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Friday, July 1, 2022

Commentary

Starting pitchers anchor Cougars in early season


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Junior pitcher John King has helped anchor the Cougars’ rotation, with a 3-1 record this year and 25 strikeouts in 25.2 innings pitched. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

Solid pitching from starters and relievers is one of the reasons why the baseball team is enjoying early season success at 13-6 before conference play.

“The pitchers have been consistent,” head coach Todd Whitting said. “If they can continue to do that over the next few weeks, I think we have a chance to win a bunch of games.”

Great pitching was expected this season as the team had two players named to multiple media outlets’ preseason all-American lists. Junior Andrew Lantrip and sophomore Seth Romero have not disappointed so far.

Lantrip is first in the rotation and makes his starts every Friday night against the opposing team’s best pitcher. As of March 17, Lantrip has a 2-2 record, which doesn’t reflect just how dominant he has been.

The junior’s 32 strikeouts in his first 26.1 innings pitched were key in maintaining a low 2.05 ERA during the time frame. With Lantrip on the mound, the Cougars’ chances of winning increase significantly, as he is sure to continue to limit opposing teams’ runs.

Romero was absent the first two weeks of the season, but his return has made a tremendous impact on the team’s performance.

The sophomore right hander won his first two starts, and he quickly shook off any rust that may have accumulated during the long offseason. Opponents hit just .163 off of Romero in his first three appearances of the season, a top number among the starting pitchers.

Having a one-two punch of Lantrip and Romero will help the team down the stretch when the Cougars look to lock up another conference title as they did last season.

But pitching success is not limited to just two players on the Cougars’ roster.

The collective effort from starters junior Marshall Kasowski, junior John King and freshman Mitch Ullom cannot be overlooked.

Ullom is a newcomer who has found his groove and hopes to bring reliability to the back end of the pitching rotation. The right-hander nearly made baseball history March 16 against Texas Southern University when he pitched seven perfect innings and eight hitless innings.

The Tigers managed their first hit of the game on Ullom in the ninth inning.

“He’s a good player,” Whitting said. “I think he’s going to be a premium arm for us down the road. He’s a possible weekend starter for us at some point, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s pitching well.”

An often overlooked aspect of any baseball team is the importance of an effective bullpen.

The Cougars have that and great confidence in their reliever’s ability to enter a game and shut the door on their opponent.

“It’s been good,” Whitting said about the pitching lineup. “It was a question mark for me early in the season. Hernandez has been good back there, a few other guys have been good. I’m really pleased with them.”

Junior closer Nick Hernandez leads with four saves in the team’s first 16 games. Hernandez has managed 16 strikeouts in his 14 innings of work. A staple in the late portions of games, Hernandez will play a key role in locking down wins throughout the season.

The Cougar offense has also been an important factor in the early success of the pitching staff. The team has set out to get on the board first in order to take some of the pressure off of the starting pitcher and has largely been successful in that endeavor.

“It’s something we talk about all the time, that first score RBI,” Whitting said. “We want to be the team that is on the board first. When you score first, your chances of winning the game are a lot higher.”

With the conference season coming up, the Cougars will be hoping for continued consistency from their pitchers, as the American Athletic Conference season begins on April 1 with a three-game road swing against the East Carolina University Pirates.

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