Prep pitchers facing new numbers game

Scenarios are taking place in baseball this spring that high school coaches never had to deal with in the past.

Imagine a pitcher throwing well and trying to protect a two-run lead late in a game. He strikes out a batter and then the coach comes out to the mound and removes him.

Mahomet-Seymour coach Nic DiFilippo doesn’t have to use his imagination.

He was obligated to send in a reliever in the middle of the inning for Bradley Hamilton in a game the Bulldogs led, 4-2.

“He’s out of pitches,” DiFilippo explained to the umpire as he made the move.

The IHSA introduced a pitch count this season for prep pitchers at all levels, varsity through freshmen.

The maximum in one game is 105 pitches, but hurlers are allowed to finish with the player batting.

When Hamilton was removed, it was after his 106th pitch. The batter fouled off a couple pitches before striking out.

“He hated it, but he knew exactly what was going on,” said DiFilippo, whose squad is closing in on a Corn Belt Conference championship. “I said, ‘Lets’s move on and get the ‘W.’ It didn’t cost us the game.”

Perhaps not all coaches can say that.

In last week’s 3-1 Bulldog win at Pontiac, the Indians and M-S were tied 1-1 in the fifth inning when Pontiac starter Logan Verdun was removed while working on a two-hitter after throwing 101 pitches in 4 2/3 innings.

The Bulldogs scored twice against the first reliever, with Jordan Veldman delivering the game-winning hit, and posted a 3-1 triumph.

Many schools have students keep the scorebook, but DiFilippo has taken over the pitch-count duties for both teams.

“I chart every pitch,” he said. “If it comes down to playing time, I’d better be the one who knows what’s going on. It has forced me to stay on top of it more.”

Sometimes that knowledge is used as strategy when the opposing team has its ace on the mound.

Against Prairie Central, the Hawks were throwing Heartland Community College-bound Clifton Slagel.

DiFilippo noted that the opposing right-hander had thrown 88 pitches after four innings.

“We tried to take a strike and battle,” the coach said. “He came out (after reaching his pitch count) and we scored a bunch of runs.”

The M-S lead was 3-1 when Slagel was removed after throwing 104 pitches in 4 2/3 innings. The Bulldogs tacked on five more runs against the reliever and prevailed, 8-1.

“That’s always been part of baseball,” DiFilippo said. “Get the starter out and get to the bullpen.”

Nick Herrmann fired a complete game against PC, allowing two hits while walking three and throwing 101 pitches in seven innings.

DiFilippo has set a goal for his staff to keep their pitch count to no more than 17 per inning.

“The goal has never been to lead the team in strikeouts,” he said. “Pitch to contact, don’t walk guys and let us play defense. You don’t have to strike guys out to get guys out.”

In his complete-game outing against Pontiac, left-hander Isaac Bushue needed eight pitches to finish the first inning. In his seven-inning four-hitter, Bushue threw 59 of his 83 pitches (71 percent) for strikes.

Helping the pitchers in their mission, DiFilippo said, is “we play good defense.”

The M-S outfield is anchored by Brooks Coetzee in center. He is flanked by two sophomores, Dylan Gates and Dawson Finch. The trio has strength in the same area.

“They can all run balls down,” DiFilippo said.

On the infield, this season he shifted Hamilton from third base to second when he’s not pitching. “It makes his throws a little shorter (and is less stressful on his arm),” DiFilippo said.

Last year’s second baseman, Austin Biehl, has settled in at shortstop. Herrmann plays at first, but is replaced by Kyle Kinney in games where Herrmann pitches.

Lukas Graham has been a fixture behind the plate, calling the majority of the pitches, and as the cleanup hitter.

“He blocks the ball well and throws great,” DiFilippo said. “Our catcher has done such a good job.”

Thanks to rotating players in for position players when they’re called to the mound, the Bulldogs will return nine field position players next year with starting experience.

The season’s success is not a surprise to the veteran coach.

“It’s a blessing to me that I do junior high baseball,” DiFilippo said. “I get to see these guys and know them. I watch them and watch them develop.

“They knew how to play, and I knew they’d get better.”

Many of the current varsity regulars were parts of junior high teams that didn’t lose a regular-season game.

Across the program this spring, 24 Bulldogs have made pitching appearances. Eight of those have thrown in varsity games and DiFilippo has a ninth pitcher ready, if needed. Through 23 games, only Kyle Mumm has reached the 100-pitch mark in as many as two games.

Beyond adding paper work, the new IHSA regulations have been well-accepted by the veteran M-S coach.

“It hasn’t been that bad,” DiFilippo said. “The biggest thing is you have to try and keep more guys prepared to pitch.”

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Baseball, Sports

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