Le pitcher du jour: Central's LaBruyere

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

With a growing arsenal on the mound, the Tigers' right-hander has been exquisite in his junior season.

Central pitcher Brad LaBruyere sizzled on the mound last year, striking out 94 in 68 2/3 innings to go along with a 0.92 ERA as a sophomore.

Much to the dismay of area hitters, LaBruyere has picked up right where he left off.

The right-handed junior has struck out 60 hitters through seven starts. LaBruyere did not allow an earned run in his first four starts, opening with a perfect 4-0 mark. For the year, LaBruyere has a 7-1 record in eight appearances with a 1.14 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting a paltry .167 against LaBruyere.

"The thing that Brad has really improved on in his time here is he's learned how to pitch," Central coach Steve Williams said. "He's hitting his spots. He's using both sides of the plate. He's learned how to win when he doesn't have his best stuff."

Among his early dominance was a pair of complete-game shutouts against rivals Jackson and Notre Dame. LaBruyere allowed just seven hits combined between the two games, while fanning 16.

The perfect starter for conference games

LaBruyere has won all five of his starts against SEMO Conference opponents. In those starts, LaBruyere has allowed just two earned runs.

"It's not so much how good my stuff has been. My location, that's kind of what I've been focusing on," LaBruyere said.

Like most high school pitchers, LaBruyere's best pitch is his fastball. He delivers his with the velocity to dominate teams. In his shutout against Notre Dame, LaBruyere rarely used another pitch.

"It seems like those games when you're throwing fastballs, they go faster. It's easier," LaBruyere said.

Make no mistake, LaBruyere is not a one-pitch pitcher. Among his repertoire is an ever-improving changeup, a sometimes-devastating curveball and a cutter/slider which he added this season.

"Obviously, his fastball is a good high school fastball," Williams said. "It allows him to get ahead of hitters. His changeup has come a long way, especially since his freshman year; he didn't even have one."

The slider is a pitch LaBruyere has started to use more recently after struggling with his curve. LaBruyere successfully mixed in that pitch in a recent win over New Madrid County Central.

"We started working on it, and it's turned into a slider," Williams said. "It gives him another pitch."

LaBruyere has a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he has allowed just 28 hits in 43 innings. He is on pace to surpass his 94 strikeouts from last season.

LaBruyere admitted he does take a look at his strikeout numbers, but he is more concerned with wins and losses.

"I kind of like seeing how many strikeouts I can get," he said, "but more importantly, I want to get the win."

With seven wins in seven starts -- LaBruyere's only loss came in an inning of relief work -- the Tigers know when LaBruyere takes the mound, they have a chance to win. That added confidence from his teammates only helps to boost LaBruyere.

"That always makes me feel a lot better," LaBruyere said. "I have more confidence in myself. I know I can throw strikes. Pretty much all the time, they're going to make plays."

Central has relied heavily on LaBruyere in its important conference matchups, but the ability of No. 2 starter Lance Young to pitch effectively also has been crucial to Central's success.

Young, 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA, has pitched well in victories against conference foes Sikeston and Kelly, helping the Tigers to a 7-1 mark in the SEMO Conference.

"All of our pitchers have been throwing really well," LaBruyere said. "We've been focusing on throwing strikes. That's what our pitchers have been doing, letting our defense make plays."

Young should give the Tigers an edge once the district tournament arrives. With a six-team field, a 1-2 punch from LaBruyere and Young could help Central win its first district title since 2000.

"You look at our district, you have to have two [pitchers]," Williams said. "You look at Class 3, you have to have three. Having one good one is great, but it's not enough to make it through your district."

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