The best unlikely pitcher

Former Bishop England High standout Ryan Connolly has a 2.25 ERA in 19 appearances for Coastal Carolina this season.

CONWAY -- Ryan Connolly was a pretty good pitcher at Bishop England High School until he attended a Coastal Carolina University baseball summer camp following his junior year. He emerged from "Extreme Makeover: Sidearm Edition" with crazy stuff.

Unbeatable.

Two-plus seasons, and counting.

After switching to a side-arm motion, Connolly went 13-0 as a Bishop England senior and helped the Bishops win the Class AA state title. At Coastal Carolina, the undefeated middle reliever has picked up as a sophomore where he left off as a freshman All-American in 2010.

"At the end of the year I sat down and looked at my numbers," Connolly said. "I look back and it's something I didn't expect. It's something I'm proud of, but I just have to forget about that and try and improve."

Connolly has been as effective as any college pitcher in a baseball-heavy state over the last two seasons, and more fun to watch than a Myrtle Beach hermit crab race.

At 6-0, 180, he is not imposing.

His fastball resides well below 90 mph.

He plays batters like video game fodder.

"Ryan's demeanor has been a big part of his pitching," said John Rhodes, who coached Connolly for four summers on the Mount Pleasant-based Diamond Devils travel team. "When you throw a tiger out there with a funky delivery, then you really have something."

Side order

Connolly arrived at the Coastal Carolina camp hoping to fine-tune his pitching for that all-important high school senior season.

"I threw over-the-top through my junior year, but I always had a sidearm slider," Connolly said.

Chanticleers pitching coach Drew Thomas asked Connolly to try throwing all pitches sidearm.

"So I did," Connolly said, "and he said, 'Hey, you throw just as hard sidearm as over-the-top.' "

Thomas told Connolly he was welcome at Coastal Carolina as a "preferred" walk-on and guaranteed a spot on the team -- if he stuck with the sidearm thing.

"I said I'd give it a try," Connolly said. "It's worked out ever since."

Still, Connolly didn't get any other major NCAA Division I scholarship offers and a walk-on is not expected to play much at Coastal Carolina. But Connolly went 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA in a school-record 40 appearances.

The Chanticleers advanced to host a Super Regional against the College of Charleston, before losing to eventual national champion South Carolina.

This year, he is 0-0 with a 2.25 earned run average for first-place Coastal Carolina going into tonight's Big South Conference game at High Point. The most impressive part is one of those inside-baseball stats: 61 runners inherited so far as a college pitcher and only 17 runs allowed.

"Ryan likes the spotlight," Rhodes said. "Not all guys do. But he really wants the ball when the game is on the line."

'Don't give up'

It seems almost too easy: Simply drop the arm slot and watch the goose eggs pile up. Rhodes points out that Connolly's former fastballs actually came from more of a three-quarter angle.

"A lot of guys trying to throw sidearm have to go down about 45 degrees," Rhodes said. "For Ryan, it was maybe about 10 degrees."

Connolly wants to work in the business side of professional sports someday and hopes to intern with baseballs Myrtle Beach Pelicans or Charleston RiverDogs or work at the North Charleston Coliseum.

For now, it's all about helping Coastal Carolina get back to the NCAA tournament.

His advice to players who long to be in his cleats?

"Don't give up," Connolly said. "If your dream is to play college baseball -- Division I, Division II, junior college or whatever -- keep trying. I grew up playing with some big-name players like Brison Celek and Drew Cisco, players all the big schools looked at. I was very low on the totem poll. But you can't let that get in the way."