Tournaments : : Story
Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hounds on the mound

Nick Kappel        
Photo: Perfect Game

MARIETTA, Ga. — Matt Pope (2012, Science Hill HS, Tenn.) and Chase Mullins (2012, Bourbon County HS, Ky.) have a lot in common. Both pitch for the Huntington Hounds’ travel team. Both are committed to Kentucky. And both throw in the low-90s.

There is one small difference, however. Pope—who stands 6-foot-7—is a right-hander, while Mullins—at 6-foot-9—throws from the left side. A team with two towering pitchers who throw in the low-90s from each side might be unfair, but it’s something opposing teams at the PG/WWBA 18u National Championship will have to deal with.

Their ceilings are through the roof,” Huntington’s Head Coach, Caleb Stewart, said. “If they figure it out, they’re going to be very good pitchers for a very, very long time.”

Pitching in record-high heat on Saturday, Pope showcased his talents, striking out six of the seven batters he retired. He threw 89-91 mph consistently, peaking at 92. Pope also flashed an upper-70s slider that he used as an out pitch.

It’s usually not this hot in Tennessee,” Pope said. “It takes some getting used to, I guess. Normally I throw a pretty good bit before I go out on the mound, but today I just took it slow and kept calm the whole time.”

The Hounds jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning. They put up a five-spot in the third, highlighted by a two-run double off the bat of Mullins. Trey Salisbury (2012, Boyd County HS, Ky.) pitched 3.2 innings in relief, holding off a late-inning rally in route to a 6-5 win over Syracuse Sports Zone Chiefs.

Saturday’s win followed a 3-0 victory on Friday, in which Elijah Wellman (2013, Spring Valley HS, W.Va.) tossed a complete game one-hit shutout.

After the tournament’s second day, the Hounds are tied atop the Pool H standings with NBS 18s and Xcel Baseball 18U. Sam Lee (2013, Montgomery County HS, Ky.) has been the leading offensive contributor through two games, going 4-for-7 with a triple, three RBI and three stolen bases.

Mullins is scheduled to start the Hounds’ 4:30 game tomorrow against Chattanooga Baseball Club 18U at Hamilton Crossing Park.

He’s tough man, he’s tough to hit,” Coach Stewart said of Mullins. “He’s a competitor, he’s got tons of heart and he loves this game a lot. I’ll tell you what—the kid can swing, too. He hits bombs.”

Mullins doesn’t shy away from the praise and attention. This is his fifth PG event, including the 2011 National Showcase, and he’s enjoyed them all.

The Perfect Game tournaments are a lot of fun,” Mullins said. “They bring in a lot of competition and the publicity from it is great. It’s a great environment and you get to play some good baseball. And you get better when you come out here.”

Mullins didn’t start pitching seriously until eighth grade. Since then, he’s lit up radar guns across the country, topping out at 94 mph this spring. He was drafted in the 24
th round by the Texas Rangers in the June draft, but intends to honor his commitment with Kentucky.

I like Kentucky and Coach (Gary) Henderson, who is a great pitching coach,” Mullins said. “I think I’m going to get a lot better and hopefully be a top three rounder out of college. I can get better there, I can always get better.”

Mullins is excited to think about what his future holds, and isn’t shy to dream big.

I want to win a few SEC championships and a national championship,” Mullins said. “I want to play on the USA Team, in the Cape Cod League and make the All-Star team. And I want to get up to 100 mph before I get done with college. I mean, if you don’t set your goals high, how are you going to finish anywhere near them?”

Pope echoed Mullins’ excitement.

I like their school, the coaches and the facilities,” Pope said of Kentucky. “Everybody there is really nice; it just seemed like a perfect fit for me.”

Pope was drafted in the 38
th round by the Pirates earlier this month, but plans on joining Mullins in Lexington. While he has primarily pitched out of the bullpen, he’s trying to build his stamina as he works towards a starting role with the Wildcats. In the meantime, he and his teammates are focused on one thing.

I think we can go pretty far in this tournament,” Pope said. “We’ve got good players for sure.”

Coach Stewart agrees.

We have some good hitters and a lot of good pitchers,” he said. “Hopefully we can compete. We’ll try to go as far as we can. We’re trying to put the Hound on the mound. We’re trying to get into Jupiter; we want to go down to that tournament. But we also understand we have to give them a reason to send us there, and that’s what we’re here to do: To get the Hounds to the next level. It’s going to start right here with these players. We have a lot of D-I guys and they play hard. I love them to death; they’re a great team to coach.”

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