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Mustangs rely on dominating pitching core

By Mike Stunson mstunson@paducahsun.com

Pitching has always been the strength for McCracken County's baseball teams but for a 2017 squad with higher hopes than ever, added pitching depth has given the First Region favorites an extra boost.

Seniors Mason Vinyard and Rece Carter have provided the necessary depth behind aces Luke Seed and Caleb Reinhardt this year, and it's that pitching that has paced the Mustangs to an 8-3 record to start the season.

In the 10 games that foursome has started, they average 5.8 innings on the mound and have allowed just 0.6 runs per start. Led by double-digit strikeout games in all three of Seed's starts, the Mustang starters are throwing an average of eight strikeouts per start.

"Except for that one bad inning we had against Bowling Green, our pitching has kept us in every game we have played," Carter said. "So it's definitely a big bonus because it gives you a chance to win every game."

While the Mustang pitchers have led the team, they insist the offense is picking up. That was shown last weekend when McCracken won three games against tough competition at the Kentucky/Tennessee Challenge.

But it starts with the pitching, and for a McCracken team that advanced to the state semifinals last year, it envisions a deep run this year behind its arms.

"Ever since state, we have come out and really worked hard to make sure we get further than we did last year," Reinhardt said.

Reinhardt is the most experienced of the four, having been one of the team's starters since he was a sophomore. The Rend Lake signee threw a complete game and did not allow any runs in his first start of the year, and has remained a force in his three starts.

Vinyard, a transfer from St. Mary, did not have the chance to pitch last year for the Mustangs because of a UCL tear. Now fully healthy, he's provided a solid No. 3 option for McCracken and showed that with eight strikeouts in a seven-inning performance where he did not allow any earned runs last weekend.

"Our biggest thing for the pitchers is just to go out there and throw your best pitch with every pitch and try to compete and just do your best to put the team in the best position you can," said Vinyard, who added that he's fully healthy and pitching better than he ever has.

Carter also has received a big uptick in his innings and made the most of his first start of the year last weekend by allowing just one run in five innings.

Then there's Seed, who has been the most impressive in the first month of the 2017 season. Seed is throwing 11.67 strikeouts per start and is coming off his best one this year, when he had a perfect game against Mount Juliet, Tennessee.

Seed's perfect game -- McCracken's first in school history -- was extra special considering it was against a dangerous lineup with his team clinging to just a two-run lead.

"My sophomore year (last season) I felt like I had to prove something every time out, but now as one of the older ones I feel a lot more comfortable and I'm trying to help the younger guys and lead the team," Seed said.

The added pitching depth has been a big help for Seed, as the team does not have to rely on Reinhardt and him quite as much this season.

"Last year, me and him pitched the most and it was pretty tough," he said. "We have a lot of other guys to rely on this year who are throwing some big innings for us. It makes it a lot easier."

McCracken head coach Geno Miller envisioned pitching being the success of his team, and it hasn't let him down yet.

As the Mustang schedule continues to get tougher, Miller will continue to have the trust in his lethal arms.

"I feel like our pitching has always been the strength of our teams, and in high school baseball it always needs to be the strength," he said. "We have a lot of confidence in our guys."

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