Pepiot pitches in the Cape Cod League. The junior earned Pitcher of the Week honors in Cape Cod. Photo courtesy of Lili Poulsen.
GRAEME WRIGHT | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Cape Cod, Massachusetts isn’t just known for its picturesque beaches and steaming lobster rolls. It is also home to one of the best collegiate baseball leagues in the world. The best of the best flock there every summer in hopes to compete against the top 1 percent and to capture the attention of pro scouts. Butler pitcher Ryan Pepiot left his mark there this summer.
“I went out there with an open mind, saying just go out there and be yourself, and I ended up having the summer of my life,” Pepiot said.
This past winter, Butler baseball head coach Dave Schrage referred Pepiot to the head coach of the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, Chad Gassman. The two have been acquaintances since Schrage’s time as head coach at Northern Illinois. At the time, Gassman’s team was searching for freshmen and sophomores.
“When Dave tells you someone is good, you don’t question it.” Gassman said.
Pepiot was coming off a sophomore season in which he posted a 6-0 record for Butler with a 2.62 ERA and was an all-conference selection to go along with it.
The Harbor Hawks and Pepiot agreed to a temporary contract, meaning he would have to play his way onto the team permanently. Pepiot reported to Hyannis, Massachusetts, on June 6, about a week after the Bulldogs fell to Seton Hall in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.
Hyannis local Dan Johnson, the vice president of the Harbor Hawks, and his two daughters hosted Ryan for the summer.
“Ryan is an even better human being then he is baseball player and he’s a damn good ball player,” Johnson said.
Pepiot sees a lifelong friendship with the Johnson family.
“They were amazing, I would talk with them and hangout with them every day,” Pepiot said. “I still talk to them everyday. I’m definitely going to have a future relationship with them.”
Pepiot made his first appearance out of the bullpen a few days later arriving, an unfamiliar role for the two-year starter at Butler. The stands were packed with major league scouts, general managers and advisors.
“The first time I pitched, I remember seeing radar guns everywhere,” Pepiot said. “I remembered thinking, ‘Don’t screw up now because you got 15 scouts watching you.’”
He got lit up. Pepiot allowed four runs on five hits in 2.1 innings of work.
“I felt like every ball I threw out there was zooming past my face, it was like I was throwing a beach ball up there,” he said. “I went home that night and said, ‘wow this sucks, this is going to be a long summer.’”
That was rock bottom. He approached his coaches at Hyannis and Butler. They reassured him that he belonged in the Cape and told him to just have fun.
“The person that you are and the pitcher you are is good enough to compete up there,” Schrage told him. “Try not to be somebody else.”
Pepiot only allowed two runs in his next eight appearances, which earned him Coca-Cola Pitcher of the Week in a league flooded with future first-round draft picks. He signed a summer-long contract shortly after.
“Some guys can take time to adjusting from starter to the bullpen,” Gassman said. “Ryan has wipeout stuff, and I like him better as a setup guy in the 7th and 8th inning.”
Pepiot finished the regular season with a 3-0 record and registered 33 strikeouts in only 22 innings of work. He also got the nod to start their first playoff game. Pepiot allowed two earned runs over 5.1 innings of work and struck out eight batters. The Harbor Hawks fell by a score of 2-1.
The season was over, but the exposure Pepiot got was like no other. Teams like the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners all expressed interest in his talents. Pepiot boosted his draft stock this summer and could potentially hear his name next Major League Baseball draft in June 2019.
He would often go to the beach, deep sea fishing and hang out with teammates and host family. The combination of fun and sheer dominance of some of the best players in the world led to an unforgettable summer.
“Going out there was like a vacation every day but getting to play baseball every night,” Pepiot said.
Pepiot has been on a steady trend of improvement since he first became a Bulldog. He lowered his ERA from 4.39 as a freshman to 2.62 his sophomore season.
“The past few years I’ve grown as a pitcher, I just see that continuing, I don’t want that to stop,” Pepiot said. “I’m going to continue to work hard as I possibly can and improve.”
Harrison Freed at the plate for the Bulldogs. Freed leads the team in batting average, hits and home runs among other categories. Jimmy Lafakis/Collegian file photo.
DREW SANDIFER | STAFF REPORTER | email@example.com
When Harrison Freed stepped on to Butler’s campus as a freshman in the fall of 2016, it was his only opportunity to play baseball at the Division I level.
Coming from the Indianapolis suburb of Westfield, Freed’s high school career was far from the decorated career of his high school and current teammate Ryan Pepiot.
“Ryan and I had a little different route to Butler,” Freed said. “He was getting recruited all over and I was underrecruited. I was hurt all through high school.”
Freed’s teammates in high school knew the talent level he had, but injuries didn’t allow Harrison to showcase those skills to college coaches.
“Harrison is one of the most under-recruited players I have ever seen with his talent level,” Pepiot said. “I’ve seen him play from first grade all the way through high school and the fact that he wasn’t getting any offers to play collegiate offers was unbelievable to me.”
Freed hit two grand slams in the span of three games in early April. But back as a freshman, he was only offered a preferred walk-on position, by then-coach Steve Farley.
Freed would consider himself lucky if injuries were the worst thing to happen to him at Westfield High School, though. In July of 2013, Freed’s aunt was murdered on the day her divorce was to be finalized.
“She would always be the one in my corner to talk about sports,” Freed, who was a rising 10th grader when she passed, said. “When she passed away, my brother and I took it pretty personally. She is the reason my brother and I play the game still to this day.”
Those closest to Freed felt how much his aunt meant to him and his brother. The news sent shockwaves through Westfield High School and the local community.
“You always see that kind of stuff on TV,” Pepiot said. “You never think it could happen to someone so close to you.”
Despite the nearly six years since his aunt’s death, Harrison said he never allows himself to forget the impact she has had on his life.
“Every time I go up to bat, I write her initials in the dirt before I step in,” Freed said. “It allows me to carry her memory with me as I play.”
He played some of his best baseball with her in mind. One day after the fourth anniversary of her passing, Freed hit four home runs in a game for the DC Grays of the Cal Ripken League, while his older brother Jackson had a monster game for the MedHat Mavericks in the same week.
Fast forward six years, Freed has blossomed into one of the hottest hitters in college baseball. As a junior, Freed holds team-highs with a .380 batting average, 30 runs, 52 hits, six doubles, three triples, 12 home runs, 49 RBIs — more than double the next player — and a .730 slugging percentage as of Monday.
For his efforts, Freed was named Big East Player of the Week in early March.
Notably, he also has started in every single game the Bulldogs have played so far this year and the outfielder has not yet coughed up a single error.
“He is really a great example of someone who has matured and developed in our program,” head coach Dave Schrage said. “This past summer in the Northwoods League gave him a lot of the confidence that we’re seeing now.”
And while his junior campaign comes and goes, Freed’s most exciting baseball games are still ahead. This upcoming summer, Freed is set to compete in the Cape Cod Baseball League, which hosts some of the best collegiate baseball players in the country.
If it sounds familiar, it’s because Pepiot played in the Cape Cod League just a summer ago.
“He’s gonna have a blast,” Pepiot said. “He’s gonna have everything he ever needed and wanted out there. It’s the best of the best going at it day in and day out. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime summer.”
With so many players in the Cape Cod League eventually playing professional baseball one day, Freed knows how competitive professional baseball is to get into, and that’s what excites him.
“You get to meet people from all around the country and the players that will be Big Leaguers one day,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing the best of the best.”
When asked where Freed would be in ten years, Pepiot and Schrage gave the typical pro baseball answers, but also some off the wall responses:
“He’ll either play professional baseball or manage his dad’s jewelry shop,” Pepiot said.
“He’ll probably invent some video game,” Schrage said of the Fortnite-loving Freed.
Through the childhood tragedy and the trials of being injured all throughout his high school career, Freed has grinded his way to the heights he has reached in his baseball career.
Although a cliche, Freed oozes the Butler Way. And if given the opportunity to play on a Major League field one day, he has proven that nothing can break him down. Freed’s been through the ringer and is still smiling on top.
“I took the opportunities given to me and ran with me and came out on top, I’d say,” Freed said.
CORBIN — The recognition keeps coming for Corbin’s Chase Estep, with the most recent acknowledgment coming when the junior was voted as the 13th Region Player of the Year by the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association.
Estep made a name for himself through his play on the diamond as a freshman at Corbin, and became well known statewide when he committed to the University of Kentucky and Coach Nick Mingione last season as a sophomore.
This season, Estep has once again led the Redhounds to another 50th District title and their first 13th Region Championship since 2005, as the shortstop, leadoff hitter, and closing pitcher for Corbin coach Cody Philpot.
Through 33 games, Estep has a batting average of .458 with seven home runs and 47 runs scored. He is No. 4 in the state in runs scored, and is in the top 25 for home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage and stolen bases.
Knowing that teams would try to pitch around Estep, Philpot made the decision to move his best hitter to the top of the lineup, as a way to almost guarantee a base runner to begin the game, and to put pressure on the opposing team to pitch to Estep.
“We started the year with him batting third, but we got to the point where we needed to get someone on base early, so I moved him there,” said Philpot. “This is a way we could also put pressure on the other team to make them pitch to him. He’s gotten his fair share of intentional walks this year, and with the way Noah Taylor is hitting the ball, teams have to decide if they want to pitch to Chase or give us a free runner and let Noah bring him in.”
While Estep is a threat to hit, steal a base, and score every time he comes to the plate, he has also been dominant on the mound for the Redhounds, in addition to being a phenomenal fielder at shortstop.
Estep has pitched nearly 33 innings this season, and has allowed 20 hits and five earned runs, while striking out 35 batters. His earned run average is an impressive 1.07 and he has a record of 4-1 this season. While he has the ability to be in the starting rotation, Philpot said his mentality is perfect for a closer.
“We don’t use him as a typical closer. We want to bring him in during the third or fourth inning and let him finish off a team for us,” said Philpot. “He has really accepted that role and he likes the moment and the pressure late in the game. His mentality fits that of a closer. We want the ball in his hand at the end of the game.”
The pressure of coming in to win a game is really constant for Estep. He is the focus of every team’s scouting report and is well known by every pitcher on the schedule because of his abilities. Philpot said that the added pressure of being a UK commit and one of the top talents in the state has not affected Estep.
“He has handled expectations well with everything that he has done. Everyone knows how good he is. Committing to UK brings added pressure, but he enjoys it,” Philpot said. “We’ve talked about staying within himself and not trying to do too much to carry the game. He knows the pressure is there and he wants to perform.”
Dynamic Belmont Duo Headed To Martinsville
The Martinsville Mustangs have announced the addition of two more players to the 2019 roster.
Freshman infielder Jack Capobianco and sophomore lefty Stone Selby of Belmont University are the newest members of the 2019 Mustangs.
Capobianco, a London, Kentucky native, has played in 29 games during his freshman campaign, recording a double and four RBI. The shortstop has also scored seven runs and stolen a base.
Meet Jack Capobianco
Hometown: London, Ky.
Fun Fact: He has one eye that is multicolored
Just 23 days until Opening Day!
Selby, a left-hander out of Hohenwald, Tennessee is 1-0 in 17 appearances so far this season. The southpaw has struck out 24 batters in 29 innings pitched and opponents are hitting just .261 against him. Selby recorded a big strikeout in the Bruins’ 10-1 victory over Lipscomb on Tuesday night.
: A HUGE strike three from Stone Selby keeps Lipscomb off the board through 4!
BU: 4, LIP: 0
Belmont is currently 20-20 on the year but holds an impressive 14-7 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Bruins will open a three-game set at Tennessee Tech this weekend.
The Mustangs are celebrating 15 seasons of Coastal Plain League baseball at historic Hooker Field in 2019. Martinsville opens the 2019 campaign on Thursday, May 30, at Wilson. For news and ticket information visit www.martinsvillemustangs.com or call 276-403-5250. The team can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Mustangs on on Facebook and Instagram @MartinsvilleMustangs and on Twitter @MVilleMustangs.
About the CPL:
The Coastal Plain League is the nation’s premier summer collegiate baseball league. Heading into its 23rd season in 2019, the CPL features 16 franchises playing in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. To date, the CPL has had over 1,450 alumni drafted and 118 alums – including 2017 ALCS MVP, 2017 World Series champion, 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, as well as 2017 NLCS MVP Chris Taylor – make their Major League debut. For more information on the Coastal Plain League, please visit the league website at www.coastalplain.com, and be sure to follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @CPLBaseball.
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