As a freshman last year, right-handed pitcher Geoff Whitaker was a major contributor to the Lions’ championship season. Now a sophomore, Whitaker will have to carry the weight of serving as one of the team’s top starting pitchers and help defend Columbia’s Ivy League title.
At Cactus High School in his hometown of Peoria, Arizona, Whitaker excelled both on and off the diamond. Whitaker’s perseverance on the mound earned him the role of team captain and in his senior year, Whitaker totaled 10 wins with a 1.50 ERA and 107 strikeouts. Additionally, he racked up numerous distinctions including four varsity letters and the honor of being named to the Arizona Republic All-State first team. Columbia seemed liked the perfect fit for the National Honor Society member and valedictorian.
“The combination of an Ivy League education and going to school in the city was something that was awfully hard to turn down,” Whitaker said in an e-mail.
Whitaker wasn’t timid about taking the mound in his freshman year at Columbia. He rarely missed an opportunity to prove himself worthy of a starting spot on the team. In the first game of a double-header against Liberty University, he struck out four batters and surrendered three earned runs over seven innings, marking his first career win.
“I just try to work as hard as I can on and off the field so I can perform to the best of my ability come game time,” Whitaker said. “At the same time, I’m not the most intense guy so I try to have some fun when putting the work in.”
In his first Ivy League game again Brown, Whitaker pitched 7 1/3 innings and struck out six while only allowing two earned runs. The win was his third of the season and capped a double-header sweep for the Light Blue.
Balancing a demanding baseball schedule and taking classes for some may appear to be a stressful, arduous task. Nevertheless, Whitaker appears to have found a remedy for the predicament.
“You constantly have a lot of work to take care of with little time so I just try to not stress about stuff too much,” he said. “I try to stay pretty composed when I’m on the mound, and I think that can help in academics, too.”
Entering the 2009 season, Whitaker will have even more pressure on his shoulders as he takes on a larger role on the team. After finishing last season leading the Lions in wins with six and starting 10 out of 13 of the games he appeared in, he will likely be placed in the number two spot in the pitching rotation behind senior captain Joe Scarlata. Whitaker seems confident that after polishing some of his skills over the past year, he has become a better pitcher.
“I’m a lot stronger this year and I’ve improved some of my pitches and started throwing a change up,” Whitaker said. “I think overall I’m just much more comfortable when on the mound.”
Not only will he have to step into the large shoes of a more important slot in the rotation, but Whitaker will also be more responsible for helping the Lions defend their championship title. Nevertheless, he believes that maintaining composure is the key to another successful season.
“We definitely have a target on our backs this year,” Whitaker said. “At the same time, if we press all year thinking about defending our title, we’ll have a tough time winning games.”
As for personal goals, the sophomore wishes to continue to do whatever possible to get his team wins.
“I hope to continue starting games on the mound,” Whitaker said. “I’d just like to be a consistent force on the mound and put us [Columbia] in a position to win games whenever the ball is in my hands.”
The Lions first game of the 2009 season takes place Feb. 27 against Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas at 7:30 p.m.