Trustful Turks Find Relief

Former Spider Pitching Well

Posted: June 20, 2012
Daily News Record

HARRISONBURG – Harrisonburg Turks manager Bob Wease’s only basis for recruiting pitcher Shawn O’Neill was hearsay. Wease hadn’t seen O’Neill throw a pitch, because the right-hander sat out all of last season after transferring to La Salle from Richmond.

“I trusted his [La Salle] coach, Mike Lake,” Wease said. “He told me that the boy could really compete, and that’s why I took him.”

The way O’Neill has pitched so far, Lake has done nothing to betray that trust.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound left-hander had posted a 0.95 ERA through Monday’s games, leading the Valley Baseball League in saves (four), and he was second in opponent batting average (.143) and appearances (seven).

He allowed one run all of last week, earning a two-inning save, then a three-inning save, then pitching 4 1/3 innings of relief. That was good enough to get him the VBL’s South Division Pitcher of the Week award.

“I’ve just been getting ahead of a lot of hitters, throwing strikes with my three pitches,” said O’Neill, who throws a mid-80s fastball, a curveball and a slider.

O’Neill has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen for the Turks – but that’s not a role he necessarily relishes. In fact, distaste for the bullpen is the reason he transferred to La Salle.

He’s a native of Philadelphia, also the home to La Salle’s campus – he even attended La Salle College High School, just five miles away from the university. Lake recruited O’Neill heavily out of high school, but O’Neill “fell in love” with Richmond’s campus, he said, before committing there.

His goal was to enter the starting rotation for the Spiders. It didn’t happen. Of his 38 appearances over two seasons, just six were starts.

“I just wanted to get the opportunity to be a starting pitcher, and I wasn’t going to get that at Richmond,” O’Neill said.

So he called up his hometown university, asking if it might have a spot for him in the starting rotation. Lake said he’d have to earn it, but that he’d get his chance.

He sat the 2012 season at La Salle in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, spending time in the weight room to better prepare himself for a starter’s role.

“He’s got a chance to be a starting pitcher for us,” Lake said. “The job’s going to be won in the fall, but he’s got a good chance to do it. We’re hoping he’s going to be one of our main guys.”

Of course, when he came to the Turks, he went right back to the ’pen. Wease said he probably will start O’Neill at some point, but O’Neill said he doesn’t mind staying in relief for the summer.

“If the opportunity came up [to start], I definitely would embrace it, but at the same time, everything is working right now how it is,” O’Neill said. “None of the pitchers are complaining about how everything’s working now, so there’s no changes that really need to be made.”

It’s a good thing he feels that way, too – because the way he’s filled the reliever’s role, it would be hard to take him out of it.

“The first time I saw him, I knew he was going to be one of our better pitchers,” Wease said. “The first time out, he got everybody out. You could tell he was very poised on the mound, and he’s a bulldog. He’s been the bulldog of our staff so far.”