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Former Pioneers ready for return to diamond
Will Cantrell 1 (2).jpg
It didn't take long for Will Cantrell to show his power at Bryan College. The former Pioneer hit two homers in eight games this spring before sports were shut down.

Since they were kids, Will Cantrell, Brooks Helton and Ethan Smith have played baseball together. Last fall, they split apart, landing at three different colleges in the Southeast. The only thing that didn’t change was the diamond.

Cantrell was able to get in a few swings for the Bryan College Lions this spring, while Smith and Helton were each redshirting at Lenoir-Rhyne College and Faulkner University, respectively, before COVID-19 shut down all college sports. It was a season cut short, although all got to learn some early lessons about college ball.

“My first thought about playing college baseball whenever I left for move-in day was a like a dream had come true,” said Cantrell, who hit two home runs and went 10-for-21 in eight games. “Blueprint was an influential part of having me ready for college baseball. When me, Brooks and Ethan played, we would face guys that were going to SEC and ACC schools almost every weekend. I knew once I got to college that I had faced the best competition across the country.”

Smith got a wake-up call in North Carolina, one that often came early.

“In the fall, I got to work out four days a week at 5:45 a.m. and practice throughout the week and weekend. I played in around 40 fall baseball games,” said Smith, who was limited to workouts in the spring due to being a redshirt. “Practices go great. (They are) very organized and well run by a coach who definitely knows his stuff. He is a great supporter and is also great at putting you in a spot to be successful.”

As for Helton, his team time in Alabama was spent rehabbing his elbow after Tommy John surgery as a senior in Warren County.

“My arm has recovered faster than what we originally thought. At 10 months post-op, I was officially cleared for play. I would be lying if I told you it was easy,” said Helton. “There were many days I’d step on the field and tell myself I may never throw a baseball again.”

Helton’s arm strength returned as he lived in the weight room. In a recent bullpen session, Helton gassed it up to 88 mph. He’s hopeful by the time he’s back in live action, he can push into the 90s.

For now, it’s just a waiting game. All three are hopeful to get back on the diamond soon.