It’s been more than three weeks since Gavin Schaefer-Hood’s last appearance on the mound, but the State College right-hander has tried to stay sharp during and after practice.
As the Little Lions rode ace Mason Mellott to three straight postseason wins, coach Troy Allen knew Schaefer-Hood would be next in line to take the ball. So lately, while the rest of the pitching staff threw bullpens on the side, Schaefer-Hood took the mound to throw live batting practice against his teammates.
“On anybody else’s staff, Gavin would be a No. 1,” Allen said, “so our hitters getting to see that kind of pitching keeps them engaged.”
Schaefer-Hood is set to start on the mound when State College (12-10) takes on Penn Manor in the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Thursday at Newport High School. He last pitched in a game in the Little Lions’ 7-2 loss to Altoona on May 17 — his lone appearance in May and fifth this season. Allen said the Little Lions needed Schaefer-Hood’s presence at shortstop, but the coach also has “complete confidence” in the senior on the mound.
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Schaefer-Hood went 2-1 with a 2.55 ERA and recorded 19 strikeouts in 22 innings, ranking him among the Little Lions’ top three pitchers during the regular season. Left-hander Christian Friberg (3-0, 2.37 ERA) and Mellott (5-4, 1.53 ERA) rounded out that group. Friberg and fellow lefty David Shoemaker will be available in relief, and Mellott won’t be able to pitch after leading the Little Lions past North Allegheny on Tuesday with another gem in the first round of the state playoffs.
Mellott has struck out 32 in 17 2/3 scoreless innings to go 3-0 in the postseason so far — and velocity aside, Allen said, the Little Lions pitchers will utilize the same game plan Thursday.
“As long as they can execute,” Allen said, “it’s like music to be honest with you. Certainly with Mason the last three games, it’s like driving a Ferrari.”
While Mellott relies on his fastball and slider to blow hitters away, Schaefer-Hood uses his mid-80s fastball and changeup. Both combinations generate strikeouts, but Schaefer-Hood induces more groundouts with his style, thanks to an offspeed pitch that causes hitters to get way out in front.
The right-hander learned how to throw his changeup from Juniata College associate head coach Tye Levy, who is a friend of Schaefer-Hood’s travel team coach. He holds the ball like a two-seam fastball, puts his ring finger on top and applies pressure to the seams to create the spin. For the first two years learning the pitch, Schaefer-Hood wasn’t comfortable with it, but he said it became one of his favorite pitches last year.
“I rely on my defense with it, just to make the easy play,” Schaefer-Hood said.
Schaefer-Hood spent most of his time stabilizing that defense at shortstop as the Little Lions started first-year varsity players in junior second baseman Matt Tomczuk and freshman third baseman Kevin Karstetter. With Schaefer-Hood on the mound Thursday, Karstetter will move to shortstop and Mellott will play third base.
Schaefer-Hood expressed confidence in his defense, and he’s ready to execute Allen’s pitch calls Thursday. Allen watches opposing hitters in the on-deck circle during games, identifying swing flaws while determining a plan of attack. Schaefer-Hood said it didn’t take long for the pitchers to learn that they can’t shake their coach’s pitch calls — even if they want to throw a different pitch like Mellott did against North Allegheny cleanup hitter Bobby Brown on Tuesday.
“Obviously Mason’s slider is filthy; he wanted to throw another slider,” Allen said. “I’m looking how long his swing is, and I’m calling a fastball.”
Mellott’s fastball and slider paved State College’s path to the state quarterfinals. Now, the Little Lions will turn to Schaefer-Hood as they aim to reach Monday’s semifinals.
“Having him up there tomorrow, can’t think of a better place for him,” Allen said.
Class 6A Quarterfinals
Thursday at Newport High School
State College vs. Penn Manor, 4 p.m.