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Stepping up to the mound

Sunitsch became a part of WSU’s starting rotation this season to help lead Cougars to more victories

Senior+left-handed+pitcher+Scotty+Sunitsch%2C+left%2C+talks+with+Head+Coach+Marty+Lees+after+practice+Tuesday+at+Bailey%E2%80%93Brayton+Field.
Senior left-handed pitcher Scotty Sunitsch, left, talks with Head Coach Marty Lees after practice Tuesday at Bailey–Brayton Field.

Senior left-handed pitcher Scotty Sunitsch, left, talks with Head Coach Marty Lees after practice Tuesday at Bailey–Brayton Field.

SULAIMAN AMBUSAIDI | The Daily Evergreen

SULAIMAN AMBUSAIDI | The Daily Evergreen

Senior left-handed pitcher Scotty Sunitsch, left, talks with Head Coach Marty Lees after practice Tuesday at Bailey–Brayton Field.

AVERY COOPER, Evergreen reporter

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A swing and a miss and senior pitcher Scotty Sunitsch dropped his glove, took a sigh of relief and waited for his teammates to charge the mound.

Sunitsch had just accomplished something no other Cougar has since 1976 – a no-hitter.

“It just felt like a couple hundred pounds lifted off my shoulders after I struck that last guy out,” Sunitsch said.

Junior catcher Robert Teel was behind the plate for the pitching performance. He said the no-hitter was the only thing on his mind past the fifth inning.

“That was by far the most fun I’ve ever had catching,” Teel said.

The no-hitter is an example of how much Sunitsch has improved since he first came to WSU.

He was a four-time letter winner in baseball at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, but he wasn’t always a pitcher. That came after WSU recruited him.

“I enjoyed the outfield and I loved hitting,” Sunitsch said, “but when I got recruited here, they’re like, ‘No, you’re a left-handed pitcher.’ So, I stuck with it and it’s paid off.”

In his freshman season, Sunitsch appeared in 24 games and pitched 33 and two-thirds innings with a 0-3 record. He also had a 4.28 ERA.

The learning curve continued during his sophomore year. Sunitsch appeared in 19 games and had a 4-2 record and a 6.38 ERA. He posted that stat line while increasing his strikeout total by 16, and innings pitched by more than 20 from the previous season.

Dan Spencer, associate head coach and pitching coach, said Sunitsch’s sophomore season had mixed results, but in his junior season he took on a bigger role.

“He just pitched so well out of the bullpen and did a nice job for us,” Spencer said.

Sunitsch was lights out in his junior year. He earned eight saves, the third most in the Pac-12 and in conference play, he posted a team-best 2.16 ERA and held hitters to a .209 batting average.

This season is different than years past. He is now locked in as a part of the starting rotation, Spencer said.

“This year we flipped him back to the front and he’s making strides,” Spencer said. “Physically, he’s a horse. His first pitch is like his 100th pitch.”

Sunitsch said he enjoyed standing out in the bullpen, but knew he needed to be a starter if the team was going to win games.

“I kind of realized if I don’t step up and become a starter,” he said, “then we’re not going to have anyone to get us to that relief spot to where we need [senior right-hander] Ryan Walker or any guys like that.”

The biggest difference between starting pitching and relief pitching, Sunitsch said, is the approach he takes when facing each batter.

“You really have to pitch to contact,” he said. “I wasn’t used to that, being a reliever and how I used to try to pitch around guys and strike [them] out. But now I realize I kind of just have to go right after [them].”

So far this season, Sunitsch has posted a 3-1 record with a 3.02 ERA in seven starts. He has struck out 30 of the 177 hitters he has faced, while only walking seven.

The best start came last weekend against University of Oregon when he tossed a no-hitter, striking out nine batters while giving up just two walks.

Senior outfielder Derek Chapman, who is Sunitsch’s roommate and one of his best friends, made a diving catch for the first out in the bottom of the ninth inning of that game to preserve the no-hitter.

Chapman said it was special to be a part of the no-hitter and even better to see Sunitsch’s effort finally add up.

“He’s put in a lot of work and he’s noticeably improved every year,” Chapman said, “and I felt like that was really the culmination of a long career of hard work for him and experience kind of paying off.”

Spencer said Sunitsch has developed immensely since they first met in his sophomore season.

“[His] composure has grown the most,” Spencer said. “His poise and the maturity of being a pitcher and the understanding that if you want to be good, you really got to pay attention to your craft.”

Sunitsch said the no-hitter will help propel him to success in the rest of the season.

“Every time I’ve started, I gained more innings, and I’ve gotten more used to starting and I’m starting to enjoy it now,” Sunitsch said. “I used to be a bullpen guy, so this is pretty fun. I like where it’s going.”

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Stepping up to the mound