Focused on chasing a championship football ring in the fall, Manteca High senior Ryan Ward decided to hold off on fulfilling his commitment with the University of Pacific baseball team during the early-signing period.
It turned out well for him in the end.
A coaching change at UOP prompted a change of heart, and now Ward is following in the footsteps of his parents and sister to Sacramento State. His abbreviated spring sports season was highlighted on Tuesday when he inked his National Letter of Intent to play for the Hornets.
The original plan was for Ward to sign with Pacific in January, after the football season and the holidays. Then on Jan. 8, Ryan Garko resigned as Tigers head coach to take a position with the Los Angeles Angels staff.
“There was no rush,” Ward said. “I wanted to do the late signing in part because these things happen all the time. For me, had I signed (in November) and this happened I would have been stuck. He ended up leaving to take a spot with the Angels, and I don't blame him, but after that I had to make a decision that was best for me and my family.”
After decomitting, it was back to the drawing board for the Ward. He contacted Baylor, Cal State Northridge and Sac State — other NCAA Division I schools that were interested before he had committed to Pacific.
“It came down to Sac State,” Ward said. “My freshman and sophomore years, they always reached out and have always been super welcoming. It's a great baseball team and one of the winningest programs in California.”
Sac State also routinely gets players selected in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
Head coach Reggie Christiansen has led the Hornets to three Western Athletic Conference titles (2014, 2017, 2019) in his 10 years and has had winning records every year since going 19-39 overall in his inaugural season back in 2011.
“Reggie is such a cool guy ,” Ward said. “This was just the right timing and feels like the right fit. I'm happy with the decision, my family is happy with it and I'm excited to play there.”
Ward's dad, Deon, played baseball for two years at Sac State where he also met his wife, Cyndi. Their eldest child, Taylor, a former softball standout at East Union, is now enrolled at Sac State.
Ryan certainly has much to look forward to and can look back at an all-around successful senior year despite the baseball season ending so soon.
The Buffaloes were 5-3-1, but the right-handed hurler was off to a scintillating start — 2-1, 0.93 earned run average and 27 strikeouts in 15 innings. Ward was in his fourth year on the varsity team, making the All-Valley Oak League first team twice and second team once. For his career, he compiled a 23-9 record while sporting a 1.92 ERA and 278 strikeouts in 204 innings.
Manteca qualified for the postseason each of the past three years, but he was hoping for a chance to play for a Sac-Joaquin Section championship. With fellow pitching standout Rafael Diaz also back, Ward liked his team's chances.
“It's super tough, especially because this is my senior year,” Ward said. “I was off to a great start with my three appearances, and after playing baseball for the Manteca High since my freshman year this was my chance to be a leader.
“With me, Raf and some of the other guys we have back on the team I do believe we had the best pitching staff in the VOL and it would have been a fun season competition-wise. I just miss it so much. We had a great group of guys.”
In football, he played quarterback and was named All-Valley Oak League Outstanding Offensive Player after passing for 2,155 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. The Buffs finished 11-3 and claimed the SJS Division III title.
“I do consider myself lucky that I did get through football season,” Ward said. “Fortunately, I worked hard to get to the next level. That's the bright side, but it sucks that we are going to miss the fun part of our senior year. You're supposed to enjoy your last couple months in high school and talk about it at your 30-year reunion.”