The first time Ryan O’Hara remembers pitching in a game for Clovis North, he had a little trouble seeing home plate.
“It was the intrasquad Halloween costume game my junior year, and they threw me in there to see what I could do,” O’Hara explains. “I was wearing a hippie costume, and the wig kept getting in my eyes.”
Now, a year and a half later, Ryan O’Hara has found his groove on the mound. The 5-foot-10 righty became a full-fledged star in his senior year, recording 25 strikeouts through 18 scoreless innings before the 2020 baseball season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“If the season went on, I believe he would’ve gotten looked at by MLB scouts,” said Clovis North pitching coach Mike Bumatay. “Knowing who he was two years ago and how he jumped on the scene this year, he has worked his tail off.”
“Work ethic” is a trait often associated with O’Hara. How else does a pitcher start from learning the basics his junior year and – two years later – sign with a Division-I college program, as O’Hara did with UC Davis on April 27? It was a process entailing long hours of training and practice, leading to a transformation that has left head coach Jeff Prieto astonished.
“I have never had a pitcher like him before ,” said Prieto, also the former head coach at Clovis East and Central. “I have been lucky to coach D-I pitchers who were big guys, but O’Hara was the first undersized guy I had, and he was a big overachiever.”
O’Hara’s journey started where his love of the game began: on the little league field playing for the Clovis Bears.
“When I was 8 years old, I played on this fun little-league team with Cason [Brownell] and a whole group of guys who I became friends with through high school,” O’Hara remembers. “It was a bunch of best friends playing the game, and that’s how I fell in love with it.”
O’Hara maintained his love of the game through his first two years of high school, where he played on the freshman and JV baseball teams at North, mainly as a middle infielder.
“Those years were the most fun I’ve probably ever had on a school team,” O’Hara said. “A lot of my friends who don’t play anymore were on those teams, and it was a great experience for me.”
Yet baseball was not the only sport O’Hara competed in; he also played soccer during his freshman and sophomore years.
He reached a crossroads at the start of his junior year, having to choose between the two sports.
And he chose the diamond over the pitch, ironically turning him into a pitcher.
“I always had a very strong arm in the infield, and they brought out the potential inside me to pitch,” O’Hara said. “Coach Prieto put me on a throwing program in the fall, and I started learning the basics.”
O’Hara’s top fastball velocity sat at 80 MPH in August of his junior year. By the time O’Hara, wig and all, took the varsity mound at the Halloween game, he topped at 85.
And that was only the beginning of O’Hara’s rapid ascent to pitching success. He continued to train over the winter and was tabbed as one of the Broncos’ top relievers in 2019. In 12 appearances that season, O’Hara boasted a 4-0 record, 1.75 ERA, and 39 strikeouts to seven walks.
That season gave O’Hara the playing time to showcase his new talent, and the head coach took notice, impressed with how far along he was.
“He took a very big leap and got much better,” Prieto said. “That’s when I started calling some college coaches and scouts and telling them they need to take a look at this kid.”
With all eyes now on him, O’Hara was ready to take the next big step in his development over the summer of 2019. He worked with pitching coach Bumatay and Jared Thompson – the coach for the CBA Marlins, O’Hara’s summer ball team – on improving his mechanics.
“We slowed his mechanics down a bit and made sure he was in line with the catcher, so that his upper half and lower half were working together,” said Bumatay, who spent nine years in professional baseball coming out of Clovis High. “His endurance and stamina were there, and it was just the little stuff that he picked up on really quick.”
By slowing down, Bumatay noted, it allowed O’Hara’s top velocity to increase drastically. When his senior season arrived, O’Hara’s fastball was hitting up to 91 MPH, and he commanded a strong breaking ball and changeup. With the improved pitching repertoire came an improved mindset.
“I had more confidence,” O’Hara explains. “I started having a presence on the mound, and I was being more specific in what I was throwing and how I was moving.”
It all culminated in O’Hara’s first start of the 2020 season on February 13, when he took the hill on the road against Hanford.
“First inning, my fastball was jumping out of my hands,” O’Hara recounts. “In the third inning, I was moving towards off-speed pitches and it was super sharp and effective that day.”
O’Hara continued along against Bullpups hitters, until he recorded the final out and came to a sudden realization.
“After the game was over, my teammates came rushing at me and told me ‘Dude, you just threw a no-hitter,’” O’Hara said. “I had no idea.”
O’Hara struck out 11, walked one, and kept Hanford’s hit column empty in a 3-0 Broncos win that Thursday. After all the hard work of the past summer, it was a sweet celebration, a moment O’Hara will never forget.
“That is the best experience of my baseball career,” O’Hara said.
After two more scoreless starts in 2020, O’Hara was making a case for his selection in the upcoming MLB draft in June.
Yet a month after the high point of O’Hara’s high school career came the sudden end of it: the suspension of spring sports due to COVID-19, and later cancellation of the season. Of course, as always is the case with Ryan O’Hara, nothing can stop him from working.
“He is staying in shape,” Prieto said. “Working out, keeping his arm loose, playing long toss, throwing live bullpen. He is definitely staying ready to go.”
The next stop on O’Hara’s journey is UC Davis, a Division-I program that has recruited him since his junior year. For the 4.0 GPA student, choosing where to attend college came down to more than baseball.
“I wanted to go there before baseball came into play, because they are a great school and education is very important to me,” O’Hara said. “When I found out I had a chance to go there for baseball and good grades, it was the best of both worlds for me.”
The path to Division-I collegiate baseball is different for every ballplayer, but O’Hara’s path is a special one. He built himself into one of the top pitchers in the Central Section in a two-year span, through hard work and coaching.
“His character is first class,” Prieto said. “On the field and in the classroom, whatever it is, he gives it everything he’s got.”