Pungo pitching in control

Published 2:25 pm Monday, April 28, 2014



At the high school level, baseball teams equipped with a dominant, inning-eating ace usually exhibit some kind of long-term success over the course of the season. Come postseason play, coaches commonly ride their top hurler to squeak out as many wins as possible down the stretch.

Last season, Pungo had a stellar top-of-the-rotation talent in Cole Austin Woolard and a promising No. 2, freshman Will Respess. Batting .321 as a team, consistent offense and reliable pitching propelled the team to a second-place finish in the Tarheel Conference. As usual, one of the NCISAA’s top baseball teams in the state, Lawrence Academy, proved unstoppable, finishing with a 17-6 overall record and another conference title.

There’s a different story to tell in 2014.  The story of not one, not two, but now three dependable Raider starters putting a struggling offense on their backs, posting stellar statistics and making a run at the perennial conference champion Warriors.

In his final season in Pungo blue, Woolard has thrown 44 innings, thus far, and has completed seven of the nine games he’s started. But it’s not just the 2.23 ERA that’s impressed his head coach John Scott Cutler.

Considered an unofficial assistant coach of the Raiders, Woolard’s role as a team leader has increased and, as a result, a new enthusiasm and unrelenting desire to win has been steadily building throughout the season. His teammates feed off his energy every time he takes the rubber, every time he looks at a late-inning deficit and requests emphatically to stay in the game.

And Pungo is no stranger to the late-inning deficit. Batting just .253 as a team, .068 points higher than last year, the Raiders boast an impressive 7-2-conference record with a win against Lawrence, their first in well over a decade.

Pungo’s increased win total can be directly attributed to the performance of not only Woolard, but also the three-man rotation as a whole.

Respess, now a seasoned sophomore, has posted a 2.03 ERA in three starts and six relief appearances, totaling 20.2 innings. His numbers are a carbon copy of his fruitful freshman campaign.

Despite solid seasons from Woolard and Respess, the X-factor to the Raiders’ success has undoubtedly been senior Thomas Mann, who struggled on the hill last season with a 4.67 ERA.

As the No. 3/spot starter and late-inning reliever, Mann has recorded a 3-1 record and 2.02 ERA in two starts and five relief appearances for a total of 27.2 innings. With the offense being consistently dormant, Mann has given his team the opportunity to win by containing opposing lineups late in games.

Cutler will lean on his big three to support the offense in this week’s TIC Tournament in Merry Hill. With a couple of wins, the Raiders could, once again, find themselves matched up against Lawrence in the champion game.

“We understand we have beat everybody first,” Cutler said, “but we really want another shot at Lawrence.”