With games complete, Cavaliers hoping teammate wins biggest battle yet

The season may have ended, but the Lake Travis baseball team still has hopes for a victory that might even trump a state title.

Senior pitcher Walker Reese thought he’d be battling hitters helping the Cavaliers on what turned out to be a spirited run to the Region IV semifinals. But, as he said on Twitter recently, “Would've given anything to compete with my team/family this year but the man upstairs has bigger plans for me. Proud of every one of you..”

Reese’s tweet came shortly after Dallas Jesuit ended Lake Travis’ season, and while the Cavaliers’ journey might have ended, Reese’s journey still has a long way to go.

The pitcher spent the bulk of the preseason not feeling well enough to pitch. Shortly before the season started, he learned why: doctors had discovered a rare, aggressive cancer in his abdomen. Instead of prepping to face hitters from the mound, he and his family quickly changed gears and began fighting the cancer. Last week, the family got some encouraging news.

“We’ve had six rounds of chemo[therapy] so far,” Walker’s father Tim said last week. “The scans came back and showed shrinkage of the tumor at well over 50 percent. We’re very excited about that.”

Throughout the season, Reese refused to let the cancer keep him away from his teammates. He tried to schedule his chemo so he could attend as many games as possible. As the Cavaliers worked their way deeper into the playoffs, Reese remained a fixture in the dugout, both at practice and during games. His presence helped keep the team focused even when the ball refused to bounce its way.

“Whenever we felt like things were tough for us, we just looked at Walker,” said senior pitcher Tate Gillespie. “We just had to do things for him.”

Tim Reese said the motivation had been a two-way street all season long. If the players gained strength and purpose from Walker, he leaned on them just as much.

“He was so motivated to do whatever he needed to do to be with them,” Tim said of his son’s determination to stay positive throughout the grueling chemo sessions. “Those guys really lifted him up, and if he couldn’t’ go to a game or practice, they came here. He was around them the time. It’s been a roller coaster and Walker is trying to be as normal as possible.”

As part of maintaining as much normalcy in his life as possible, Reese walked with his graduating class at last week’s graduation ceremony.

“Being with those guys is a part of it,” Tim Reese said. “He worked his chemo so he could be there.”

The support and camaraderie Reese shared with his teammates will be the thing coach Mike Rogers remembers most about the season.

“To feel each other’s joy and shortcomings, from a coach’s standpoint I think that’s all you can ask of a team, to see that kind of camaraderie, that kind of bond,” he said.

The bond superseded what happened on the field, even the season-ending defeat.

“We had our coaches tell us every day that this isn’t life or death,” Gillespie said. “It’s a baseball game. Walker told us he’d give anything to be out there playing. [Us] playing for him was the important thing.”

And the recent doctor’s report sends everyone in the baseball program into the summer on a high note despite the season-ending loss. After two more chemo sessions, Walker will undergo surgery to remove the remaining tumor. Success in the operating room will define the 2015 baseball season more than what happened between the lines.

“We are excited for him and the prognosis, and we hope that we can continue to support him because it’s still going to be a battle for him,” Rogers said.

Tim Reese echoed that thought.

“There’s still a long way to go, but it’s positive to get that news.”

If things continue to progress well, surgery could happen this summer in Houston. Though that part of the battle will take place with specialists in the operating room, expect that the Cavaliers’ won’t be far, either in the waiting room or by phone awaiting more encouraging news.