Big Time

May 24, 2012

Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –

Freshman Cole Pitts has hit the big time as a big-game starting pitcher.

He’s on his way. He’s making it.

Pitts is already big (6-5, 223) and has shown he has game. The kind of game that belies the fact that he’s a 19-year-old true freshman that didn’t make his first weekend start until April 8, against Florida State, the nation’s second-ranked team.

Pitts showed that he could put it all together when the chips were down in the season finale against Miami, throwing his collegiate-high seven innings, allowing only a run and two hits. Talk about stepping up.

“Cole couldn’t have thrown any better on Saturday,” said Head Coach Danny Hall. “It was a clutch performance in probably the toughest game that we had to play all year because we knew we had to win to guarantee ourselves a chance of going to the ACC Tournament.”

A Moultrie, Ga., native, Pitts had a basic plan of attack going in. The kind of basic strategy one gives a freshman facing the biggest game of his college career and carries with him the team’s postseason fate.

Oh, yeah, and he was pitching on short rest.

“I just tried to stay with my program that I have through the week,” he said. “I lifted a little harder and had to get myself back. I tried to get myself back to where I should be, my long-toss program and get my arm to where it’s supposed to be. It worked out and I felt good.”

Getting ready for the start was the hardest part. Once he got to the mound, he was fine.

“I wanted to come out and soak it all in,” said Pitts, who had our 1-2-3 innings. “I wasn’t really focused on getting the Sunday starter position. It was about helping my team win and getting us to the ACC Tournament and to a Regional.”

His getting the job done came as little surprise to his teammates. The Colquitt County High School graduate and three-sport star (he holds the school’s home run record), began the season in the bullpen and had two starts as midweek starter before moving back to the bullpen. But as injuries mounted, Pitts regained the midweek starter spot at the end of March. He won his first two starts, allowing three earned runs in six innings on March 28th against Georgia Southern then firing four shutout innings at Kennesaw State on April 3rd. He struck out 13 in the two starts and walked only two.

Coach Hall named him the Sunday starter the weekend after the Kennesaw Start.

The ACC proved a tougher nut to crack, as Pitts went winless over his next six starts and did not go more than five innings in any of his five conference appearances.

There were bright moments, however, a five-inning two-run stint at No. 6 North Carolina on April 21st, and a six-inning gem (one run, seven hits) against Charlotte on May 6th.

Those successes set the stage for the performance two Saturdays later against Miami. His poise under the circumstances has earned raves from teammates.

“I was very impressed,” said Tech’s Friday night starter Buck Farmer, who has a better gauge than most on Pitts, being his daily throwing and frequent weightlifting partner. “Coming in as a freshman and being a weekend guy is a lot to ask. Even though there are a lot of teams that have freshman starters on the weekends, it’s tough because there’s a big difference between high school and college baseball.”

“He did an unbelievable job,” agreed reliever Alex Cruz, who followed Pitts on Saturday and got the first two outs of the eighth. “He’s definitely stepped up. We knew he had it in him. We definitely knew he had the stuff. For him to come out as a freshman and just shut them down the way he did was amazing.”

Pitts earned accolades outside of Atlanta for the performance, being named ACC Pitcher of the Week, joining Farmer, who had done it earlier in the season.

Today he will take the ball against fourth-seeded Virginia trying to continue the momentum Tech gained following its Wednesday morning upset of No. 1 Florida State. Virginia also is 1-0 in pool play, snaring a dramatic 3-2 win over Clemson on Thursday.

Pitts plans to stick with the same strategy that has worked so well for him on Sundays and has been especially effective over the last three starts, during which he has allowed five runs over 16 2/3 innings (a 2.70 ERA).

“I’ve really learned to throw strikes,” he said. “They’re going to put the ball in play and I have a good defense behind me. You’ve got a bunch of good players who make the plays for you.”

“As a freshman you’ve got a bunch of pressure on yourself,” he added. “I’ve just been trying to help my team win on Sundays.”

Farmer believes Pitts has what it takes to follow his career path from Sunday starter to Friday night starter. Throwing strikes is the biggest thing.

“If you throw strikes your team should have the ability to win,” he said. “And that’s what he’s done all year.”

Even though Virginia reached Pitts for three earned runs on six hits in 3 2/3 innings on May 13th in Charlottesville, he will not be intimidated in trying to do what he did last Saturday against Miami. Look for a similar approach.

“I know all the teams in ACC are good,” he said. “I just wanted to go out and do my best and try to help my team win. I just looked at [Miami] as another good team that I tried to go out and defeat. Do my best.

“I feel like any day of the week that we can come out and beat any team,” he added. “We had the two close games with FSU and with Clemson and Virginia, they’ve all been close games. Hopefully we can get on a run and take the ACC Tournament.”

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