The baseball journey for pitcher Dawson Gause has twists and turns that led him from his hometown of Gastonia, N.C. to becoming a recent LSU Class of 2021 recruiting commitment..
Why would the Tigers want to sign someone who pitched just six innings his senior season at South Point High before getting Tommy John surgery?
“I had never really got an opportunity (in high school) and lot of people didn’t believe in me or think I would do much,” Gause said. “Coaches would tell me I wouldn’t do anything at the next level.
Or someone who redshirted in 2019 at Division II Tusculum College Greeneville, Tenn., the only college scholarship offer he received? Or someone who had rather pedestrian numbers (1-1 with save, 11 strikeouts in 17 innings and a 4.86 ERA) trying to find his rhythm as a Tusculum reliever in this past 2020 coronavirus shortened season?
“At Tusculum, I was thinking I was a little better than I thought I was,” Gause said.
But in his last two summers with the Piedmont Pride of the Southern Baseball League in Rock Hill, N.C., Gause was a combined 8-0 with two saves in 68.2 innings making 19 appearances. He struck out 87 batters and had a 1.59 head-turning ERA.
This past summer amid the COVID-19 health scare, he was virtually not hittable. He was 6-0 with 46 strikeouts and 0.71 ERA in 38 innings, earning the league’s top pitching honor.
Piedmont coach Joe Hudek, a former coach at Winthrop for 19 years, has tremendous connections finding Division I homes for players who show requisite talent.
“I had confidence in myself and I wanted to play at the highest possible level,” Gause said. “I wanted to go the junior college route and coach Hudek helped by contacting some schools.”
Gause “bet on himself” for the upcoming season, transferring to St. John’s River State College in Palatka, Fla.. It’s a junior college whose long-time head coach Ross Jones was formerly a pitching coach/recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt and Florida for a combined 12 years.
The move has already paid dividends in a way that Gause never imagined.
After a couple bullpen sessions this fall at St. John’s River State, video from a live round of batting practice featuring Gause’s fastball of 90-93 miles per hour and 82-85 mph slider was circulated to a handful of Division I schools.
Mr. Gause, it’s LSU, winner of six national championships, on line 1 for you.
The combination of Tigers’ head coach Paul Mainieri, pitching coach Alan Dunn and recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain helped gain a commitment from Gause, who was sold more on the program’s vision than its gleaming facilities.
“I’m a big people person,” Gause said. “I believe you win through people; you don’t win through facilities. There was no pitch from LSU about seeing the facilities or wearing these jerseys or how many fans. I knew that before they told me.
“It was about wanting to a national championship. That’s the goal every year. Winning’s fun and you’re going to be playing at the highest level possible. I saw an opportunity to be in the starting rotation, an opportunity to go to Omaha. That’s what I wanted to do, go play and compete at the highest level and do it for a national championship.”
When Gause’s film circulated, it was like he came out of nowhere.
Coaches for UNC-Charlotte, located 25 miles from Gause’s hometown, told him they “had never heard of me out of high school and that I kind of popped up on their radar,” Gause said.
Whether it was injuries or not hitting a growth spurt, he was far from a major college prospect coming out of high school.
Gause hadn’t quite filled out physically as a 6-foot junior. And in what had the earmarks of a possible breakthrough year as a senior, he underwent Tommy John surgery – a reconstruction of the ulnar lateral ligament in his right (throwing) elbow – after suffering the injury playing basketball.
But he discovered in his first Tusculum intrasquad game in which he pitched five innings his arm strength was returning.
“I felt really good,” he said. “Then they came back and said my fastball topped out at 79 and I asked them if they were serious. I was thinking that I couldn’t let myself be average. There were too many people that believed in me, too many that invested so many hours into my career. I flipped a switch and it’s been ball game since then.”
Two years later, Gause has touched 94 miles per hour with his fastball, 82-85 with his slider, 73-77 with curveball and 84-86 with his change-up. He’s now 6-4, 215 pounds and physically looks like a major college pitcher.
“I’m a very big believer, I believe 100 percent God had to put me in the right places, in the right positions and in contact with the right people to be where I’m today,” Gause said. “I have talent which is also gifted, but there’s a lot of it I’ve had to work for.
“I never went out of my way to prove people wrong. I’m a firm believer in proving people right, the ones that always believed in me. I felt like with this commitment to LSU, I kind of did something for them as well.”