Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: McKinney North baseball off to best start ever thanks to trio of rookie pitchers
McKINNEY — Hitting wouldn’t be a problem, and coach Jim Gatewood knew the defense would be solid. But entering the season, McKinney North’s top three pitchers had never taken the mound for the varsity.
“We were nervous. We just crossed our fingers,” Gatewood said. “We thought down the line we would pitch great, but we didn’t know how we would do early.”
Just fine, it turned out. And midway through the season, the three rookie pitchers are doing much better than fine for a team that has risen to the top of the Class 4A area rankings.
Senior right-hander Anthony Herrera, junior right-hander Julian Pope and sophomore lefty Gabe Constantine have helped McKinney North (18-1, 8-1 in District 13-4A) to its best start ever. The trio has combined for a 14-1 record and 0.97 ERA.
“I knew we were going to put up a battle as pitchers,” Herrera said, “but I didn’t know we were going to be this good.”
Pope, who also plays center field and is batting .400 with 19 RBIs, is 6-0 with a 0.62 ERA. He moved from Oshkosh, Wis., in the middle of his sophomore year and pitched for McKinney North’s junior varsity last season.
He’s the power pitcher of the staff, Gatewood said, with a good fastball and curve.
“I’m never worried about giving up a hit or anything,” said Pope, who has struck out 35 in 322/3 innings. “Nothing really affects my mood on the mound.”
Constantine (5-1, 1.78 ERA, 47 strikeouts in 391/3 innings) also has great poise on the mound despite his limited experience. The lefty, whose effective changeup gives his low-80s fastball more pop, knew the big role he was stepping into this season.
“Last year, our whole pitching rotation was seniors,” Constantine said. “Coach would always call me into the office and say how we’re going to have to step up.”
Pope and Constantine have been helped by Herrera, who was an all-district third baseman last season and now starts at second base. Herrera, who is batting .481 and leads the team with 25 RBIs, has seven saves and hasn’t given up an earned run in 211/3 innings.
Herrera is a submarine-style pitcher, something rarely seen in high schools. When he fielded slow rollers as a third baseman, he threw with the sidearm style to get outs at first. In the summer, he started experimenting with the same delivery for pitching.
His favorite pitch is his slider, which he calls a “Frisbee” because of the way he holds the ball.
“A lot of guys who throw it from down under don’t have a lot of velocity, but he does,” Gatewood said. “That helps the ball get up on guys a little quicker than they think.”
TCU senior pitcher Justin Scharf changed to the submarine delivery while he was at McKinney North. He helped the Bulldogs get to a 4A regional final in 2009, the team’s deepest run since making the state semifinals in 2006.
This year’s Bulldogs hope to get back to state. The pitching staff, once McKinney North’s question mark, could help end the season with an exclamation point.
“Everybody knows what we could do, but we don’t really talk about it,” Pope said. “If you talk about it too much, it’ll start getting to your head.”
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