All-County Baseball: East's Robbins is Pitcher of the Year
By Mike London
SALISBURY — As a sophomore, East Rowan right-hander Bradley Robbins looked like … well, like a sophomore.
As a junior, he didn’t look much like a junior. Instead, he looked like one of the most dominant pitchers the county has seen in the last decade.
Sometimes something simple can make all the difference in the world.
“Our pitching coach at East, Brian Hatley, moved me to the other side of the rubber,” Robbins said. “That got me lined up better and got me throwing a lot more strikes.”
Robbins always had talent and once he got a firm grip on it, he took the biggest leap forward of any hurler in recent memory. He was a landslide choice as the winner of the first Patrick Snider Memorial Award.
The award will be presented annually to the Rowan County Pitcher of the Year as chosen by the Post sports staff.
Gary Ritchie, of Gary’s Barbecue fame, generously sponsors the new award, which includes both a trophy for Robbins and a plaque for the Snider family to keep. The plaque will be updated each year to add the name of the latest honoree.
It goes without saying that Robbins, who like all the Mustangs wore a No. 7 on his sleeve to honor Snider’s memory, will be a candidate to repeat in 2012.
It’s not like Robbins’ sophomore season was bad — 2-1 with a 2.47 ERA in 281/3 innings — but that trip was a 16-walk adventure that had head coach Brian Hightower pulling his hair out.
Hightower’s hair — not Robbins’.
Robbins did enjoy some shining moments in 2010, including a strong outing during East’s tour of Georgia and a high-pressure save in a 3-2 win against West Iredell.
But he walked five in three innings and allowed seven runs — all unearned — in an ugly 11-7 loss to Northwest Cabarrus at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium. Then he had a pretty awful day against North Iredell late in the regular season — four walks and six earned runs in two innings.
Robbins won a third-round playoff game in relief against Mount Pleasant, but then he was treated pretty roughly (five hits in two innings) by Wilson Hunt in the state championship series.
Things bottomed out for Robbins during the summer when he posted a 14.50 ERA in 18 erratic innings with the Rowan County American Legion.
“I just couldn’t control my pitches,” Robbins said. “I’d tried to bow up and throw hard, but I had no idea where the ball was going.”
Obviously, with Thomas Allen and Parker Gobbel graduating from East’s state championship team, a lot fell on Robbins’ shoulders in 2011.
He responded to Hightower’s challenge better than anyone ever anticipated — 10-1, 1.01 ERA, a county-best 88 strikeouts in 621/3 innings.
“Bradley has amazing stuff, and I’m not just talking about his fastball,” said East Rowan and Rowan Legion catcher Luke Thomas. “His slider worked very well, and then he brought a nice changeup into the mix. Most games, he had control of all three pitches.”
Robbins could have topped 100 strikeouts easily in the prep season, but Hightower’s plan always was Robbins for six innings and closer Will Johnson in the seventh, and it was hard to argue with a formula that worked 100 percent of the time.
Robbins’ lone blemish came in a second-round playoff game against Weddington that ended East’s season. An unearned run saddled him with a loss, but even in that game he fanned six in four innings of relief while allowing one hit.
Bottom line. East won all 11 games Robbins started, and he didn’t allow a single run in six of those outings.
You had to feel for West Rowan, which was unlucky enough to run into Robbins twice. Robbins’ numbers — 102/3 innings, zero runs, two hits allowed, 18 Ks.
“I always looked forward to catching him, but I can’t really point out any one game that was Bradley’s best,” Thomas said. “He pitched pretty good in all of them.”
The 1-0 win at West Iredell that gave the Mustangs the NPC championship included another glimpse into the evolution of Robbins. Robbins, the thrower, officially was replaced by Robbins, the pitcher, that day on the outskirts of Statesville. His surprising line: six shutout innings, just 53 pitches, one strikeout.
That’s right, one strikeout, but he was as happy as he was when he fanned 13 in back-to-back midseason starts.
“I’ve learned something about pitching to contact,” he said. “That keeps me in games a lot longer.”
After his disappointing Legion summer of 2010, Robbins should be a horse Rowan can count on in 2011.
Best of all, he’ll work at Newman Park, with Snider’s retired No. 7 in a circle on the right-field wall behind him.