NEWTOWN – A good novel, some fine wine and a baseball pitcher have one thing in common. All take time to fully mature. Based on his outing against their archrival, Council Rock North’s Eric Hoefer has evolved most effectively as a stellar pitcher.
In the first clash between the two Council Rock rivals on April 11, the talented lefty pitched a complete game, two-hit shutout against an undefeated Golden Hawk squad. Most impressive, his control was impeccable. Eric did not grant one free pass in his six-inning stint on the mound. In all, he only needed only 77 pitches to dispose of CR South by a 10-0 score.
Eric, however, did not just walk out and start mowing hitters down. His evolution as a pitcher started when he played youth ball.
“I used to pitch and play first and some outfield. I started pitching back in Little League when I was 11. I started because I was really big and my dad said ‘you have to pitch. You can really help your team out this way. You’re going to throw hard and from the left side.’”
As Eric readily admits, he soon learned the craft of pitching entails more than just raring back and throwing strikes.
“At that age, I was basically throwing fastballs and trying to throw it by people. I really started to develop my pitching when I was 14 (years old). Last year, looking at Matt Hand and learning from the things he did and the other pitchers on the staff really helped. I also have had a lot of coaches who have made an impact on me.”
The first lesson was to create a pitching arsenal that offers enough variety to keep even the best hitters off-balance. Presently, Eric numbers a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a curve, a cutter and a changeup in his repertoire.
“I don’t throw my changeup much. My cutter has become my ‘go-to pitch’ because that is four miles-per-hour off my fastball and gets good movement on the ball. It’s nice to have a pitch that isn’t a huge jump in velocity off my fastball. I can hide that behind my fastball and get the movement on it.”
Eric then developed the savvy of knowing when and how to use his various pitching weapons. “I’ve been using all my pitches in any count. I think the first time through the lineup, I try to establish the fastball. Then, after the kids see that, I throw off-speed.”
Going up against South, however, added a special challenge for the young lefty. After all this was a rivalry game. “Since it was South, everybody wanted to beat them. Since they were 2-0 in the league and we were 2-1, we needed that win because they (were at) the top of the league and one of the better teams we’re going to come up against. Beating them would tell other teams that we’re back. The other teams saw we graduated a lot of seniors and probably thought we’re going to be weak this year.”
Eric could not forget the game’s importance. “The entire day, I couldn’t sit down. We had to be at the field by one (o’clock). I got there at 12:30. I was supposed to sit down and chill since I was pitching but when the fielders were taking grounders, I was working on the mound and helping spray the field because it was dry. I just kept moving because I couldn’t sit down.”
Come game time, Eric followed what has become his pitching golden rule. “I think the key is getting my first-pitch strike. Once you get that first strike, your nerves settle down and you’re good to go for the game. That first strike really sets the tone.”
The strategy worked as Eric retired 18 of the 20 batters he faced. He gave up only two hits, recorded five strikeouts and issued no walks. “At the start, I didn’t sense that I was going to have as good a game as I did. After the second inning, I felt I was in a groove and they couldn’t catch up to what I was throwing. They weren’t getting solid contact with the ball. That’s when I really started having fun out there.”
Eric extended his fun to the offensive side of Rock’s attack, belting two doubles, scoring two runs and knocking in two RBIs. “That really felt good. Against Bensalem on Monday, I had a triple so this entire week, I was really seeing the ball well. The pitcher they were throwing against us kept leaving me fastballs up in the zone and if they’re up, I’m going to hit them.”
The rest of the Indian attack followed Eric’s example. Leadoff hitter Cole Olshavsky picked up two hits in three at-bats. Joe Preciado went 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Kellen Pecuch was 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs. In all, North banged out 13 safeties and ended the game by the mercy rule.
Understandably, the Indians were elated over the 10-0 whitewashing. “We were really happy. You could see it every time we scored a run. Everyone was erupting from the dugout. We went out and beat a good team, 10-0. We held them to two hits and we showed we’re going to be a dominant force in the league this year.”
Though having lost eight starters to graduation, Rock North appears ready to challenge the best teams in the Suburban One League. Last year’s young players have already evolved into winning veterans.
TOP PHOTO: Council Rock North junior lefthander Eric Hoefer (4) went the distance and got the win over sister school CR South April 6 in Newtown. (John Gleeson – 21st-Century Media)