Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

April 20, 2014

Stepping up: Kelly racks up wins for CU

ATHENS — Sundays have become red-letter days for Chris Kelly.

The Grundy High School graduate, a sophomore at Concord University, has settled into the role of No. 3 starting pitcher for the Mountain Lions baseball team, which often means taking the mound to begin Sunday doubleheaders.

“I went from the bullpen to midweek starter, toward the end (of last season),” Kelly said before a recent practice. “This year, I followed up with the first game on Sunday — ready to go out to pitch.”

“That was my goal at the start of the year,” he said. “It wasn’t too far out of reach.”

Kelly’s latest win came in Saturday’s 11-2 victory at West Virginia Wesleyan, improving his record this year to 7-2 in nine starts. Adding in his record from his freshman year, he’s gone 11-3 in 18 appearances for Concord.

To become an effective starter on the college level, Kelly said he has received help from “all the upperclass pitchers” at CU. That includes the No. 1 and No. 2 starters, Ryan Weatherholtz and Tyler Coyle, and senior reliever Dustin Nuckels, Kelly said.

“Off-season, in the fall, a lot of conditioning goes into it, but really, it’s experience that helps the most, getting to know the batters and game dates and stuff like that.”

He’s “definitely more comfortable” on the mound this year, he said.

Prior to Saturday, he had struck out 28 batters and walked just eight in 51 2/3 innings this season, helping Concord to a 29-13 record.

The former Golden Wave standout has picked up the pitching win in his last four appearances. Four of his nine outings in 2014 have been complete-game victories, including three in a row.

Kelly said, “Coach (Andrew) Wright always says, the big thing is fastball ... and try to make all your pitches effective.”

He has obviously made the adjustment well from his days of pitching Southwest District games for Grundy.

Asked about the differences between pitching high school and college ball, he said, “The batters are a lot more patient and have a better approach than high schoolers. Really, 1 through 9 is a tough batter to face. In high school, it kind of gets weaker as you go down the lineup, but in college, it stays tough all the way through.”

The adjustment to college was not that big a deal either.

“Concord is small, a small campus, and Grundy is not that big, either, so I can relate,” he said. “It’s not that far off. It’s not that big of a change.”

He said he appreciated the support of his high school baseball coach, Scotty Bostic.

“Coach, he always was there, whenever we needed to lift (and) to stay after hours. Any time I needed anything, he was there,” Kelly said.

Now in his second year as a collegian, Kelly finds the mentoring shoe on the other foot as he works with a freshman pitcher with the same last name — Zach Kelly, the No. 4 starter, who is no relation. The two Kellys usually handle the Sunday doubleheaders.

“I just try to tell him, hit his spots, his location, try to keep everything down,” Chris Kelly said. He sees a lot of potential in the younger Kelly, partly because of his quick introduction to college pitching.

“Starting out as a freshman, you get more experience to go on,” Chris Kelly said. “He’s got a good breaking ball, good off-speed stuff. You should get better as you go throughout your college career.”

Concord won the final West Virginia Conference baseball championship last spring, and trails only Shepherd in the current Mountain East Conference league standings.

Asked about the toughest teams he’s faced this season, Chris Kelly mentioned Urbana (Ohio) and West Virginia State, conference foes who took three out of four games in their series with CU.

“But we can beat them,” the pitcher said. “We were just having bad days. We can play with anybody if we play the Concord aggressive style of baseball.”

“We’re starting to click right now. The pitching’s been good all year, and the hitting is starting to hit its stride right now. (We want to) just keep that rolling, right into the tournament.”

Concord will remain in Athens to play its final eight regular-season games. West Liberty makes the long trip south for a series set for this Saturday and Sunday.

On Sunday, Kelly and Kelly will be waiting for them.

— Contact Tom Bone at tbone@bdtonline.com

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