Loudon ace ready to compete at next level

Loudon High School’s Trey Willis, center, signs his letter of intent Monday to play baseball at Walters State Community College. He is joined, left, by father Ray Willis and mother Vanessa Willis; back row, LHS head baseball coach Jason Lambert and assistant coach Andrew Busie.

Despite his entire junior season getting cut short due to COVID-19, Loudon High School senior pitcher Trey Willis signed his letter of intent Monday to play baseball at Walters State Community College.

“I’m proud of myself most of all because it’s been difficult for me,” Willis said. “I got looked at by a lot of colleges, but it’s kind hard to stay with it with school and stuff. Walters State contacted me, but overall, I just feel like it’s the best fit for me and I’m glad I made it.”

Missing an entire season created doubts when it came to getting looked at by college scouts, but Willis fell back on travel ball during the offseason to help improve his stock.

“It concerned me because it’s my junior and senior year, and so it bothered me in a way,” he said. “I found a way to get out there with Diamond (Baseball Academy) and I still got out there and got looked at. It’s kind of affected me in the long run baseball-wise and pitching-wise, but I’m glad I made it. I played with them over the summer and when quarantine started, we still practiced some. I tried to stay into baseball as much as I could and it was harder to stay in shape, too, but I got myself a membership and I’ve been busting my butt ever since. COVID hasn’t really bothered me all that much.”

Willis was a major contributor on the mound for the Redskins the last three seasons.

Jason Lambert, LHS head baseball coach, said Willis made the biggest transition between his freshman and sophomore seasons. In 2019, Willis was one of the best pitchers in District 5-2A and played a pivotal role in helping the Redskins reach the state tournament for the first time since 2015.

As a sophomore, he finished second on the team with 47.2 innings pitched, but led all pitchers with a 1.028 ERA. He also allowed the fewest hits with 23 and struck out 79 batters en route to being named to the All-County and All-District 5-2A teams.

“From the beginning, Trey’s always been committed to pushing himself as far as he could as a pitcher,” Lambert said. “We kind of realized early on that that was going to be his best asset to continue onto being a baseball player beyond the high school level. He’s got those intangibles you look for in being tall and long, left handed, good velocity right now and a lot of room for growth. As a Redskin baseball player, Trey kind of came on early on with the type of resolution you need as a varsity pitcher. We asked him to pitch in some very important opportunities, and we quickly learned he was unphased by the big stage.”

After shooting up to 6-foot-5 by his junior season, Willis realized he had the potential to advance to the collegiate level and possibly grow into a professional athlete.

“My freshman year, I played baseball to have fun because I didn’t have a care in the world and I thought I was just another baseball player,” Willis said. “The season went by and people started chewing my butt, and it’s been a great experience being here. I wouldn’t want it any other way, but when sophomore year came around, that’s when we went to state. That’s when I started to realize I could play college baseball. I kind of stuck my head to it and worked my butt off to get where I’m at today. Overall, it’s been a great experience with coach Lambert and coach (Andrew) Busie. I don’t know where I’d be without them.”

After several months of consideration, Willis made the decision to play with former standout LHS pitcher Nathan Hickman.

Similar to Hickman, Willis hopes to make an immediate impact.

“It’s just the way they look and how they go about things,” Willis said. “I went up there and pitched in front of them, and they just welcome you in and I like the campus up there. Nathan’s told me some good things and I feel like they can put me where I want to be. My goal my freshman year is just to get better and roll with the program. I’m not going to be high up there because I’m going to be low like when I came in here as a freshman, but I’m just going to roll with it. After my two years are up, I have high expectations for myself.”

Lambert believes Willis has what it takes to go as far as he wants.

“From the beginning, Trey’s always had the chops to be a great pitcher,” he said. “What’s been able to allow him to go onto play at a premier program like Walters State is his constant persistence to get better and better as a pitcher. All college programs are looking for showcase left handers, and he’s going to be able to be that guy. He’s 6-foot-5, left handed and has been throwing 86, 87 miles per hour over the summer. I anticipate their program is going to help blossom him into a guy that can be considered as a high D1 or potential draft pick-type guy. That’s always been Trey’s goal, and we always try to foster that goal here at the high school level to help him get where he wants to go.”