HIGH POINT, N.C.—Something wasn’t quite right for High Point righthander Andre Scrubb at the start of Friday’s game against Winthrop. The 6-foot-4, 275-pound junior walked the leadoff hitter, saw a potential double-play ball booted and then walked the bases loaded.
It took a short mound visit, but eventually Scrubb got the mechanical issue straightened out and he began locating his pitches much better and pitching with authority. He struck out the next three batters to escape the jam unscathed and set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Started off rocky in the first inning, kind of hit my confidence a little bit,” Scrubb said. “But coming back with three strikeouts with the bases loaded in the first inning helped me get back in the groove.”
After the shaky start, Scrubb settled into the game and finished with 10 strikeouts in seven innings, to help lead High Point to a 4-2 victory against Winthrop. The Panthers ran their record to 18-5 (5-0 in the Big South Conference) with their sixth straight victory.
Scrubb is off to a strong start himself this season. With the win Friday, he improved to 5-1, 3.44 and has now struck out 48 batters in 36 2/3 innings this spring.
Coach Craig Cozart said Scrubb has worked hard to improve during his college career.
“He studies his craft,” Cozart said. “He’ll send me texts at 10:30 at night with photo clips and video clips of himself from last year to where he is now. He studies his trade. He is never satisfied, and he’ll do the same thing after this outing. While the numbers on paper look good, he knows where he can get better—not creating an offensive situation for his opponents in the first inning.
“He knows what he’s capable of, but he doesn’t take that for granted and he works at it.”
Scrubb relied on his fastball-curveball combination Friday. He threw his fastball 88-92 mph, touching 93, while using his power curveball confidently in any count. He racked up several of his strikeouts with his curveball, which he threw from 78-83 mph. He also worked in a few changeups, but had little need for the pitch.
Cozart said Scrubb takes pride in the quality of his curveball.
“He’s got plenty of fastball, but his breaking ball is absolutely special,” Cozart said. “It’s virtually unhittable and it’s a legit swing-and-miss pitch. So when you have that and you get into trouble, like he did in the first inning, and you can eliminate scoring situations by missing bats, you have a pretty special guy.”
Scrubb said he considers his curveball to be his best pitch.
”I think everyone in the stands knows it’s coming,” he said. “But I try to throw it low and as hard as I can so it looks like a fastball, so it really helps out getting hitters to swing and miss.”
With Scrubb and fifth-year senior Scot Hoffman at the front of the rotation, the Panthers have been tough to beat this year. Since dropping its series at UNC-Greensboro on opening weekend, High Point has won five straight series and is rolling as conference play begins.
Scrubb said one key for the Panthers has been the closeness of the team.
“This team’s a little bit more cohesive than any other team I’ve been on,” Scrubb said. “We all hang out, there’s no clique-y feeling, everyone trusts each other.”
Cozart said Scrubb has been a big part of helping the Panthers find their relaxed, but aggressive mentality.
“He’s a charismatic leader for us,” Cozart said. “(Saturday) when he’s in the dugout he’s going to be just as much of a factor as he was today when he was on the mound, because he will be emotionally involved. He gives of himself and he cares about his teammates, so that’s pretty neat.”
There will be more tests, both personal and collective, as the season continues. Scrubb is firmly on scouts’ radar and is likely to become the first player drafted from High Point since 2013 (righthander Jaime Schultz in the 22nd round by the Rays). Outfielder Josh Greene also has a chance to be drafted in June.
The program, meanwhile, is moving into uncharted territory with its strong start to conference play. The Panthers have only produced three winning seasons since moving to Division I in 1999. High Point will face a stiff challenge next weekend when it travels to Maryland.
But Scrubb isn’t looking too far ahead. He said he never expected to get drafted, so he considers it a blessing to be in a position where that might happen. As for how the team can continue its winning ways, he said the Panthers just have to keep doing what’s been working all spring.
“Don’t press, don’t try to play like we’re winning 18 games already, (we) just have to keep doing what we have been doing,” Scrubb said. “Just nice and relaxed and aggressive.”