Hunter Conley's season didn't start off the right way.
The junior pitcher struggled against Providence on March 9, only his second start since dislocating his shoulder last July diving for a ball.
"I got hit pretty bad that game, and I'm just not used to that," said Conley, who was all-state last year. "Everything I was throwing they were hitting. I was leaving balls up for them to hit."
In four innings, Conley had a 12.25 ERA - giving up seven earned runs, including three homeruns.
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Hopewell baseball coach Chet Greeson described Conley, who plays first base when not pitching, as a competitor on the field, who is concerned about his performance but in a way that he puts his team first.
The first-year Hopewell coach explained that he realized this during the Providence game, as Conley told him to not leave him in and sacrifice a game just for him to pitch. The Titans went on to lose the game 10-3.
After taking a break from pitching to work on his mechanics and his arm strength until spring break, Conley started to get his groove back. On his return against Weddington, Conley recorded a 1.40 ERA during his five innings of work. He said that was his season's turning point.
"I really got my feel back for all my pitches and started throwing strikes again," Conley said.
Conley's pitching has continued to improve as his location and his off-speed pitches have gotten better.
Greeson said Conley, who is 2-1 on the season from the mound (as of May 6), handled his recovery well. But Conley admits that he was cautious as he worked to get back to full-speed.
"I think self-consciously I was holding back some because I was scared that I would get hurt again not that it was actually hurting when I was throwing," he explained.
Conley, who said he's now 100 percent, had to undergo about six months of rehab work to regain his arm strength. He wasn't able to start pitching again until December.
Once Conley proved to himself that he was back to normal, he cut loose and started excelling.
During his two wins - against Lake Norman and Mallard Creek - he was able to pitch two full games and only gave up two earned runs.
Conley already committed to Duke. He said picking a college has taken a lot of pressure off his shoulders.
The lefty decided to become a Blue Devils because he plans to be an orthopedic surgeon.
Greeson said Conley brings competitive nature to the Titans.
"He knows when to turn it on and turn it off," he said. "He goes about his business that you want everybody to do and if others were to look up to him they would be seeing the right thing."
Greeson said his Titans (15-8, 8-3 I-Meck) have done well this season but are still not as good as he feels they could be. He said he's seen enormous improvement from when he took over the program.
Greeson is unhappy that the I-Meck is not having a conference tournament this season because of all the free time his team will have heading into next week's 4A playoffs.
"We're going to have to get real creative," he said, adding that he will have to create some competition through scrimmages at practice.
The Titans could make a deep run into the playoffs, but they will have to cut down on their errors and become more consistent offensively.
One aspect of the game that makes Greeson feel good about his chances is the team's pitching depth.
"To go deep and contend for a state championship, you better have two or three good (pitchers) and I feel like we do," he said.
Conley has only one postseason goal for his team.
"To win a state championship," he said.