A year ago? Knee surgery. Now? Pitching for a state title
Matt Blair didn’t make a single postseason pitching appearance for the Tattnall Square baseball team last year.
He didn’t need to. Cory Bartholomew and Garrett Houston had an effective 1-2 punch going as a postseason starting rotation, and any number of players could step on in for relief or, in the case of Logan Simmons in the GHSA Class 1A private school title series, as a Game 3 starter.
Few at the time would have expected that Blair, who made limited varsity appearances last year and had a high ERA, would be a candidate to replace Bartholomew, now at USC Upstate, in the starting rotation. Nor would many people have Blair pegged as a candidate to play Division I baseball.
But a year after Tattnall won its first GHSA baseball championship, Blair has become a major part of the Trojans’ bid to repeat. And he has secured a spot in one of the state’s top college baseball programs, as well.
Sometime this week, be it in one of the doubleheader games Wednesday evening or perhaps in the if-necessary game Saturday, Blair will take the mound at Grayson Stadium in Savannah and take on Savannah Christian with the Class 1A private school title on the line.
“Matty, you can’t get much better than him,” Tattnall catcher Trey Ham said. “It seems like he gets better and better each outing. He’s been a big part for us this year.”
Blair’s journey is a comeback story, one coming out of a knee injury suffered during a football game during his junior season. It was a complex injury, one that required surgery and plenty of rehab time.
“I was playing fullback, and I took the ball up the middle,” Blair said. “I saw the linebacker cut back, and the knee just kind of gave out. … It was a no-contact (injury), just plant. Everything just went wrong.”
Working on the knee was going to be a long process. He worked quite a bit with Tattnall trainer Jody Burnett, who many Trojans athletes have gone out of their way to credit for quick recoveries from injuries.
“I was taking his sports medicine class, and I learned a ton about the knee, everything about it and what makes it operate and how to make it better,” Blair said. “I knew I wanted to have surgery as fast as I could. I had to take two weeks to get insurance to (approve) surgery, and after surgery I had a day or two of rest. But I just wanted to get in there with Jody and get it better as fast as I could, to get a full range of motion and strength back.”
In order to keep his baseball development going, Blair was allowed to throw from a chair after going through leg work.
“We mixed in baseball with the knee rehab,” he said. “I get to do all my knee stuff, then I get to throw from a chair, throw with (Burnett) sitting down. We did something with baseball every day.”
The rehab work went well enough that Blair was able to come back in the spring and pitch some. His game appearances didn’t always work out well, but Blair kept at it into the summer.
By the fall, Blair had dedicated himself to baseball full time. He worked all fall to get into shape. He attended a camp at Mercer, and that’s when things began to click.
“First and foremost, he’s a winner,” Mercer head coach Craig Gibson said. “His dad was a great baseball player at Georgia College. The intangibles are certainly there. Ability-wise, he’s a guy who can jump right out here and help us.”
His first start this spring came in the second game of a season-opening, three-way doubleheader with Cairo and Crisp County. Pitching against Crisp County, Blair struck out four and walked four in three innings of work, giving up an unearned run on two hits in a 17-2 Tattnall victory.
Success has followed from there. In the Class 1A private school playoffs, Blair is 3-0 as the Game 1 starter, carrying a 1.40 ERA in those games with 31 strikeouts and 11 walks.
Following Tattnall’s second-round sweep of Hebron Christian, the team the Trojans beat in last year’s championship series, Blair signed with Mercer.
“We’ve done it the same way, it seems like, every time,” Tattnall head coach Joey Hiller said of this year’s postseason run. “It’s been a sweep on day one. Matt goes out there and does his thing, and Garrett follows him up. I’m just real proud of how the guys have played.”
As far as Blair has come, he’d like for nothing more than a standout performance in his final game in a Tattnall uniform this week against Savannah Christian.
“Everything has just fallen into place,” Blair said. “A lot of answered prayers and a lot of good stuff happened. I don’t think I could have asked it to go much better than this.”