Debutante Valentine thriving in relief role

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman freshman relief pitcher Greg Valentine (Knoxville, Tenn.) refers to each outing on the mound at the Silver Diamond Baseball Complex as going out to do his job.

With his lunch pail in hand, the freshman steps on the bump and has been the Eagles' most effective reliever thus far into the 2016 campaign.

Valentine's transition from the high school game to the collegiate level began on the first day of the season and has not let up. He came on in relief in the season lid-lifter at Limestone, but took the loss in the 5-4 contest on an unearned run in the eighth. After appearing twice on the road at 15th-ranked North Georgia, the freshman made his Silver Diamond Baseball Complex debut against Northwood (Mich.) and got the win after working 2.2 innings of hitless relief and struck out two batters. He has since gone on to pick up two saves against the Timberwolves and McKendree.

The freshman leads the Eagles and the South Atlantic Conference while ranking sixth in Division II with 13 appearances during his debut season in the Orange and Blue. He has thrown 16.2 innings and struck out 13 batters thus far; Valentine's strikeout total ranks fourth on the team and leads all relievers.

Before coming to the banks of Mossy Creek, Valentine and teammate Ian Pung (Knoxville, Tenn.) were members of the Hardin Valley Hawks baseball team that made a run to the TSSAA Class AAA State Tournament as seniors. The duo guided Hardin Valley to the its first state championship appearance and was pitted against perennial power Farragut. Valentine entered the game in extra innings after the Hawks had taken an eight-run lead after scoring eight runs in the top of the ninth to shut the door on the Admirals and win Hardin Valley's first-ever state title.

But the preparation to prepare the Knoxville native began before the calendar turned over to 2016 and the tutelage of coach Tom Griffin has guided Valentine to help his team out of the bullpen.

"The whole entire fall, coming in early and getting work in and being with coach Griff has really gotten me ready for the season," Valentine said. "You have to stay calm (coming out the bullpen). You can't let the base runners worry about it. You can't let the batter worry about it, obviously you have to know who is batting for runner control, but you can't get too in the moment. You have to know you are here to do a job and get it done.

"I'm honored that coach would trust me and let me do that," Valentine said of his numerous appearances. "Being at Hardin Valley really allowed me to have the experience necessary because I was the main reliever there. I'm really comfortable coming out of the bullpen."

Griffin is not the only member of the C-N coaching staff to help with Valentine's progression. First-year pitching coach Mark Allen Bounds has provided key pointers to adjust his pitcher's delivery to make pitchers more effective.

"He's helped me out a lot with bullpens. He's helped me with mechanics because every now and again, I'll throw a bullpen and I'll have a little bit of trouble," the freshman said of his new pitching coach. "He really knows me well and he really knows my form well and he can help me out with my mechanics and that has really helped me on the season."

Valentine also has a multitude of upperclassmen to view as role models including Friday starter Vince Apicella (Dillsburg, Pa.) who is one of the top pitchers in the SAC, but the senior is not the only Eagle to take the freshman under their wing.  

"You have to watch Vince up on the mound. There is just something about him, his confidence, it's not too cocky, but you know he will get his job done," Valentine said of the preseason All-Region selection. "Looking at that has been inspiration for my career for many years to come. And Ryan Eberle has definitely helped me out having a positive mindset on the mound. No matter what happens, you are here for a job and coach trusts you and he has definitely helped me out with that.

"Also, Gooch Greer has helped me. I've known him since my freshman year of high school. He used to help me when I used to catch, so that makes it comfortable when he's back there and working with him is really, really good."

Valentine's job will be to help the Eagles advance to the SAC Baseball Championships in Kodak, Tenn. and continue to be one of the most efficient relievers in the league.

- C-N -