Kennesaw Mountain rides pitching corps to success
by Carlton D. White
cwhite@mdjonline.com
April 24, 2014 04:01 AM | 2103 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As Kennesaw Mountain’s rolled to a 20-5 record and the Region 4AAAAAA championship, a big reason has been its core of starting pitchers — from left, Zack Goodman, Chase Sloan, Zack Chandler and Ryley Gilliam. All four have ERAs under 1.00, and they offer the versatility that could lead the Mustangs far in the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
<Br>Staff photo by Jeff Stanton
As Kennesaw Mountain’s rolled to a 20-5 record and the Region 4AAAAAA championship, a big reason has been its core of starting pitchers — from left, Zack Goodman, Chase Sloan, Zack Chandler and Ryley Gilliam. All four have ERAs under 1.00, and they offer the versatility that could lead the Mustangs far in the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
Staff photo by Jeff Stanton
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Since losing to Marietta on March 21, Kennesaw Mountain has since reeled off a 10-game win streak that’s taken the team to the Region 4AAAAAA championship.

Not only have the Mustangs outscored their opponents 59-11 during that stretch, but the unit of starting pitchers Chase Sloan, Zach Goodman, Ryley Gilliam and Zack Chandler have played major roles.

“They’re interchangeable as far as effectiveness goes,” Kennesaw Mountain coach George Hansen said. “But all four of them have very clear and specific pitching differences among them, and all four of them are very fun to watch.

“You couldn’t find four more different pitchers than these guys are. I call them the Four Horsemen.”

What the pitchers differ in throwing style, they make up for in competitiveness and accomplishment, with each holding an earned-run average below 1.00.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Hansen said. “Over our last 19 to 20 games, our team ERA has been 0.81. I’ve been around high school baseball a very long time, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that. It makes coaching a lot less stressful.”

Sloan, a 6-foot-4 right-handed senior, has the biggest repertoire of pitches, including a fastball, sinker, changeup and a slider. He’s 4-0 with a team-best 0.35 ERA with 17 strikeouts over 20 innings pitched.

“There is nothing that he throws that doesn’t move,” Hansen said. “It’s unbelievable to watch the movement of his pitches. Once, against Harrison, I think he threw six balls going into the sixth inning. That’s the kind of control that he has. Just amazing control and amazing movement.”

Sloan credits the unit’s chemistry and interchangeability as one of its strengths.

“I don’t think we have a real ace,” he said. “We just believe and trust in each other so much. But it’s always a competition, so we each have that competitiveness to want the top spot. That keeps us pitching well and wanting the best for each other, because it makes us all work harder. We push each other to be the best.”

Goodman, a 6-foot right-handed junior, has a fastball, slider and changeup in his arsenal. He’s 7-0 with a 0.44 ERA and 44 strikeouts over 31 2/3 innings pitched.

“Zach Goodman is pure velocity,” Hansen said. “The ball just flies out of his hand. If you like to watch your prototype power pitcher, that’s the guy you want to watch. He muscles it up.”

Goodman feels like the Four Horsemen nickname — a tribute to the professional wrestling stable that achieved notoriety in the 1980s and ’90s — suits the group well.

“It’s funny, but true,” he said. “We’re the four main pitchers, and I like the nickname. We’ve been together a while, and we have a good bond with each other.”

Chandler, a 6-6 right-handed senior, is a part-time starter who’s mostly seen action in relief. Though he’s 1-3 in 14 innings, he still sports a 0.54 ERA.

Chandler’s pitch arsenal include a knuckle curveball, a two-seam fastball and a slider.

“Zack will throw the fastball in there, but his off-speed and breaking stuff is very effective,” Hansen said. “You can see the wheels turning on tricking hitters and getting them to do what he wants them to do.”

Chandler mentioned how communication is a big key for him and his fellow starters

“When one of us comes off the mound, we talk to each other and give each other intel,” he said. “We bounce pitches off each other, and we have a deep staff. There are more guys behind us, and we can all throw confidently.

“Any one of us can go out and do our job. When the team hits, that takes even more pressure off us, and we’re more relaxed at handling our business.”

Gilliam, a 5-10 right-hander, is a fastball and curveball specialist who can also throw a changeup. He’s 5-0 with a 0.66 ERA with 83 strikeouts over 53 innings pitched.

“Ryley is just a bulldog,” Hansen said of the junior, who struck out 11 on Wednesday in a win over McEachern that clinched Kennesaw Mountain the Region 4AAAAAA championship. “He has tremendous velocity and a straight-up nasty curveball. It’s so good.”

Gilliam appreciates how the pitching staff has grown since last season.

“We had a good ERA last year, but this year’s staff is the best in a while,” he said. “We’re a solid four, and we help each other out. There’s seven of us total on the staff, and we all pick each other up when we need to.

“We all have experience in high school and with travel ball, and that’s helped us have a better mentality on the mound. We keep people from scoring runs, and when our defense plays well, it all adds up.”

Hansen has also noticed how well the Mustangs’ defense has helped shape his pitchers’ productivity.

“If you take a look at the runs we’ve given up, it’s progressively gotten lower and lower,” he said. “We’ve finally solidified our infield where, in the beginning, our pitching staff kept us in the race because when our infield defense wasn’t solid.

“But now, with everything defensively really starting to come together, they haven’t missed a beat. Pitching gave us the breathing room that we needed to get to be where we are now.”

As the region champion, Kennesaw Mountain will host a first-round state playoff series next week, and Hansen is confident that the Mustangs can go far in the postseason.

“If you want to say we have a pitching staff that’s built for a three-game series, then I’d say you’re right,” he said. “When you have a pitching staff like this, if you go to that third game, we have these horses in the stable ready to go. Other teams will be throwing their shortstop or an outfielder, but we’ll be throwing a pitcher. I think that’s going to give us a nice advantage, or at least a good shot, to go pretty deep.”
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