Pitcher's Perspective: B-R's Connolly vs. Prep's Snyder
Connolly, a junior righthander committed to Notre Dame, kept a talented St. John’s Prep lineup constantly on its heels on Saturday in the second round of the Division 1A "Super 8" tournament. Not only did he pitch a complete game for the defending D1 state champion Trojans, he also struck out 11 Prep batters –- throwing nearly two out of every three pitches for a strike.
Jack Connolly did a great job of mixing it up against SJP. This is from inn. 7/8, lot of curve balls in there pic.twitter.com/YhfvPs0XVX— Christian Bradley (@_ChrisBradley) June 1, 2014
The dominance of Connolly’s curveball seemed to be the difference-maker at several different points of the game. B-R assistant Glen dePontbriand -- assuming head coach John Kearney’s place Saturday while Kearney was out of town at his daughter's college graduation -- said the plan all along was for their pitch calls to be as unpredictable as possible.
“They’re a really smart team. All the scouting reports we’ve been told is that the kids think about the game really well, if they see curve balls early they’ll know that a pitcher is going to attack them that way, so we really wanted to mix it up,” dePontbriand said. “We wanted to establish it early, and they had a hard time with it. It’s a good pitch, for high school kids it’s hard to hit a really good curve ball that’s as fast as a lot of kids’ fastballs.”
The count didn’t seem to matter much when it came to Connolly’s pitch selection. In all, six of his eleven strikeouts came on a curveball. For Connolly -- who has a mid-80’s fastball with a slight, late break -- the change in speed with the curve ball completely altered Prep’s approach at the plate.
“He was throwing his curve for strikes. 3-0, 2-1, or 3-2...it’s coming,” Prep coach Dan Letarte said, “Our kids couldn’t really adjust to it early in the game. We couldn’t consistently string those hits. He was spotting well, and when we got deeper in counts he found a way to get it done too. He did a real nice job, he battled and he threw strikes when he had to.”
Added Connolly: “That was a big thing today...I wanted to keep them off-balanced. I knew they were a great lineup. We were talking about it since after the Lincoln-Sudbury game: St. John’s Prep loves to come up hacking. I knew that they were the type of hitting team to sit fastball. You mix it up, and that’s what happens.”
Connolly totaled 128 pitches in the nine inning effort, walking two batters and giving up one earned run. Though Connolly had the strength and endurance to pitch the complete game, the Trojans previously assumed that it would be unlikely Connolly would finish the game after his pitch count had nearly cracked the century mark after six innings.
“His legs were driving, he never lost velocity," dePontbriand said. "We went by the way he was actually looking out there, which was really strong. I don’t think there was any doubt that he had enough left in the tank to go for it.
"It was really key in the seventh and eighth, we were expecting [St. John’s Prep] to take more pitches, but those ended up being two of his lower pitch count innings...The fact that he got a couple single-digit innings there really helped him finish it."
Snyder keeps it close: Prep starter Justin Snyder (6 IP, 2 K, 5 BB, 3 HBP, ER) certainly didn’t have his best command on Saturday, but the senior was able to get himself out of several tough spots to keep the Eagles close against a high-powered B-R offense who put 19 runs on the board against Lincoln-Sudbury in the first round of the Division 1A tournament.
Pitch chart from Snyder's sixth inning against B-R, starting w/ Dinunno. Nice recovery, but pitch count suffered. pic.twitter.com/h6mFdSnCPj— Christian Bradley (@_ChrisBradley) June 1, 2014
B-R star junior Andrew Noviello was the first to get to Snyder in the first inning, driving in the first run of the game on an RBI single. Snyder surrendered a walk, a hit batter, and Noviello’s base hit in the first inning, but was able to pick up a 6-4-3 double play to get himself out of the inning.
“Our approach, we heard from a bunch of different people that he throws about 84, his slider is pretty good, he’s got a change-up, but we wanted to sit fastball," Connolly said of his counterpart. "He mixed it up very well today, he kept all our top hitters off-balanced – except for Noviello obviously."
Snyder gave up one more run in the sixth inning, but once again was able to fight back after two walks and two hit batters in an inning where the Trojans hitters looked poised to break the game open. Letarte was well aware that Snyder may not have had his best stuff, but he made the decision to keep Snyder in the game in the sixth inning given his experience pitching to hitters like Noviello and Virginia Tech-commit Joe Freiday.
“My thought was to let him get through those guys, to get through the meat of their order and get out of that jam so that our new guy can come in fresh," Letarte said. "It’s tough to put another kid in that situation against kids that put up 19 runs two or three days before. At that point, I figured ‘well, he earned it'."
Though Noviello was the one who hurt the Eagles the most at the plate, Letarte and his staff decided well before the game that they wanted Freiday to see very few pitches that he could drive. As a result, the Trojans’ clean-up hitter did minimal damage on the day –- grounding out twice against Snyder before being walked in the sixth inning.
“We threw no fastballs to Freiday,” Letarte said. “It’s tough working around him, especially with Noviello on base. If Noviello is on base and he’s running, and you’re throwing off-speed, then that makes them a dangerous team. You have to bite the bullet there. Our kids knew they could hit. To hold them to five hits and not get over the hump, and to only get five hits ourselves – that was kind of frustrating.”