Continuing with a series of articles chronicling the Monroe Community College baseball team’s journey to the NJCAA D2 World Series later this week in Enid, Oklahoma.
By PAUL GOTHAM
ENID, OK. — Dave Brust never saw it coming.
With the Monroe Community College Tribunes clinging to a 9-6 lead in the sixth inning of Game 1 of the Region 3 Division II Championship, the fifth-year coach went to his bullpen. One run already crossed home plate in the inning, and the Mercyhurst NE Saints looked primed for a rally.
Stuart Martin had other ideas.
The sophomore right-hander escaped the sixth and allowed just one hit over four shutout innings. He struck out three, walked none and faced two over the limit to pick up the save …. the first save of his career.
Twenty-four hours later, Martin hurled two more scoreless to notch save number two as Monroe clinched the regional title.
“Two weeks ago, I could not have told you he was our closer,” Brust said.
In that time, Martin has thrown nine shutout innings under the tightest of postseason circumstances. The Eden Mills, Ontario native has struck out 11, walked three and surrendered just four hits for a WHIP (walks + hits per inning) of 0.78. And he collected three saves while closing out one other game.
Martin made 13 appearances on the mound in 2017 – all out of the bullpen. None resulted in a save. His first 12 trips to the mound in 2018 equalled the save number of saves.
As MCC readies to take the field for the NJCAA DII World Series, the term lockdown could be suggested to describe Martin’s efforts. Getting to this point wasn’t a matter of chance. It took the sophomore hurler adding another pitch to his arsenal.
“I was in his ear in September about developing a slider,” Brust said. “He was still a little dependent on his curveball. For him because he’s not a super-hard thrower, he really needed that slider. It’s blossomed.”
Once the diagnosis was made, Martin went to work with assistant coach Cory Brownsten.
“With his arm slot, it wasn’t going to work right away,” Brownsten explained. “He’s an over-the-top guy, so he had to get used to throwing the slider. He had to keep throwing it and throwing it.”
“I thought it was a good idea just because my curveball is pretty slow,” Martin said. “It’s got a lot of break to it, but it’s slower. If I could develop a harder pitch that breaks as well, I thought it would be good to compliment my fastball and my changeup.”
He also went through a variety of grips trying to master the pitch during flat-ground sessions and in the bullpen.
“It took trust,” Brownsten said. “Trusting the process would work.”
Once he developed a feel for the pitch, Brownsten suggested new locations and when to throw the pitch.
“The slider is the perfect pitch for him,” Brownsten added. “Now he has the change up for left-handed hitters. When he’s behind in the count, he can throw that 2-0, 3-1. In a good hitter’s count, he has that for a righty now. He throws his slider, and he has his fastball. He’ll get soft contact on a 2-0, 3-1 hitter’s count.”
“It’s huge,” Martin said. “As soon as I started picking up on how I could use it, my feel for it inside just like all my other pitches I can throw all pitches for strikes in an any count. It just came naturally to me once I got the hang of it.”
“Now he still has a good curveball, an 11-to-5 (shape using the hands of a clock) curveball,” Brust noted. “It has really good depth. He needed that pitch to put guys away.”