Conor Bell is greeted by his catcher, Chris Salmon, after pitching a three-hitter for the Wildcats.
By Rich Bevensee
Making his first appearance on a pitcher’s mound in nearly two months, Conor Bell swears he wasn’t nervous at all.
Whether that was bravado or not, the Bordentown High senior sure didn’t seem bothered by nerves as he threw curveballs and sliders past opposing batters with great success.
Bell, sidelined by a rotator cuff injury which cost him the latter third of his summer baseball season, has returned with a vengeance. On Monday he pitched an impressive three-hitter to lift the West Jersey Wildcats to a 6-1 pool play victory over Next Level Baseball Mid-Atlantic in the 18U Columbus Day Showdown at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“It was definitely a relief to get my first outing over with,” said Bell, who walked one and struck out five over seven innings. “I was really ready, just so excited, to get out there on the mound again.”
The Wildcats, with players from Burlington and Mercer counties in New Jersey, defeated Chester County Revolution, 6-1, in another pool play contest.
Also for the Wildcats in the win over Mid-Atlantic, Princeton senior Alex Winters singled, doubled and drove in a run. Ewing seniors Chris Salmon and Collin Elam and Bordentown senior Elijah Tradigo each contributed RBI singles.
The Wildcats defense gave Bell a big lift, going errorless in 15 chances.
“As anyone could see who was watching the game, it’s a well-put-together team,” Winters said. “We hit the ball well, and we all trust each other, especially in the field. No errors today. Most of the time that’s our goal.”
Bell’s only misstep came in the top of the fourth inning when he was dinged for a run. Braden Rieg worked a one-out walk and Jack Schramm drove him in with a booming triple to center.
Schramm, a senior from Upper Perkiomen in Red Hill, Pa., also doubled and finished 2-for-3. Kyle Mazzie was the only other NLB batter to get a base hit off Bell.
“The curveball and slider were working really well and I didn’t throw a changeup at all,” Bell said. “I threw a lot of backdoor curveballs to righties, so I felt like that was working pretty well. I think mixing in my curveball and slider with my fastball kept them off-balance.”
Bell began experiencing pain due to the rotator cuff injury in mid-August when he injured himself swinging a bat. Baseball came to a screeching halt and Bell was headed for six weeks of physical therapy.
“It was horrible because I’m a big lifter in the gym and I couldn’t even do that,” said Bell, who stayed busy by stocking produce at the local Acme. “It was pretty much just work and PT. It took a little time after PT, and after two weeks, I started feeling like myself again.”
The only baseball Bell took part in since PT concluded was a series of one-inning bullpen sessions. He certainly didn’t look like he needed to shake off any rust by the way he pitched against Mid-Atlantic.
Jack Schramm doubled, tripled and drove in a run for NLB Mid-Atlantic.
In the second inning Bell even showed some grit by working his way out of a two-on, none-out jam. Schramm led off with a double, Kyle Mazzie singled and Bell was looking at runners on second and third with no outs. The 5-7, 160-pound lefty responded by getting two strikeouts and a groundout to escape the inning.
Bell said he hopes to play Division 3 baseball next season, and is considering SUNY Purchase and a few other schools close to home before he makes his decision.
Winters, a 5-9, 150-pound center fielder, is also looking to further his baseball career for four more years, but academics will lead his college hunt. Winters owns a 4.6 GPA and a 1500 SAT score. He said he’s spoken with coaches at Dickinson and has considered Williams College and Johns Hopkins as other baseball options.
To stay sharp through the fall, Winters said he remains a workhorse off the field.
“Fall can be a drag after playing all summer, so I try to do my best to stay in the cages, stay in the weight room,” said the lefty hitting Winters. “Sometimes my timing gets thrown off so I worked on a little toe tap (with his lead foot). It helps me stay back on off-speed pitches and I can still jump on a fastball.”