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Armed for the future
A year after elbow surgery, Cole signs with Andrew College
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Ryan Cole, flanked by his parents Sherry and Paul Cole, signs a letter of intent with Andrew College, a two-year school in Cuthbert, as South Effingham High School head baseball coach Tony Kirkland looks on. Cole missed most of the 2007 season after having “Tommy John” surgery and will join fellow Mustangs Paul Cheeks and Kiefer Youmans at Andrew. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Most of the 2007 season, Ryan Cole couldn’t use his pitching arm. Monday afternoon, the South Effingham High School grad used it to sign a letter with Andrew College.

Cole didn’t think he’d be signing a scholarship this soon after undergoing “Tommy John” surgery.

“I figured I’d be lucky to get one,” he said. “I figured it would happen after next season. I feel lucky getting one this year.”

Cole can spread the good news to orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, the renowned surgeon who performed the operation on Cole’s right elbow, today when he goes in for a check-up.

It’s been almost a year since his operation — Cole went under the knife June 16 —and Cole didn’t return to the mound until late in the season this year. He went the distance in a 3-1 win over Harlem to secure the Region 3-AAA championship for the Mustangs.

South Effingham coach Tony Kirkland said Cole not only can throw hard, but he also knows how to pitch.

“Against Harlem, he didn’t have all his velocity,” Kirkland said. “But he beat them knowing how to pitch.”

In the state playoffs against Shaw, Cole hit 87 mph on the radar gun, less than a year into his recovery from the surgery. No one’s quite sure when he hurt the elbow.

“It could have happened as early as an offseason showcase,” Kirkland said. “His was definitely torn. They needed to repair it.”

Cole stands “a million-in-one” chance of tearing it again, Kirkland said the doctors have told Cole. Coming back from the surgery is more than just doing the physical rehab, though.

“That’s a two-part recovery,” Kirkland said. “You also have to recover mentally and believe he’s not going to hurt it any worse.”

As part of his recovery process, Cole will take a couple months off from throwing and then resume throwing for a couple of months.

Cole credited Kirkland for helping him get to Andrew, with the Mustangs coach putting in a good word for him with Fighting Tigers coach Scot Hemmings and his staff.

“I couldn’t have done it without Coach Kirkland,” he said. “Coach Kirkland told them what he thought of me and they believed what he had to say.”

Because Cole’s workload was limited this season, his signing may have more to do with what he can do than what he has done.

“Ryan’s unique in that he is signing with very limited play,” Kirkland said. “He’s basically being signed for his potential. They see a lot of potential of what he can do. They’re expecting him to fill a lot of the vacancies in their pitching staff.”

Andrew College, a two-year school in the west Georgia town of Cuthbert, went 32-24 this year. Its pitching staff had an earned run average of 4.17.

Cole has four pitches at his disposal, a fastball, curveball, slider and forkball.

“I want to get my forkball back,” he said. “But I’m a little scared that’s what ended up hurting my elbow. I feel like there’s a governor on my elbow that’s not letting me let it go on my fastball.”

Though he hasn’t been able to cut his fastball loose, Cole believes his location is good.

“I have a lot of confidence I can spot my fastball,” he said. “I can throw a curve every pitch and knowing I can get a strike. On a 1-2 pitch, I always fall back on my slider. That’s my strikeout pitch.”

For the Mustangs under Kirkland, Cole is the 11th player to sign with a college in four years. Cole and the rest of his teammates are just off a third state semifinals appearance in four seasons. The right-hander started pitching on the varsity in the ninth grade and was a mainstay on the mound since.

But even he was astonished by the Mustangs’ run this year.

“It’s a miracle this year we made it,” Cole said.

Having to watch from the dugout for so much of the season, even in the playoffs didn’t sit well, though.

“It bothered me to watch the games going on. I know I wanted to go out there,” he said.

Though Cuthbert is about four hours away, Cole will be joining former Mustangs teammates Paul Cheeks and Kiefer Youmans. The two outfielders signed with Andrew College earlier this year.

Cole began playing against Cheeks and Youmans when they were about 6 or 7 years old, he said, and they’ve been on the same team since they were 10.

“It makes it a lot better that they’re coming with me,” he said. “If they weren’t coming, I don’t think I’d be able to make the trip myself.”