Zander Sechrist has a bubbly personality and a bright future on the baseball field.
He took his high school years at Flowery Branch extremely seriously but always wanted people to keep smiling and enjoying life.
“(Zander’s) a wonderful kid who never gets angry and has such an optimistic outlook on life,” Falcons coach Joey Ray said. “And he’s a fierce competitor on the baseball field.”
The University of Tennessee signee was one of the reasons that the Falcons were 12-1 and ranked in the top-50 nationally when the season ended March 13 as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sechrist is a towering left-hander with dominant off-speed pitches, elite command of the strike zone and an above average fastball. His go-to pitch was a changeup with a two-seam grip that would fall off the table before it got to the plate.
“Zander’s velocity is the only thing that keeps him from being a first-round draft pick,” Ray said. “He’s as polished of a high school pitcher as there is in the country.”
During his career, Sechrist took the bump against five nationally-ranked opponents. As a senior, he was on the mound for a 2-1, nine-inning win against North Gwinnett on Feb. 19. On March 11, he threw a two-hit, complete-game shutout against Marist two days before the season came to an abrupt end.
Sechrist was also one of the catalysts behind Flowery Branch’s run to the 2018 Class 5A state semifinals, where it came up on the short end against Buford.
Equally as important was the way Sechrist went out of his way to set a good culture for the Falcons, on and off the field. When Ray took over as Flowery Branch’s coach in 2018, he remembers Sechrist jumped on the opportunity to have the space closest to the door in their locker room.
The dominating pitcher said it was to both make the new coach comfortable and have players in a good space mentally before getting to work on the diamond.
“Everything I did was all about having good team chemistry,” said Sechrist. “I try to keep everyone happy.”
Sechrist was even mindful about the way he presented himself during the school day. Dressed with a button-up plaid shirt tucked in neatly with nice shoes, he treated everyday like he was part of the business world.
He’s the product of a hard-working single mother, Lori, and grandfather, Bob, who he considers his father.
Both instilled values of respect and hard work into her only child.
Zander has never met his biological father, but refuses to let that be a crutch for not being successful going forward in life.
Sechrist has had as much, if not more, support from his family than other players, even though it is not the traditional family nucleus.
“Everything I do, I do for my mother,” Sechrist said. “I want her to be happy.”
For as long as he can remember, Zander has played baseball. He was a typical child with an athletic streak.
Even as a lefty, he was put at third base as a young child, just because he was one of the only kids who could throw the ball across the diamond. He also showed how talented as a kid he was wherever you plugged him in on the field. Sechrist can still remember turning a triple play from the hot corner, and another time snagging a hard-hit ball over third base, popping to his feet and throwing behind his body’s momentum to first for the out.
However, Sechrist would find his forever home when he took to the mound. When he wasn’t pitching, Sechrist would play first base most of the time.
As a kid, he played for former Atlanta Braves outfielder Marquis Grissom and carefully studied the former pro’s arm slot when he released the ball to avoid any future arm injuries.
When he was 8, Sechrist started learning from Vladimir Nunez, an 11-year MLB pitching veteran who has preached to the young player about pitching to contact.
Since that, Sechrist has followed through on focusing on throwing strikes and letting his defense make plays behind him.
By the time he was in the eighth grade, the raw left-hander had the attention of the school’s pitching coach, Dusty Black, stating the young talent would be starting as a freshman.
Since then, Sechrist has evolved into an analytical pitcher. He studies tendencies and relies on the talent of junior Kaleb Freeman to call a good game behind the plate.
His first experience against a top-flight opponent was in 2018 when Sechrist threw five innings and allowed just a first-inning run against nationally-ranked American Heritage (Florida). Later that spring, Sechrist would go toe-to-toe against Buford in the state semifinal series.
As a junior, Sechrist said he faced some adversity, losing some region matchups. However, he was looking forward to having his senior year to get redemption against Marist and Blessed Trinity.
“I was so sad that this season was cut short,” said Sechrist. “It was going to be my revenge tour.”
One of Sechrist’s tools he used in 2020 was an index card with the strengths and weaknesses of batters, which came in handy during those games against nationally-ranked North Gwinnett, Hoover (Alabama) and Marist.
Sechrist and Freeman would both have cards with notes, which also doubled as encouragement between two good friends.
Even though the 2020 season was cut short for the Falcons, due to circumstances out of anyone’s control, Sechrist has certainly left a legacy as a tireless worker on the field and friendly face to everyone he meets.
“I just want to thank all my teammates and coach Ray for making it so much fun these past four years,” Sechrist said.
Even though Sechrist has the desirable skillset on the mound to be intriguing to the pro scouts, he likely won’t hear his name called this summer. The MLB draft has been shortened to five rounds and will take place on June 8-9.
However, the gifted lefty is beaming with optimism about beginning the next chapter of his life in Knoxville playing for the Volunteers.
“I’m so excited about going to Tennessee,” Sechrist said.