A high school coach talking about a lineup that features three imposing players who stand 6-foot-3 or taller and trusting a core group of players who could easily go seven deep is likely to be describing a pretty solid basketball team.
Not Jimmy Cochran. He’s the Hough High baseball coach, and he’s hoping his very tall and very deep pitching staff can lead to the Huskies to a third straight MECKA 4A Conference regular season championship this year.
Hough lost a significant chunk of its offensive production from last year’s team that finished 21-8 overall and 13-1 in league play. This year’s team will most likely count on three top-level starting pitchers and a crafty bullpen that includes four formidable arms.
“At the high school level, when you have three-plus guys capable of shutting the opponent down every night, you feel fortunate,” Cochran said.
Early season results have been mixed but full of tremendous promise. Through five games, Hough was 3-2 overall and it split its first conference series with Hopewell.
In the Huskies’ three victories, they shut out their opponents. In their two losses, Hough surrendered an average of eight runs.
Hough’s top three pitchers all have fastballs that reach a velocity of the mid- to upper 80s mph. Their average height is 6-foot-5.
Coming out of last season, Cochran knew he had at least two quality starting pitchers in Nick Swiney and Cole Maye, junior left-handers. Counting Bailey Dees, a junior transfer from Independence High, and freshman J.D. Brock, Hough doubled the size of its rotation.
“Our pitching staff is pretty special this year,” said Swiney, an all-conference selection last season. “As a team, we can feel confident rolling anyone out on the mound. I feel we can come out with a win every night.”
Brock is likely to be a reliever and a spot starter, deferring to the upper classmen as he gains varsity experience. But he was dominant in a 4-0 victory over visiting Lake Norman on March 4.
Another lefty, Brock allowed just one hit and struck out six over five innings in his high school debut. Maye pitched shutout ball over the final two innings to earn a save.
Maye may have the most potential of the staff. Brother of Luke Maye, who drove in a team-high 31 runs last year as a senior and who is now playing basketball at UNC-Chapel Hill, Cole Maye has already verbally committed to play baseball at Florida.
Standing 6-foot-6, Maye’s fastball can consistently reach the upper 80s. He started four games as a sophomore and struck out 19 batters in 23 innings. His earned run average was 0.95.
Maye was the starting and losing pitcher in Hough’s 9-6 home loss to Hopewell on Mar. 11, a game in which the Huskies committed five defensive errors. Hough pitchers have allowed 19 runs in five games, but only 11 of them were earned.
Swiney was Hough’s no. 1 starter last season when he struck out 78 batters in 57 innings and posted a 1.55 ERA. Cochran refers to him as the “pitcher” out of his staff, meaning he’s most adept at locating his pitches and working a count.
Picking up this season where he left off, the 6-foot-3 Swiney threw shutouts in each of his first two starts, including a five-inning no-hitter, a career first, over Hopewell on March 8.
At 6-foot-7, Dees is a power-righty. He took the loss in Hough’s season opener against Providence, the defending 4A state champion.
The pitching staff gets a lot of support from senior catcher Cole Parks and pitching coach Brian Harrill. The strong-armed Parks had a solid 2015 after he returned from a back injury that forced him to miss his entire sophomore season.
Filling out the staff are senior lefty Edward Warren, senior righty Tommy McCarthy, a transfer from New Jersey, and junior righty Teddy Coyer, who earned a two-inning save against Myers park.
Cochran employs a couple of recent trends when determining moves with his staff: keeping a close watch on pitch counts and inserting righties and lefties to respectively face the appropriate right-handed and left-handed hitters.
“We try to be as smart as we can with (our staff), especially early on,” Cochran said. “We have guys with shorter pitch counts now than they will as we get deeper into the season.
“We try to play matchups. But the good thing is I think all of them can go in there and get the job done.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.