A year ago, Herndon High baseball pitchers struggled to find the strike zone over the course of the 2008 season. That inconsistency from the pitching mound played a key factor in the Hornets’ struggling 7-11 season.
So, over the early part of the current season, Herndon head coach Al McCullock and his staff have made a point of stressing the importance of avoiding walks and getting ahead in the count.
"Last year, we walked the world. I think we just gave away too many games, pitching-wise, with walks," said McCullock. "We’re emphasizing cutting down walks."
Early on, Herndon’s hill toppers have taken to their coach’s pitch. The Hornets received outstanding mound work in wins over both South Lakes, 13-0, and Fairfax, 5-1, last week.
In Friday night, March 20's Concorde District home win over Fairfax, Herndon starting pitcher Daniel Shill, a member of the Herndon JV team last year, was superb. Over six innings, Shill, a junior right hander, allowed just one hit and one walk.
"He did a good job and kept them off balance," said McCullock. "And we made all the plays defensively."
Shill saw some pitching action at the varsity level last year as a sophomore, working 5-2/3 innings over three relief appearances. But for the most part, he was a huge contributor to a Hornets’ JV team that went 12-1.
"He was their key pitcher," said McCullock, of Shill’s importance to the JV team in ’08.
On March 18, Herndon had received a solid pitching outing in its season opener win over visiting cross-town rival South Lakes. That day’s Herndon starter, senior Jake Stewart, held the Seahawks to one hit in the complete game shutout win.
"Jake did the same thing [as Shill]. He didn’t walk anybody," said McCullock. "He kept us in the game. Even when [South Lakes] hit the ball, we played real good defense."
It’s unrealistic to expect such starting efforts every time a Herndon pitcher takes the mound this season. But the Hornets can hope and expect that their pitchers do not give up too many free passes as a result of bases-on-balls over the season. The Hornets can put together a winning season, but it has to start with good starting pitching outings.
<b>OFFENSIVELY</b>, Herndon should have good punch at the plate. Two of the team’s top hitters are senior catcher Zach Leach and junior third baseman Nick Impellizzeri. Leach, the team’s No. 3 hitter in the line-up, had three hits, including a double, and two RBIs in the win over Fairfax. Leach, a third year varsity starter, recently signed a college letter of intent to play baseball at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro next school year.
Impellizzeri, in his third year as Herndon’s leadoff batter, had a pair of hits and scored twice against the Rebels, and went 3-for-3 with a double, triple and two RBIs against South Lakes.
"Both really worked hard in the offseason in winter camp hitting the ball," said McCullock. "When Zach hits the ball, he hits it hard. Nick is more of a singles type hitter. He knows the strike zone and gets on base."
Several other Herndon players have made solid contributions over the team’s first two games. Sophomore first baseman Ben Simpson homered and knocked in three runs in the opener against South Lakes and senior outfielder Chris Medina tripled and knocked in a pair that same game.
Against Fairfax, sophomore middle infielder Cody Smestad hit a double and senior shortstop Stephen Kovarik singled.
While Herndon has numerous players back from last year’s varsity team, only four of those are seniors — Kovarik, Leach, Medina and Stewart. So the future looks bright for the program both for this season and next year.
Herndon was scheduled to play district games this week at Chantilly on Tuesday, March 24 and Friday night against visiting Robinson. The game with the Rams is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. Next Monday and Tuesday, the Hornets will travel to Park View and Oakton, respectively.