can not explain the feeling I had when coach told me I was pitching at Vanderbilt,” Free said. “Vanderbilt has always been a dream college for me and getting to pitch there was amazing. I just tried to have fun and play how I know I can. And to pitch a one-hit, 10 strikeout shutout at my dream college made the experience one that I will never forget.”
And, joyfully for Free, a magnificent summer of baseball isn’t over just yet.
After impressing scouts at an All-Star tournament at Xavier University earlier in the season, he received an invitation to play in an All-Star tournament in Indiana next month.
“The feeling of getting selected for something like this is so overwhelming,” Free said. “My travel ball coaches are really big about getting us seen and out there to where we can continue playing the game we love in college and possibly pro. So when I got selected for this tournament, I can’t explain the excitement I felt. In this tournament, we are getting coached by college coaches and getting watched by scouts from all over. I have high expectations for myself in the tournament. I’m just going to play how I know I can. Hopefully I can go out there and get the exposure needed to where I can play the game I love at the next level.”
While it was a great sophomore year at Huntington, Free has high hopes for his junior season, despite the losses of multiple key seniors.
He’s been working on improving his game, and now he feels ready to step into a leadership role as the Huntsmen aims for another district title winning season in 2020.
“There is no doubt Elijah [McCloskey] was a huge aspect and the leader of the team last year and will be missed,” Free said. “Coming in as a junior, I will be prepared and happy to take on any leadership role that I can. But we have many returning players like Seth [Beeler] and Tanner [Ashcraft] who will be seniors and their talent and leadership qualities will be there, too. We lost some players and gained some new ones but I have a good feeling about my upcoming junior year. I think Huntsmen fans can expect another great season with our great coaches and players that are willing to put in the work for our baseball program. I’m glad to be a part of it.”