2017-05-18 / Sports

Oaks Christian’s dancing with this star

Centerfielder helps baseball team qualify for CIF-SS Division 2 postseason tango
Eliav Appelbaum

LION HEART—Rhylan Thomas is a sophomore centerfielder for Oaks Christian High’s baseball team. 
BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers LION HEART—Rhylan Thomas is a sophomore centerfielder for Oaks Christian High’s baseball team. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers BASEBALL /// Oaks Christian Lions

Rhylan Thomas seeks serenity on the baseball field.

He doesn’t mind the “Dancing with the Stars” camera crew that has invaded the friendly confines of Leko Field on this glorious Friday afternoon. He patiently waits for practice to start.

There are outside distractions galore, but Thomas is singularly focused on playing the game the right way, and that’s through finding inner peace. Before every game, he finds a quiet place to think, to meditate, to seek the divine.

“I talk to God,” he said. “He calms me down, helps me get through the game.”

Thomas, a young man of few words, lets his God-given skills and internal engine that could fuel Motor City through a power outage do most of the talking on the field.

The Oaks Christian High center fielder helped the Lions win their first Marmonte League title in 2016. This spring, he’s enjoyed a breakout season, helping Oaks Christian qualify for the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs.

Thomas, who turned 17 last month, led the team in hits (26), and he was second in batting average (.321), runs (15), RBI (14) and doubles (five) during the regular season.

“He’s super competitive, to say the least,” said Adam Kerner, a senior catcher committed to the University of San Diego. “He gets other teams riled up. The way he plays the game, he plays hard and he gets other teams where it hurts.”

Thomas, who throws and hits left-handed, has started every game at center field for Oaks Christian the past two seasons.

He wants to start as a freshman in college.

He wants to play Major League Baseball.

He knows how much work, time and focus it will take to accomplish his dreams.

“Hard work is the main thing. It’s the most important thing,” Thomas said. “I know I’m not the prototypical big and strong player. I need to elevate my game by grinding. I am not afraid of not starting. I know I’m going to work, work, work. No one’s going to outwork me.

“I will never stop working hard.”

Royce Clayton, Oaks Christian’s first-year head coach who played 17 years in the big leagues, speaks glowingly of the young star.

“He’s exceeded expectations,” the skipper said. “He’s the future of the program.”

Thomas, a sophomore, must lead the Lions after a talented senior class graduates later this spring. The seniors include Kerner, pitcher Carson Rudd (committed to Stanford), pitcher/right fielder Dane Morrow (Pepperdine), pitcher Holden Christian (Loyola Marymount), pitcher Jack Aldrich (Santa Clara), shortstop Sean Rice and second baseman Justin Lackey.

The center fielder is close with all the upperclassmen, and he’s developed a bond with Rudd.

“He took me in as a little brother last year. He showed me the ropes,” Thomas said of Rudd. “I love playing defense behind him. We just have this connection. We’ve grown closer this year.”

The teammates signal to each other before every inning when Rudd takes the hill. Off the field, they play the NBA 2K video game.

Rudd said Thomas “plays with passion.”

“He loves this game,” Rudd said. “He pours everything onto the field. He just loves the game.”

Clayton said he believes Thomas will lead the Lions the next two seasons.

“He’s the right guy for it,” the coach said. “The big thing is you have to be coachable. He’s coachable. He’s open to learning, and he wants to get better. . . .

“He reminds me of myself. He’s quiet, but he has a fire within.”

College baseball teams have noticed Thomas, who said he’s hitting the ball harder and playing with more confidence.

The sophomore has already picked up scholarship offers from USC, Washington, the University of San Diego, Pepperdine and St. Mary’s.

His favorite game this season was Oaks Christian’s 4-0 win against IMG Academy of Florida on April 10 at the National Classic in Anaheim. Max Graves and Aldrich combined for a no-hitter in the win against the infamous institution.

“If we play like that every single game,” Thomas said, “we can win a CIF championship.”

Thomas, who bats second in the lineup, is the son of Chris Thomas, who played six seasons in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the Rams in 1999; and Tara, who ran track in high school. His parents attended Ventura High. His sister, Paityn, is a budding soccer star who will enter high school in the fall.

Rhylan Thomas started playing baseball at age 6 with the Newbury Park PONY Baseball. He also grew up playing soccer but decided to focus on baseball in high school.

The Lion refuses to let success go to his head.

He knows he has a long way to go.

“I’m learning new things every day,” Thomas said. “I’m learning as much as I can.”

Email sports editor Eliav Appelbaum at eliav@theacorn.com.

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