Catcher’s bond: Competition brings SSU duo together

PORTSMOUTH — Competition can bring out the worst in people if it is allowed.

However, competition can also bring out the very best in individuals as well.

As two individuals playing in the same graduating class at the same position, and coming from completely different backgrounds to boot, Pacific Northwest native Cooper Wohlgemuth and Central Tennessee product Noah Brock could’ve easily made excuses as to why they shouldn’t get along.

Instead, they found only bright spots.

The only downside to the pair’s inaugural year alongside each other and their teammates?

The fact that the 2020 season ended in abrupt fashion.

“It definitely stunk having our season end so abruptly — especially as we were catching our stride,” Wohlgemuth said. “It was a really tough start to the year going down to Alabama and North Carolina having the results that we had given how seemingly close the games were. It felt as though we were on the cusp of turning a corner with guys like George Duran, Jacob Kline and Damion Coleman starting to come up big in their roles as well as having those mainstays like Ben Sellers, Danny McGuire and Kyle Wisniewski lead our team.”

“It definitely wasn’t what we were expecting,” Brock said. “I obviously wish that I had a little more time with the guys this spring, but we have a special group of guys returning who are ready to get after it when we return in the fall.”

Both players not only are talented, but are accustomed to working uphill in order to obtain their opportunities.

Brock, who played at Columbia Academy — a 45-minute drive south of Nashville — and Wohlgemuth, who played at Portland Roosevelt High School in Oregon, had to fight to receive college attention.

They each did that with their work defensively.

As a senior in high school, Brock contributed to a Columbia Academy program that went a strong 27-9, ultimately finishing as the No. 9-ranked team in Class A according to Tennessee Baseball Report.

In the 16 games that year that were kept through Gamechanger, Brock didn’t commit a single error in 117 defensive chances for the Bulldogs.

During summers, Brock played for Columbia Post 19, further honing his catching skills as he made his journey to Volunteer State Community College.

“I had a lot of fun playing at Columbia Academy,” Brock said. “My head coach, Richie Estep, is a great coach and a great man, so being able to learn the game through him was a great opportunity. I had a great time playing American Legion ball with Post 19 for the five years that I did, got a lot of travel in, and played some fun baseball with some great guys.”

While Brock stood out in Tennessee, Wohlgemuth did much of the same at Roosevelt.

The latter didn’t get to enjoy as much team success as the former, but still posted a strong high school career by serving as a four-year starter behind the dish for the Class 6A program, earning Honorable Mention All-Portland Interscholastic League (PIL) honors and being named an eight-time PIL Honor Roll recipient for his academic work.

Additionally, Wohlgemuth also lettered in basketball and baseball twice to round out a complete career while with the Roughriders.

Wohlgemuth credits his success in high school, and his ability to chase his own dreams of baseball glory, to the people who pushed and believed in his skill set.

“I started when I was four, and loved the game from then on,” Wohlgemuth said. “That had a lot to do with my dad (Loren). He coached me up until my freshman year of high school and really put the love of the game in my bones. My best friends — Eric, Jacob, Connor and Chris — played a large part in my development and love for the game as well, as they pushed me in every aspect. Lastly, my coaches, Joe Taylor and Daniel Garth, have been pivotal in not only the love for the game, but what they taught me about it. Baseball has brought me my best friends, and I am grateful to the game for that.”

Both players then wasted little time capitalizing on their junior college stops.

Brock, who played two seasons at Volunteer State, batted .297 for the NJCAA Division I program and played a key role for a unit that won 50 games in 2018 and 2019 combined.

Wohlgemuth, who played a season at Clackamas Community College after transferring from George Fox University, stuffed the stat sheet for Clackamas by leading the program in RBI (18), stolen bases (nine) and triples (two) while placing second on the unit in hits (32) and third on the squad in batting average and doubles.

“Playing at Volunteer State, I played against a very good level of competition against very good JUCO programs with guys who would go on to play at the Division I level afterward,” Brock said of his junior college experience. “JUCO ball is certainly different with our freedom of practice. It wasn’t uncommon to have five-and-a-half hours of practice some days. I did have fun with the guys that I met as well as the experiences that I had.”

Their performances at the plate and behind it allowed the duo to garner college interest from multiple four-year programs.

However, Shawnee State won out on both decisions due to the understanding that Phil Butler and Casey Claflin had from being catchers themselves at the collegiate level.

“It was an unreal experience, getting to go through the recruiting experience and have my choice of where I wanted to play,” Wohlgemuth said. “It’s definitely something to be proud of, and my family has been behind me the entire way. Phil and Casey marketed the Mid-South a lot, and they knew that I wanted my shot against some of the better competition that the NAIA has to offer.”

(Casey) Claflin kept in close contact with me throughout the recruiting process,” Brock said. “He always asked about my season and talked about our faith. It truly felt like he was trying to establish a relationship with me instead of recruiting me. I met Phil on my visit to Shawnee State, and one of the things that I found interesting upon talking to him was the fact that the Shawnee State coaching staff is made up of two guys who played as catchers in college. To me, that was promising because I felt like I could learn a lot from them both.”

However, both Brock and Wohlgemuth didn’t realize at the time of their recruitments that they would make each other better for the wear.

In 15 appearances for the duo throughout the 2020 season, the pair combined to commit just three errors in 137 defensive chances, while proving their abilities on a larger scale in the process.

The Bears finished 4-16, but considering that SSU dropped eight games by margins of three runs or less, the win-loss column could’ve easily read 12-8 instead.

Both players have also made a quick adjustment from an academic point of view as well.

Brock, who holds a 3.75 GPA, is planning on pursuing a career as an intervention specialist while Wohlgemuth, who holds a 3.13 as a political science major, has already been offered an opportunity to publish philosophy with Dr. Thomas Bunting, an Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Social Sciences Department at SSU.

“It’s been better than I had even anticipated,” Brock said of his transition to Shawnee State. “There’s not a ton to do around the area, so the fact that I’ve enjoyed myself as much as I have speaks to the people here. The faculty, staff, students and my teammates have all made my experience great, and I couldn’t imagine myself at another school.”

“I’m thankful that my teammates and the coaching staff gave me a hard time about being from the Pacific Northwest in a good way,” Wohlgemuth said. “It helped to have Noah and Brandon Gravel as my roommates.”

Beyond the field of play, it’s evident that both players have admiration for each other’s overall character and accountability levels.

“I have enjoyed getting to know Cooper as both my teammate and also as my roommate,” Brock said. “The thing about Cooper is the fact that he has already become a vocal leader. He isn’t afraid to say what needs to be said, and if something isn’t going the way it should, he stops it immediately.”

“We talked a lot off and off of the field about our differences and similarities,” Wohlgemuth said. “The big part was how much we hyped each other up. He was always the last person that I saw before game time, and he let me know that I was going to kill it.”

As the pair continue their college careers into the future, that part’s not going to change — not just for the fact that they know that the 2021 unit can do big things, but for the simple fact that they have become good friends and want to see each other do great things going forward.

“We have found ways to push each other in order to make sure that we both keep getting better,” Brock said. “We have pre-game catching drills that we do with each other. We both want the other to succeed. Our friendship has only grown since we met, and I imagine that it will continue to grow.”

“It’s been hard sometimes, knowing how competitive both of us are,” Wohlgemuth said. “However, both Noah and I are overly positive and eccentric teammates, so it couldn’t have worked out better. We knew what we were getting into coming into the spring, and our friendship kind of built around pushing each other to put our best selves on the field for the rest of the team.”