In the fourth inning of the season opener against North Carolina, College of Charleston freshman pitchers Baily Ober and Hayden McCutcheon were warming up in the Cougars' bullpen.
College of Charleston at Charleston Southern
When: Wednesday, 2 p.m.
Where: CSU Ballpark
Records: CofC 15-4, CSU 14-7.
Charleston coach Monte Lee wanted to get both Bailey and McCutcheon into the game against the nationally ranked Tar Heels so each could get some experience against a quality opponent.
Lee wasn't sure which freshman he would put out there first, but his gut told him Ober would match up better against the batters coming up for UNC in the fifth inning.
"Originally, we wanted to throw Bailey out there to get his feet wet for a couple of innings," Lee said. "It wasn't any one thing that made me go to Bailey first. It was just a feeling."
It turned out to be the right move.
Ober, a 6-8 right-hander from Charlotte, seized the moment. He dominated the Tar Heels over the next five innings, throwing 56 total pitches, 44 for strikes. He allowed two hits, struck out four and did not walk a batter.
The Cougars scored five runs in the sixth, added two more in the seventh and went on to win the game, 7-4. Charleston eventually took two of three games in the series.
"He was throwing so well, he was so dominant, that we just rolled with him and let him finish the game," Lee said. "He was the same pitcher from the first pitch to the last out."
Ober grew up about two hours from the North Carolina campus and was never offered a scholarship by the Tar Heels.
"You'd have to ask (North Carolina) why they didn't offer me," Ober said. "I was a little nervous when I first got out there. It was kind of a surreal moment for me, but once I started throwing I just blocked everything else out."
Ober has arguably been the Cougars' best pitcher during the first month of the season. He has earned Colonial Athletic Association pitching honors three times already this season and is 4-0 with a 1.00 earned run average. He has 26 strikeouts in 27 innings and no walks.
"He's the same pitcher each time he steps out there," Lee said. "He's going to throw strikes. It's amazing to me the consistency with which he pitches. Usually a guy that tall doesn't have that type of control with his arm. It's hard for a guy that tall, who has to vary his times to the plate, to throw strikes consistently. That's what makes what Bailey has done so far so impressive."
Lee knew he would have to rely on his young arms after losing 70 percent of his pitching staff from last season. He expected some growing pains, but so far the Cougars have answered every challenge.
Ironically, Ober wasn't even the Cougars' top freshman pitcher coming out of fall practice. Ober was third behind McCutcheon and Tyler Thornton.
"Don't get me wrong, we liked Bailey," Lee said. "We felt like all three of those guys, Bailey, Hayden and Tyler were going to pitch significant innings for us this season. Coming out of the fall, I just felt like McCutcheon and Thornton were ahead of him. We actually hit Bailey pretty good early in the fall, but he got better and better with each appearance."
With a fastball that rarely hits 90 mph, Ober doesn't overpower hitters. It's his deadly change-up that keeps batters off balance.
"It's got the same arm motion and speed and it's very difficult to pick up," Lee said. "To me, his change-up is his best pitch."
Ober turned in a gem against The Citadel earlier in the month. Using a mixture of fastballs, curveballs and that change-up, Ober threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout in an 8-0 victory. He tossed just 94 pitches and struck out eight Bulldogs.
It was one of the most dominant performances Lee has witnessed in his six years as the Cougars' head coach.
"To throw 94 pitches in nine innings, that's 10 pitches an inning," Lee said. "It was amazing to watch."
Bailey Ober pitches for CofC against The Citadel in the Cougars 8-0 win at Joe Riley Park on Monday, March 10, 2014. Wade Spees/Staff×
College of Charleston freshman pitcher Bailey Ober is the reigning CAA pitcher of the week after tossing a two-hit, complete-game shutout against The Citadel Monday night. (photo by Shane Roper).×