Respecting its past, Pungo baseball looks to write new script

Published 12:48 pm Friday, March 20, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS NEW SKIPPER: First-year head coach Ethan Coltrain inherits five returning starters, as the Raiders look to build upon last year’s 11-6 campaign.

NEW SKIPPER: First-year head coach Ethan Coltrain inherits five returning starters, as the Raiders look to build upon last year’s 11-6 campaign.

BELHAVEN — It was one of the most groundbreaking wins in the history of Pungo baseball, April 14, 2014. On the back of its lengthy, flame-throwing senior, Cole Woolard, the Raiders defeated the perennial powerhouse and reigning Tarheel Independent Conference champion Lawrence Warriors, 9-5, a five-run fifth inning being the ultimate difference in the ballgame. Woolard and senior Marcus Williams finished with two RBIs apiece on that breezy spring day, while up-and-coming sophomore Will Respess recorded two hits.

Pungo went on to finish the season in second place with an overall record of 10-5, its best mark in years. The team made it to the second round of the NCISAA 1-A state playoffs, where it fell to Oakwood, 4-2, after Woolard’s fatigued arm administered four early runs, opening the door for Respess, who shut the Eagles out through the final innings.

Now, under first-year head coach Ethan Coltrain, it’s Respess headlining a team with five returning starters, one looking to write its own narrative.

“Cole was great and other guys who played last year were great, but we have to deal with what we have now, keep playing hard and trying to win some ballgames,” Coltrain said. “I coached jayvee last year, but this is a totally different ballgame. The guys are good players who know what to do. I’m just here to try and help them out.”

After logging a 2.03 ERA in nine appearances (three starts) last season as the No. 2, Respess returns as not only the ace, but the team’s go-to leader as well.

“Will will definitely be our go-to pitcher,” Coltrain said. “He’s a strong leader at the plate. He’s a strong leader in the field. He’s solid and I know I can always count on him. He’s going to have to be big for us this year.”

And while the Raiders are without the services of Woolard or middle reliever Thomas Mann, Coltrain remains confident in his staff’s pitching depth.

Against Lawrence on Thursday, Respess pitched four innings, allowing five runs (3 ER) on four hits and two walks. The Warriors, up 9-1 at the end of five innings, had all but won the game. Enter Kellum Cahoon, the starting catcher who went all of last season without hoping over to the other side of the battery. Cahoon pitched a flawless final two innings, exhibiting lock-tight command, above average velocity and three solid pitches. He held the NCISAA’s top team scoreless to close out the game.

“I think we found some more pitching depth in Kellum today,” Coltrain said. “He’s our main catcher. We’re going to start utilizing him more. He has good form and good speed.”

The 2015 edition of the Raiders certainly differs from last season’s memorable squad, but sitting at 1-2 heading into Monday’s showdown with rival Terra Ceia, Pungo isn’t looking back; yet, it’s trying to build upon the foundation already set. For one, a defense that was once plagued by inept fielding is now making the routine, well, routine, supporting its pitching staff accordingly.

But the one glaring deficiency is at the plate, where Pungo has struggled to manufacture runs late in ballgames, a problem that cost last year’s team some wins down the stretch.

“I think we might have had one error in the field today and we really worked hard on that this week at practice and we’re going to continue to work on that,” Coltrain said. “Base hits and routine plays win ballgames and that’s what we’re striving for.”

Pungo will look to bounce back and execute at the dish against the Knights on Monday. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.