Arts & Entertainment

Mustangs to Ride Mendenhall

The adage goes that good pitching beats good hitting. It’s for that reason that the George Mason High School varsity baseball team expects to prevail each and every time senior Byron Mendenhall toes the rubber.

“With Mendenhall on the mound, I assume we’ll win at least half our games,” Mason Head Coach Adam Amerine said. “And if Joe Muskett and Mike Straub step up and give us a number two pitcher we have a good chance to win the district and at least make some noise at regionals.”

Mendenhall, the reigning Bull Run District Player of the Year, dominated opposing hitters throughout last season, helping the Mustangs claim their second-consecutive Bull Run regular season title, as well as the district’s postseason tournament. He then pitched Mason past a highly-touted Wilson Memorial team and into the Region B semifinal, where the team would lose to eventual state champion Goochland, 3-1.

“I think we’ll go to states,” said Mendenhall, displaying no lack of optimism. “If we beat Goochland, we’ll be alright.”

“It’s rare that a kid has control of four different types of pitches,” Amerine said of Mendenhall’s arsenal of a fastball, curveball, changeup and cutter. “He can throw them all for strikes at any time. He’s not overpowering with the fastball [mid 80s according to Amerine], but his control is what makes him so effective.”

Mendenhall, who was also named to the Class A All-State Second Team for 2006, will have to be just as sharp as last season if the Mustangs hope to return to the top of their district and equal last season’s accomplishments. Mason graduated a strong group of seniors last season that included middle-of-the-order hitters Matt Foley, Brandon Ting and Paul Mene, as well as No. 2 pitcher John Schwengel.

“There are a couple players coming up, like Lonnie [Millard], who could really be a good bat in the lineup, and Mike Straub pitching, that I’m looking forward to seeing play,” senior shortstop Jimmy Piscopo said of a few of the team’s newest members. Millard will likely compete with Lex Layton for time at catcher.

The drop off in big bats may not be that problematic for the Mustangs, as they won a number of close, low-scoring contests last season by manufacturing runs rather than relying on home runs.

The key to many of those manufactured runs is Piscopo, whose knack for reaching base and speed on the base paths makes him a mainstay at the top of the Mason batting order.

“His speed and his ability to make contact are perfect for the top of the order,” Amerine said. “He’s a phenomenal leadoff hitter.”

“I like to do things at full speed,” Piscopo said. “Anytime I can try to take an extra base, I try to do it. If I can lay out to make a play, I try to do that too.”

Looking to their future after Mason, both Mendenhall and Piscopo are leaning towards attending Randolph Macon after their senior seasons, with Christopher Newport University also on both players’ lists.