Pitching gives Cougars formidable look again in 2017
The stable of pitchers Jefferson returns this season gives it the look of still another 20-win team.
It’s been 40 consecutive seasons that the Cougars have won at least 20 games per year. In that lengthy time frame there were 20 seasons found the team win at least 30 or more games.
There have 12 state championships and since the school began playing games in 1973 those many teams have achieved a winning percentage of over 80 percent.
The Cougars grabbed state championships in both 2015 and 2016 but graduated a small group of significant contributors from a year ago.
If pitching is anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of baseball then Jefferson should be well-armed again this season.
Austin Cross was a five-game winner as a sophomore and won even more last year when the year ended with a 11-2 victory over Nitro in the state championship game.
Dylan Carroll is a trusted right-hander whose strikeouts to walks ratio is one of the state’s best.
Austin Bulman, like Cross, regularly plays another position when not pitching, but also posted five wins as a sophomore in 2015 and was reliable again in the title run in 2016.
Cross has signed with Radford, Carroll with Messiah (Pa.) and Bulman with Shippensburg even before this season is scheduled to begin this evening at home against Woodgrove.
Other pitchers on Coach John Lowery’s roster are Dalton Jamison, Dalton Dodson, David Dinges, Brooks Lowery, Dylan McCartney, Cory Daly, Jordan Trunnell, Brady Hamilton and Jaden Fritts.
Jamison pitched some with his travel team this past summer, getting outs and throwing strikes.
Other returning starters from last season’s state championship group are outfielder Cole Walker and second baseman Alex Tennant.
Bulman, Cross and Jamison are all expected to be starters at some other positions when not pitching.
Mason Steeley will be the starting shortstop when the Cougars open against talented Woodgrove. Bulman is going to be used at several different positions including third base, first base and the outfield.
Bulman batted over .450 last season.
Walker became more and more valuable as the 2016 season moved along. He did well in Jefferson’s two wins at the state tournament.
Both Bailey Dodson and Dalton Dodson will be in tonight’s starting lineup. Daniel Brennan is also ticketed for starting duty.
The top of Lowery’s order seems generally set, but the bottom of the lineup could see some changes from the first several games to early May when the regular season ends.
Outfielder Cory Roman infielder, Taylor Tennant and Dinges are the most likely challengers to take starting positions from others who are ahead of them when the season begins.
Hamilton, Fritts, Trunnell and Daly are infielders, while Jonathan Slattery and McCartney are outfielders. Hayden Stang is a newcomer to the program.The catchers other than Bailey Dodson are McCartney and Daniel Carroll.
The best and fastest of the base runners are Walker, Alex Tennant, Bulman, Jamison and Brennan.
The Cougars go to Myrtle Beach for a week’s worth of games against competition from the Eastern Seaboard. The annual two-game trek to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame is also on the schedule.
Can the Cougars score enough runs in a consistent manner? How will their infield defense be as compared to past teams?
Will their fourth and fifth starting pitchers fare well when they play on five consecutive days?
And there is a new pitch-count rule that will limit the number of pitches thrown in an appearance and the number of days rest before an individual’s next pitching appearance.
Jefferson is once again in the same Sectional with Washington and Hampshire. If the Cougars reach the Regional, that format has also been changed to where the winner of the Musselman/Hedgesville/Martinsburg/Spring Mills Sectional will play a best two-of-three series against the Jefferson/Washington/Hampshire survivor.
Cross, Dylan Carroll and Bulman give the Cougars their best chance to win when they are pitching . . . but the overall defense and catching are important to a team missing valued hitters from the 2016 team.