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Baseball wins and losses hang on pitchers
Baseball wins and losses hang on pitchers
By STEVE NOVAK
No matter what the score of a baseball game is, there's only one player out of nine who has the extra weight of being called the winner or the loser. There's never a winning shortstop or left fielder, but there's always a winning or losing pitcher.
Every time youngsters stake out a baseball diamond in a vacant field or a deserted stretch of street, there always will be at least one player who quickly declares himself the pitcher and then lays his claim on the makeshift mound.
If that particular player was good enough, a future in Little League, Pony League, junior high school and then high school varsity baseball awaited them. For the area pitchers who are now seniors in high school, there are similar attitudes which many of them share about being on the mound.
Jake Hurley is one of the Gilmour Academy veterans. Last season as a junior, he was 5-0 and was a key player who helped the Lancers advance deep in postseason action. Hurley was 2-1 early this season.
Gilmour coach Jay Fowler said Hurley has the ability to throw three different pitches effectively.
"He's got a fastball, a change-up and a curve," Fowler said. "He throws all of them in a pretty good variety."
Hurley said one of the things which carried over to his senior year is the confidence which expands each time he steps on the mound. "The biggest lesson from last season is knowing that I have the stuff to go out there and compete each time we play," he said.
Chagrin Falls' Cory Stack won his first five games.
He said that as he made his first few starts as a senior, he quickly noticed that his overall control had improved. "I throw harder and I have more command of my pitches," he said. "I usually throw a combination of different pitches."
Chagrin Falls coach Mike Sweeney said the speed Stack puts on pitches matches anyone else on this year's team.
"Of our guys, he probably throws the hardest. The fastball is his main pitch," Sweeney said. "He keeps the ball down, but he's got a curve and a slider, too."
Stack said one of the lessons he has learned during the past season is to maintain an ability to keep the focus off any mistakes he makes. "In a game now, if I make a mistake, I just forget about it, and keep on going," Stack said.
Orange's Brandon Goss is in his third varsity season and was 2-2 in the early going.
He said he primarily relies on varieties of a fastball as his main pitch. One type of fastball, a cutter, or cut fastball, has movement similar to a curve. Goss said he also uses a slider and a change-up.
Orange coach Mark Burkhart said that part of Goss' ability with a fastball comes from his 6-foot-3-inch frame.
"He's a big kid, and his best pitch is his fastball. Last year, his earned run average was right around 3.00," Burkhart said. "I've seen times when betters couldn't hit him."
Goss said more mental composure is a product of more appearances on the mound. "My first varsity year, I was really nervous," Goss said. "Now I just go out there and try to hit my spots."
Kenston senior Alex Wittenberg already has thrown a no hitter in a 10-0 victory over Aurora en route to a 4-1 early-season start.
He said he just felt better the first time he took the mound for his first start several weeks ago. "Mostly, it's just that I'm more confident in being a senior now," Wittenberg said. "It also gave me a lot of confidence to be chosen to the All-Chagrin Valley Conference team last season."
The left-handed Wittenberg said he tries to settle into a rhythm with the first few batters he faces. If that succeeds, he tries to stay with that pattern.
"I don't try to change anything," he said. "I just keep the ball down. My curve ball is working better. I'm a little bit more able to spot it more."
Like any good pitcher, Wittenberg knows about self-criticism. He even saw that there was room for improvement in his no-hit game. "I only struck out two batters," he said.
At Hawken, one of the mainstays of the pitching staff is John Weiss, a senior third-year varsity player.
Weiss was 3-2 early on with one save. He has won more games than he did in the 2009 season and he said one advantage of having prior experience is the recollection of which hitters he wasn't able to get out.
"You try to remember what their three, four and five hitters did against you the last time," Weiss said. "But the most important thing is, you have to throw strikes. Mostly, I throw a two-seam fastball and a curve ball."
Weiss is another player who can use size to his advantage in throwing fastballs. He is 6-foot-5 and weighs 200 pounds. He also varies the speed of the pitch with a change-up.
He said he started to enjoy pitching as soon as he tried it when he played in Little League. He said likes the sense of action and control. "The best part of it is, you're in the game all the time," he said. "You have the opportunity to make plays, no matter what."
A knee injury robbed West Geauga's Kenny Gorski of nearly his entire junior varsity season. He's back on the mound now as a senior, with a one win and two losses to his credit so far.
Gorski has pitched for the Wolverines since he was a sophomore. He said this year he is relying heavily on a two-seam fastball as his main pitch and adds in a smaller mix of curves and change-ups.
"Location is the key for the fastball," he said. "“But you have to have a good secondary pitch, too."
Gorski also likes being on the mound.
"The game is in your hands. You are in on every defensive play," Gorski said. "You're controlling games, because you're in it, so much."
Solon senior Eric Napoli wasn't a starter last season. However, he said he did have enough experience on the mound in 2009 which helped his mental preparation. It has helped him so far, as he was 3-1 early in the season.
"The experience has helped my composure," he said. "My confidence is better. You have to go out there and not think."
When he's not pitching, Napoli plays third base for the Comets. So far this season, he has maintained a batting average consistently above the .400 mark. Being a good hitter himself, Napoli knows a few things about the kind of pitches which make other good hitters drool.
His fastball is his main pitch, and he said it recently was clocked at 86 miles per hour. Napoli said he uses the fast ball for at least half of his pitches each game and then falls back on a change-up and a curve.
In a recent game against North Royalton, Napoli struck out a personal season high of eight batters. Also, he has decided that he does not want this to be his final season on the mound.
"I want to go to a college where I can play baseball," he said. "That's something I want to do."
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