ERHS Makes Its Pitch
Eagles Challenging Area’s Small-School Powers
ELKTON — Junior pitcher Noah Brown got his first taste of the spotlight playing on Friday nights this past fall at East Rockingham High School. The rangy wide receiver – who burst onto the football scene with 36 catches for 670 receiving yards and six touchdowns – finds himself among familiar company this spring on the baseball diamond.
Almost the entire Eagles’ backfield also plays baseball, including East Rockingham’s top three hitters. Those same players – juniors Shannon Cross and Isaac Dean and senior Bret Reel – make up the meat of the ERHS order.
“Just missing the quarterback,” Brown joked, referring to senior Hunter Harman.
While he might not have a quarterback, Brown is doing just fine on the mound by himself. The 6-foot-2, 160-pounder is 5-0 with a 3.01 earned run average with a team-high 27 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings this spring. He’s stepped into the No. 2 starter role for the Eagles, who are 11-1 overall and 3-1 in the Shenandoah District, the best-ever start for the four-year-old program.
The Eagles placed third in the Shenandoah District in 2013 behind Riverheads and Wilson Memorial – the Division 1 and 2 state champions, respectively. They lost left-handed No. 2 pitcher Ryan Kite (4-2, 3.34 ERA) to graduation, leaving a void behind ace Chase Comer this season.
“It was there to take, so… you just have to go out there and show [the coaches] you can win a game,” Brown said.
With Comer (3-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 25 strikeouts), Brown and the versatile Cross in relief (1-0, 0.86 ERA with 23 strikeouts in just 16 1/3 innings), ERHS has the pitching staff to go with its potent lineup, which has outscored opponents 90-33 at the midway point of the season. As a team, the Eagles have a skinny 2.15 ERA.
Having Brown, who made just one start last year as a sophomore, contribute this year has paid dividends for ERHS.
“It’s huge. Shannon has always been our go-to guy and we’ve been able to not use him up as much. He’s fresh when he does have to come in,” East Rockingham pitching coach Scott Turner said. “Every other night we know we’re going to get a good one when Chase steps on the mound. He’s our leader and he’s who we follow. He sets it up every week and Noah’s right in there behind him.”
East Rockingham’s strong pitching has players and coaches believing that the Eagles will surpass last year’s team that reached the Region B, Division 1 semifinals. It has taken time for ERHS, but coach David Scott thinks this team – with eight starters back from last year’s 16-9 squad – is the one that gets over the hump.
“I think that the wins are a product of the process and I think as long as we maintain our process and our focus on working hard every day… the rest of it kind of takes care of itself,” Scott said.
Turner, who coached Brown as a wide receiver during football, said he’s seen the biggest jump with the right-hander in his confidence, something that came through a rigorous offseason in the weight room. It translated onto the football field – now, it’s working in baseball.
With a fastball ranging from the low-80s to 84 mph “on a good day,” he said, a curveball and a changeup, Brown said he’s learned to keep all his offerings down in the strike zone. He’s done that by becoming more consistent with his mechanics, a problem many tall pitchers have.
“He’s athletic enough to make adjustments when he needs to,” Turner said. “It’s no longer ‘I wonder if I can do it.’ It’s ‘I’m going to come out here and get it done.’ That’s the great thing about football. If you’re successful out there – that’s a tough game – and when you step onto the other courts and fields, it seems to be a little bit easier for him. I think we’ve seen that with him.”
Velocity, Scott said, comes very easy for Brown.
“He’s probably one of the harder throwers around right now and I think he has some natural velocity and he’s got a good frame with a loose arm action,” Scott said.
Turner likes to give his pitchers freedom on the mound, even though he does signal in the pitches to catcher Riley Hensley. He said Comer, a senior who went 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA last year, as well as the others all have the green light to shake off calls and go with what’s comfortable.
“I’d rather them throw something with confidence rather than me call something and throwing it,” Turner said.
With the pieces falling into place for the Eagles, Cross said a 2A state championship is the goal.
“It’s about time we started playing well together,” said Cross, who is hitting .500 with 11 RBIs and eight stolen bases. “We’ve had some success in past years, but not quite like this year.”