Comets pitching staff led by trio of flame throwers

Players from left to right: Brenden Garula, Noah Samol, and Michael Murphy.

Andrew Little | Sports Editor

With three of the state’s top starting pitchers on the mound and more firepower in the bullpen, the Comets’ pitching staff is among the nation’s most dangerous.

Seniors Brenden Garula and Noah Samol, committed to the University of Cincinnati and Georgia Tech respectively, and junior Michael Murphy, who holds multiple division-one offers, form a trifecta of gifted starters. While most teams are lucky to have one pitcher of that caliber, the Comet’s rotation is stacked. Head coach Curt Bly refers to them as “the three aces,” a term typically reserved for one standout pitcher.

Also on the roster is a plethora of bullpen talent, who are also capable of winning games as starters, including senior AJ Lefton, a Jefferson University commit, senior Jax Rogan, juniors Quintin Kaylor and Ben Fosnot, and sophomore Bryce Brannon. The depth allows for players like junior Sean Krueckenberg, an outfielder and pitcher, and sophomore infielder Jake Hanley, an Indiana University commit who also serves as the team’s closer, to focus on their field positions yet still pitch when called upon. Garula said that beyond having three star pitchers, the overall strength of the pitching staff will give the team an unusual amount of flexibility in its lineup throughout the season.

“We have a lot of depth in the bullpen, too,” Garula said. “So it’s gonna take a lot of stress off of us early in the season. We won’t have to ride out 90 pitches because we can trust our bullpen a lot and then when we get in later in the tournament it’s a two or three-man rotation.”

In the playoffs, the rotation will shrink to just Samol, Garula, and Murphy starting games with the other pitchers relegated to a full-time bullpen role. The two that aren’t starting will also be available in the bullpen. Bly said the depth of the pitching staff will allow the team to make pitching changes without sacrificing quality, and keep the ace’s arms fresh and healthy deep into the season.

“It allows you to not stretch guys out unnecessarily or too early,” Bly said. “ We have 12 guys that can get varsity guys out, and we have some guys that are gonna pitch JV that would pitch varsity in other years. It allows us to kind of set roles and not tax our arms, and hopefully continue to get stronger and be fresh as the season goes on when we get to the tournament.”

Murphy believes that a number of pitchers in the Comets bullpen would be towards the top of most teams’ rotations, and said that depth will be invaluable as the season progresses.

“I feel like our aces are better than any other team’s aces and our relief guys are the other team’s aces,” Murphy said. “So I feel like having their best pitcher in our bullpen is tremendous and will carry us throughout the whole postseason.”

The talent doesn’t stop after the pitching staff. The team returns five starters in the field in Hanley, Auburn University commit Mark Rutherford, Ohio University commit Drew Cox, University of Charleston commit Brady Bly, and outfielder Kevin West. Garula and Murphy also will contribute off the mound for the second consecutive season, with Garula playing outfield on his off-days, and Murphy serving as the team’s designated hitter. Samol said the Comets gain a competitive advantage from having such a complete roster.

“It’s definitely a big confidence booster for our team because if we can go out and put up zeros on the board early in games, then we can get our offense going and have a little cushion,” Samol said. A lot of teams have one or two really good guys and then after that it kind of falls off. When teams face us, even on an off day, we still have [depth].”

Samol and Garula are left-handed, and Murphy is right-handed. Most hitters are right-handed so having two southpaws makes preparing for the Comets difficult. Teams can not focus too much on practicing for a lefty pitcher based on the chance that Murphy starts.

All three aces also possess upper-level velocity. Samol’s fastballs have hit as high as 95 miles per hour, putting him in consideration for fastest pitcher nationwide. Murphy has thrown as high as 93 miles per hour, and Garula has thrown as much as 89. Murphy said that having three of the fastest throwers in the state allows the team to attack and intimidate opposing hitters.

“Most people don’t see [speed] until they play us,” Murphy said. “So if you’re one of the hardest throwers they’ll see all year you can set them up with off-speed and then blow fastballs by him. It’s a lot. It’s easier said than done, but it works really well for us throughout the whole year. No one’s really been able to catch up to us.”

Not only have the three been able to put each other in the best positions to succeed, but they have helped each other grow as pitchers. Murphy said the healthy competition the pitching staff shares in practice has allowed them to bond and improve together in their shared quest to make it as far in the state playoffs as possible.

“We all work together to make each other better and physically learn what [the others] do to make themself special,” Murphy said. “I feel like we have a great way of teaching each other.”

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