PHOENIX, Ariz. — As the Pine Creek hitters get their practice swings in before game time, a very distinct noise can be heard off the third base foul line.
It’s the sound of a controlled violent pop of a catchers mitt. A fastball was thrown. But not a standard early-season high school fastball. It’s a next-level fastball coming off the hand of Pine Creek senior Riley Cornelio.
“That’s what I listen for is how smoothly I can make that glove pop,” he says.
Away from the chilly weather patterns and bomb cyclones of Colorado, Cornelio looks at home on the mound at Arizona Christian University. He was brilliant in a 4-0 win over Lake Oswego (Ore.) on Wednesday. In six innings of work, he allowed just three hits and struck out seven hitters. And at times, he did it with 95 mph fastballs.
It’s appropriate that for him, that kind of heat feels normal whether it’s in the thin air of Colorado or under the sun in Arizona.
“It does,” Cornelio said. “I know I can throw the ball like that, I’m just trying to be consistent.”
He’s consistent enough that a noticeable presence of scouts in the area kept scribbling in their notebooks. One scout from the New York Mets made no secret about the fact that Colorado arms are often looked at when those teams roll down for spring break. For a few hours on Wednesday, the Class 5A No. 6 Eagles (3-3 overall) were the talk of campus.
It helps that Cornelio stays focused on the task at hand. In the win over Lake Oswego, there were plenty of moments that could easily rattle a pitcher. He was able to shake everything off and in some cases, use the inconveniences as motivation to get through any trouble he was in.
“You saw if you were watching the game a few questionable calls,” coach Glenn Millhauser said. “He was very stoic and it was business as usual. And he even got stronger as kids got on base.”
Certainly not all by himself though. Entering a game where he’s seeing unfamiliar hitters in an unfamiliar venue, he understands that the guys behind him on the field are more than capable of playing sound defense. It’s something that can make a highly-gifted pitcher even more confident. And that prospect is scary.
“The biggest thing I would say is I can rely on my defense,” Cornelio said. “Anybody I don’t know, I have my defense to fall back on. Even today we just saw the defense make clean plays every time we needed them.”
He gets it from them offensively as well. Kyle Moran went 1-for-3 with an RBI. He also scored a run to help Cornelio take the mound for the bulk of the game with his team ahead.
That can make a confident pitcher with a strong defensive backing even more dangerous.
“It’s a lot easier to pitch with a lead and we’ve been swinging the bat well lately,” he said. “That was a good pitcher so getting early runs gave us a lot of good momentum to build on.”
They’ll need that kind of momentum on Monday. The Eagles are back in Colorado, but will travel south to 4A No. 1 Pueblo West.