When Tanner Lane enrolled at Pittsburg State University last fall, the Webb City High School graduate wasn’t sure if his college baseball career would continue or if his playing days were behind him.
For Lane, a tryout with new Gorillas coach Bob Fornelli would be the deciding factor. A few months later, that prior uncertainty was a distant memory.
By the time the spring semester concluded, Lane had not only earned a spot on the Gorillas’ roster, but he’d also become an all-league and all-region performer.
“My season was a true blessing,” Lane said. “I honestly didn’t see it going like it did. After my tryout with Coach Fornelli, we talked about me getting maybe 10-20 innings or maybe even redshirting. But once I had a spot, I was going to do whatever I could to help out the team.”
There’s no doubt Lane “helped out” the team.
A 5-foot-11, 175-pound left-hander who transferred to PSU from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, Lane put together a stellar season for the Gorillas, who went 31-20 overall and 20-13 in the MIAA.
As a sophomore, Lane became the team’s closer on the mound where he earned a program-record 13 saves, tying Central Oklahoma’s Josh Rutland for the league lead.
To the PSU coaching staff, Lane’s contributions were a welcome surprise.
“When he first walked in, we didn’t think he’d have a big impact on our season,” Fornelli said. “Eventually he was probably our most valuable player. He pitched in the most games and pitched well in the most-important games of our season. He had an incredible year for us.”
Lane allowed just nine earned runs in 39 1/3 innings, finishing the season with a 2.06 earned run average. He struck out 40 batters, walked only 11 and opponents hit just .184 against him.
“He threw strikes and he competed,” Fornelli said. “He wasn’t afraid of any situation as the closer. He earned that spot, and he gave us an opportunity to win every time we handed him the baseball.”
Flourishing in the closer role, Lane led the PSU staff not only in saves but also in ERA and appearances (27).
“It was a lot of fun,” Lane said of closing out games. “The guys had my back and were very supportive of me. Coming in to a new team, I had to prove myself. I worked my butt off, and the guys had my back the entire time.”
Lane was named the MIAA Pitcher of the Week on April 30 after he earned two saves in a weekend series with Missouri Southern. At the conclusion of the season, Lane earned second team all-MIAA honors and second team all-region recognition.
“It means a lot,” Lane said of the postseason accolades. “It shows that hard work pays off.”
After a solid prep career at Webb City that included a victory in a district championship game, Lane spent one season at Fort Scott CC. He battled injuries but made 10 appearances on the mound for the Greyhounds, tossing 20 2/3 innings and striking out 24 before moving south to Pittsburg.
With a successful spring campaign in the books, the son of Linda and Robert Lane is spending his summer playing for the Green Bay Booyah of the Northwoods League.
PSU pitching coach Aaron Meade connected Lane with the Booyah, who were looking for a lefty to add to their pitching staff.
“Coach Meade called me and asked me what I thought about this opportunity,” Lane said. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
Lane pitched in his summer collegiate team’s season opener, striking out two in one inning of relief.
“It’s been a blast,” Lane said. “It’s been nothing but fun up here.”
Based in the upper Midwest, the Northwoods League is one of the nation’s premier summer collegiate leagues. Similar to a minor league baseball franchise, teams in the Northwoods League play a 72-game schedule from late May to mid-August.
With teams in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota and Ontario, Canada, the Northwoods League drew more than 1.1 million fans in 2017.
More than 185 Northwoods League alumni have gone on to play major league baseball, including Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Ben Zobrist and current St. Louis Cardinal Paul DeJong.
Green Bay competes in the Great Lakes West Division with the Fond du Lac Spiders, Lakeshore Chinooks, Madison Mallards, Wisconsin Woodchucks and Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.
The Booyah, formerly known as the Bullfrogs, are playing in a brand new stadium, Capital Credit Union Park, not far from Lambeau Field.
Lane’s PSU teammate Ty Herrenbruck is also playing for the Booyah, while Missouri Southern's Logan VanWey and Dexter Swims are playing for the Duluth Huskies, and Will Bausinger, another Lion, is suiting up for the Woodchucks.
Lane noted he’s playing alongside a number of NCAA Division I players in a minor league environment.
“I’ll be able to gain a lot of knowledge of how the game is played at the higher levels,” he said. “I think I can learn from some of the D-I guys. And I’m going to see a lot of things I wouldn’t normally get to see.”
Of course, Lane hopes to improve at his craft.
“I want to develop my off-speed stuff a little more,” he said. “My curveball and changeup aren’t bad, but I need them to be a little tighter. I want to gain more experience and more knowledge and just keep progressing for next year.”
After a summer with the Booyah, Lane will head back to Pittsburg this fall. And this time, there will be no uncertainty if he has a spot with the Gorillas.
“Hopefully he’ll help us the next two years like he did this year,” Fornelli said.
To Lane, that’s the plan.
“The work’s not done yet,” Lane said. “You can never be satisfied.”