Vol. LXI, No. 17
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)GOOD RUN: Hun School junior baseball star Mike Russo heads to first base in recent action. Russo has posted a 3-0 mark as the ace of the Hun pitching staff and has been one of the team's top batting threats. Last Wednesday, he pitched a three-hitter and picked up an RBI as Hun edged Hill 2-1.
Hun School pitcher Mike Russo likes to finish what he starts."
Last Wednesday against visiting Hill, the junior star showed why he is the ace of the pitching staff, going the distance as the Raiders eked out a 2-1 win."
Russo struck out nine and gave up just three hits as he improved to 3-0 on the season.
In assessing his outing, Russo said he likes to pace himself. "I don't like to throw a lot when I'm doing my bullpen before a start," said Russo. "I want to be ready for the game but I don't want to throw too many pitches. Usually when I pitch, I want to go the full seven innings."
The hard-throwing righty picked up steam in the win over Hill, posting five of his strikeouts after the fourth inning. "I usually get stronger because I feel more comfortable at the end of the game, said Russo, who was a key reserve this past winter for the Hun boys' basketball team and helped the squad win the Prep A and Mid Atlantic Prep League titles. "I throw harder and things start working better."
Russo is also working on broadening his pitching arsenal. "I'm trying to get all of my pitches working," said Russo. "I've had trouble with the breaking ball early this season because I've had to blow on my hand before every pitch with the cold weather. I had a better grip today so the curve ball was working better today."
Russo's bat was working as he went 2-for-3 with an RBI single to help himself out. "I feel a lot more comfortable at the plate after I got a few hits in the beginning of the season," said Russo. "You have to be relaxed; you can't hit the ball when you're uptight."
In Russo's view, the Raiders are looking more relaxed at the plate collectively. "We have a lot of different guys coming off the bench hitting the ball," said Russo. "They are working pitchers into deep counts and getting walks. They are making pitchers work, getting on base and scoring runs."
Hun head coach Bill McQuade certainly likes the way Russo is working on the mound. "He's as humble as any kid we've had," said McQuaid. "He's like Steve [Garrison]; I knew years ago that he had the same disposition on the mound. he keeps things under control and pitches within himself.
He got stronger today when other pitchers would normally tire. In the sixth and seventh innings, his fastball had a lot of zip on it."
McQuade knows he was fortunate to have Russo in top form on a day when Hun's bats were relatively quiet."
"Hill is a good ball club," said McQuade, whose team blanked Blair 9-0 last Saturday to improve to 7-1 on the season. "We've been hitting the ball well the last two games and then you get a day like this. We had guys on base; we got nine hits but we stranded a lot of baserunners. We had our big guys up and they hit shots right at people and they caught them; that's baseball. We got a hit today when we needed it when Shane [Davis] came through."
The Raiders profited from attention to detail. "The little things will win games," added McQuade. "We executed some little things today."
With a team that has 17 juniors, seniors, or post-grads, McQuade sees a special sense of urgency this spring.
"What we have is a veteran team," asserted McQuade. "We have kids that have been playing at Hun for three or four years and they've always been competitive. But now I think that they realize that this is their chance to step up and lead and that's what they are doing. We play against some of the best teams around and I think it's going to bring the best out of you."
McQuade pointed to seniors Eric Conocenti and Sean Pucciarelli as exemplifying the team's spirit. "That little Conocenti has been a gamer for us," said McQuade, whose team hosts Princeton High on April 26 before playing at Mercersburg Academy on April 28 and at Princeton Day School on April 30."
"He's a hustler, he battles. He's been on base six of 10 times and I think he may have one hit. Sean is Mr. Everything for us. He can play anywhere. He played centerfield today and he can play anywhere in the infield. He's already pitched for us. In the county tournament, he'll be catching for us."
Russo, for his part, believes that this year's Hun team has the versatility to put together a special season. "This is one of the best Hun teams I've been on," said Russo. "We definitely can do some damage to other teams. If we are making the plays and hitting the ball, I don't think anyone can beat us."
If Russo can keep going the distance on the mound, Hun could finish with a rush."
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