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This Cat’s luck is beginning to turn 
By Tyler Norris Goode, STAFF WRITER 

CULLOWHEE — A Higher Power seemed to have it out for Ryan Schade almost from the moment he first arrived at Western Carolina to fulfill his baseball dream.

It was late in the summer of 1999, and the transfer student from Indiana University was riding a golf cart on a Franklin course when an errant golf ball soared out of bounds and smashed into Schade’s hand. The blow broke a finger and prevented him from practicing that first fall he was in Cullowhee.

Fate, however, was not finished with the young man yet.

Five games into the 2000 season, Schade acquired mononucleosis — benching him for the rest of the year. The only positive aspect was that he managed to get a medical redshirt and preserve one precious year of eligibility. He agonized from the sidelines as the Catamounts stumbled through one of their worst seasons ever, posting a 15-38 mark and missing the Southern Conference Tournament for the first time.

The Lewisburg, Pa., native was finally able to begin practicing again midway through last summer, and fall practice went well for him. But two weeks before the season was set to begin, he tore his right quad muscle.

Doctors told him it would take six weeks for him to recover and return to the diamond.

Through all this adversity, Schade did not raise a fist to the sky and cry, "Why me?" 

Instead, he remembered the words his father had ingrained in him since his tee-ball days.

"Be resilient," were the words of Marvin Schade, the man who had coached Ryan and his younger brother Scott from the time they were 5-years old. "Be persistent. When you fall down, get up and get back on the horse again."

That is exactly what Ryan Schade did. Inspired by the opportunity to play against brother Scott, a third-baseman for Auburn, the older sibling returned four weeks earlier than doctors anticipated and was in the starting lineup for WCU’s season-opening series against the Tigers in Alabama.

"It was worth all the pain to come back and play in those games," said Schade, who is in his junior year of eligibility. "It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wouldn’t trade it."

Playing against his brother may have been a rush, but the Catamounts’ third baseman still had one more hurdle to cross. He opened the season in a funk and went hitless in his first 16 at-bats.

Still, his father’s words ricocheted around inside his mind.

"I kept telling myself, ‘Be persistent,’" he recalled. "I was changing up my swing all the time, trying to find my groove. My quad still hurt, but I told myself to give it all I’ve got. I just tried to stay positive with it."

Finally, after a particularly bad series against The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., Schade came into his own. He’s had at least one hit in all 18 games since then, including two or more in Western’s last seven games. Since The Citadel series, he is batting a team-best .466, and he’s blasted all five of his home runs in that span.

"He had a lot of bad things happen to him with the broken hand, mono and the quad injury," said WCU coach Todd Raleigh. "He started this season slow. He just wasn’t hitting with a lot of confidence. But he kept working and doing what he had to do. Now we’re seeing the fruits of that.

"It’s not that he’s done anything different," Raleigh continued. 

"He worked hard all along. And he didn’t get hit by lightning. I don’t believe it was a fluke. Things are just falling into place. He’s built himself up to this point. And the team’s playing better because of it."

During Schade’s surge, WCU has gone 12-6 and is now in a position to possibly win the Southern Conference regular season.

The Cats (28-23 overall, 16-10 SoCon) need a sweep against league-cellar-dweller VMI this weekend combined with losses by Georgia Southern and The Citadel in order to earn the top seed for next weekend’s league tournament.

Regardless of how his Catamount career may have begun or how the regular season turns out, though, Schade is excited about his future at Western.

"This is why I transferred down here: to be in a position to win a conference championship and get a berth in the NCAA regionals," said Schade. "And next year, things look even better. We’re not losing anybody. I’m dreaming top 25, the whole deal."

If Schade and the Catamounts continue on their recent surge, Schade’s championship dreams may soon become reality.


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