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Two-way underclassmen contribute to Bombers dominance on the mound

Sophomore+pitcher%2Foutfield+Conor+Burns+pitches+against+St.+John+Fisher+on+April+1.+Burns+and+first-year+pitcher+Jack+Picozzi+committed+to+Ithaca+College+primarily+as+hitters+but+have+made+their+difference+early+through+their+skills+on+the+mound.
Maddy Tanzman
Sophomore pitcher/outfield Conor Burns pitches against St. John Fisher on April 1. Burns and first-year pitcher Jack Picozzi committed to Ithaca College primarily as hitters but have made their difference early through their skills on the mound.

This season the Ithaca College baseball team has been left to fill the mound after losing three of their top four most used starting pitchers last season.

However, the Bombers have been rejuvenated with new arms both in the starting rotation and out of the bullpen, starting the season with a 144 regular season and a 5–0 record in Liberty League competition. Led by a variety of underclassmen who have stepped up for the squad, sophomore Conor Burns and first-year student Jack Picozzi are leading the charge of two-way players dominating on the mound for the Bombers, something that is becoming a popular trend for the program.

Burns, who entered college primarily as an outfielder, did not get an appearance in a varsity game last season. He said this motivated him to work hard over the summer and come back as a transformed player. 

“Me personally, last year I didn’t get the opportunities I would have liked,” Burns said. “I knew when I came back that I wanted to be a differencemaker for this team.”

Burns has certainly stepped up this season. He has been one of the top used arms out of the bullpen this season for the Bombers, boasting a season earned run average of 1.15 and a team leading three saves. Assistant coach Cooper Belyea ’15 said Burns’ impact could be felt immediately when the team began practicing this fall.

“He’s throwing six, seven, eight mph harder than he was last year,” Belyea said. “The first practice of the fall, [he] threw his first fastball and it was like a completely different Conor Burns.”

This year-to-year improvement is something the coaching staff look for when recruiting. Belyea said they keep an eye on two-way talents because it raises their overall potential as a player.

“Their ceiling might be higher, they might not have put in a ton of work into one or the other,” Belyea said. “I’d rather have a guy peaking when he’s a sophomore in college than when he’s a senior in high school.”

Belyea said the program is not going out of its way to recruit two-way players, however, it looks for players that possess athleticism like a two-way player. They look for guys who may have played multiple sports in high school like Burns, who was a varsity football player at Bethpage High School in Bethpage, New York.

“Burns and Picozzi were easy guys to recruit because you could see the athleticism. … They were both two sports athletes as well,” Belyea said.

Similar to Burns, Picozzi committed to Ithaca College primarily as a hitter. The first-year student was focusing on second base until his junior year of high school, when his team needed him to pitch. Picozzi, who has been called a great competitor by Belyea, said he fell in love with being a two-way and was looking for a program, like the one at the college, that was willing to work with him on both aspects of his game.

“Once I realized that I was able to do both at the same time, I really loved it,” Picozzi said. “I wanted to take any chance I could get to do that at the next level.”

Belyea said the coaching staff was impressed with Picozzi’s all around game. His ability to swing the bat, his reliability in the field and his strong arm truly make him a five-tool player. However, despite being one of their top recruits, they had no idea what to expect when he stepped on campus this fall.

“We were excited about Jack coming in as a high schooler … and honestly didn’t know where he was gonna excel with us,” Belyea said.

A major draw to focusing on pitching this season was team needs. Picozzi said he just wants the team to be successful and his main goal for this season was to do whatever it took to help the team win.

This selfless mindset is one of the many reasons why the coaches trust the first-year phenom to start big games. Picozzi has handled the pressure well, with a 2–0 record in three starts and 24 recorded strikeouts, ranking second on the team. 

Belyea said Picozzi’s composure helps him to stand out and handle high stakes opportunities.

“He’s a smart kid,” Belyea said. “He carries himself well and I think from an outside perspective … you wouldn’t pick him out as a [first-year student].”

Picozzi said he certainly has great role models to look up to when it comes to mindset. Burns said that after the team graduated so many seniors last season like Kyle Lambert ’23, who holds the program record for most strikeouts recorded in a season with 101, the returners took it personally to fill in the gaps. 

These players include junior right-hand pitcher Colin Leyner and sophomore right-hand pitcher Jack Colyer, who both lead the South Hill squad with six starts apiece. Leyner holds a 3.62 ERA on the season, and Colyer holds a 3.23 ERA. These two, along with Burns and Picozzi, lead a very deep pitching staff for the Bombers. So far this season, the team has used 16 different pitchers in only 18 games. Belyea says this depth is going to be a major advantage for the team moving forward. 

“I really like our pitching staff a lot,” Belyea said. “I think we’re a deep pitching staff. We’re not going to necessarily have to ride one or two guys. We’ve got a bunch of guys that can get outs and help us win baseball games.”

Whether he is starting or coming out of the bullpen, Picozzi said he is excited to help the team continue their winning ways as the Bombers get into the heart of conference play.

“I’m just focused on what the team is going to do,” Picozzi said. “Anything I can do to help us, if that’s being a starter, if that’s being a relief pitcher, anything I can to help us win I’m all for.

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Maddy Tanzman, Photo Editor
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