LACEY - They needed no introduction at their first baseball practice at Saint Martin's University.
That’s because the top three pitchers for Saint Martin’s – Tommy DeBoer, Michael McIver and Casey Mitchell – were high school teammates at Capital.
So besides their good pitching – all three have earned-run averages under 3.00 – the Saints have another sometimes hard-to-find ingredient in their push to a winning season and a shot at a conference title: friendship.
As kids, McIver and Mitchell rode the bus together to elementary school and played on the same Little League teams.
“Because there’s that bond, we support each other more,” DeBoer said. “More than what guys who don’t know each other would.”
Five of the Saints’ pitchers are from the area. Besides the Capital connection, there’s Nate O’Bryan, a junior left-hander from Olympia High; and Kaleb Wilson, a senior right-hander from North Thurston who is the Saints’ lights-out closer.
“I’d say there is definitely more of a bond on this team because we’ve known each other for a long time,” McIver said. “That’s helped.”
After winning three of four games at Central Washington over the weekend, the Saints have a 24-19 overall record, 20-8 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, putting them a game behind Western Oregon in second place going into the final weekend of the regular season. SMU begins a four-game series today at home against Northwest Nazarene.
While friendship isn’t the only reason for the Saints’ success, coach Ken Garland said a team that’s not divided by dissension has a better chance of winning.
“It’s a trust thing,” Garland said. “I think the more comfortable you are with your teammates, the more comfortable you are with your surroundings. That makes a huge difference in how you play. You can focus on the game.”
DeBoer, Mitchell and McIver are 17-6 combined. All three tend to be finesse pitchers, hitting the corners or fooling batters with a curve or a changeup. To keep batters guessing, DeBoer throws from three arm slots – overhand, sidearm and submarine. With an 81 mph fastball, the 5-foot-8 DeBoer relies on craftsmanship. He’s not going to overpower a batter.
“I don’t have velocity at all, so I try to hit my spots,” said DeBoer, who has a 5-2 record with a 2.64 ERA.
McIver, at 6-10 and 235 pounds, is more than a foot taller than DeBoer, giving him an intimidation factor with his size and fastball. McIver’s fastball is in the high-80s, allowing him to challenge batters.
“Michael’s got that long step off the mound and his arm is longer,” DeBoer said. “So, he’s got a shorter distance to throw. That gets the ball to the plate faster.”
Mitchell’s fastball is in the mid-80s, which helps set up his “out” pitch – the sinker. Mitchell is tied with McIver for most strikeouts on the team with 36 and most wins with six. But Mitchell often gets out of an inning with a groundout because of his sinker.
“I get a lot of groundball outs when my sinker is working,” Mitchell said.
McIver and Mitchell are both 6-2 with nearly identical ERAs. Mitchell’s is 2.91 and McIver’s is 2.92.
Wilson began the season as a starter and moved to the closer role shortly after the Saints went 0-6 on a road swing through California to start the season. The 6-2 senior right-hander was comfortable with the move to the bullpen.
“I did a pretty good job in the bullpen last year, so it was a comfort zone,” Wilson said. “I like closing.”
Wilson has the composure and confidence a closer needs, Garland said. Wilson picked up two saves over the weekend against CWU and has 11 for the season.
“He doesn’t get rattled,” the SMU coach said. “He’s got the mindset you need to be a closer.”
That gives him the mindset and the home address to fit in with this season’s homebrewed Saints.
Gail Wood: 360-754-5443 firstname.lastname@example.org