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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Waterford’s Driscoll has figured it out at Eastern Connecticut

    Waterford’s Dan Driscoll has had an exceptional first season for reigning national champion Eastern Connecticut State University, leading the Warriors in wins (eight), innings pitched (72.1) and strikeouts (86), while sporting an ERA of 1.74 heading into this weekend’s NCAA Division III tournament regional at Cortland, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of ECSU athletics)

    Willimantic — Sometimes when Dan Driscoll gets in a jam on the mound, he thinks about the words of wisdom delivered by his former Waterford High School baseball coach.

    “Figure it out,” Art Peluso used to tell Driscoll and his fellow Lancers.

    Driscoll has kept that valuable advice in his back pocket since his high school days, including during a superb sophomore season pitching for Eastern Connecticut State University.

    He’s been remarkably consistent while helping anchor a strong Warrior pitching staff that owns a 3.46 earned run average, 13th best in the country in Division III. He leads the team in wins (eight), innings (72.1) and strikeouts (86) while ranking second in earned run average at 1.74.

    He’s figured it out.

    “My high school coach always used to say that,” Driscoll said Tuesday during a conversation on the ECSU campus. “That was his favorite catch phrase, `Figure it out.’ It works. Playing under him was great. Those words will always stick with me. Even in games.”

    At this weekend’s NCAA tournament regional in Cortland, N.Y., Driscoll will start one of the first two games for the Warriors (34-10), the defending national champion. Eastern begins play at 1:30 p.m. on Friday against Ithaca College.

    Driscoll, a 6-foot, 195-pound lefthander, has experienced a big growth spurt since beginning his college career at Mitchell College.

    He’s physically stronger, more confident and more refined as a pitcher. He credits his work in the weight room for some of his improvement.

    “I’m sticking to the program and going (to the weight room) virtually every day,” Driscoll said. “That’s really been a big change. But also my mentality has changed. I was a freshman last year. I have that experience and I’m a sophomore. That’s really helped me get to the next level.”

    Shawn Gilblair, Driscoll’s pitching coach at Mitchell last season before taking the same position at Eastern, has worked closely with the lefthander for two seasons.

    He’s noticed some major improvements.

    “Physically, he’s come a long way,” Gilblair said. “He’s increased his velocity significantly over the last year and a half or so since he got to college. That’s a testament to him and his commitment, moreso off the field than anything. He’s put the work in and built a stronger body.”

    Driscoll has made strides in his mental approach as well.

    Early in his career, he second-guessed himself a lot, according to Gilblair. But he gradually gained confidence.

    “He worked through some things and quieted his mind a little bit,” Gilblair said. “That’s been his biggest growth. He did a lot of that his freshman year at Mitchell. The success started to happen for him and realized he was good enough to pitch at this level and he just took it and ran with it.

    “The kid’s got moxy. He’s not somebody that’s going to shy away from any situation.”

    Take what transpired in the Little East Conference tournament last week against Southern Maine in a winners’ bracket game.

    Locked in a tight battle, Driscoll showed poise and grit, wiggling out of several jams and stranding 10 runners. He earned the win by pitching seven shutout innings, allowing nine hits while striking out five and walking nobody in a 4-2 victory. He’s given up more than three runs only once in eight starts.

    “It’s the inner belief that he has that his stuff is good enough,” Gilblair said.

    The Warriors went on to capture the Little East championship and receive an automatic bid to May Madness.

    Driscoll can lean on his previous experience in the NCAA tournament when he pitches this weekend in the regional. He made a relief appearance in Mitchell’s 10-8 NCAA tourney win over Lebanon Valley in 2022.

    “We had a very good run last year,” said Driscoll who went 6-0 with a 1.86 ERA with the Mariners. “It gave me experience. I didn’t pitch great in that game. I gave up a couple runs. I want to go back there and prove that I can pitch at that level.

    “It will be interesting. … I’ve definitely pitched well (this season). But I haven't had my best outing yet.”

    Driscoll is armed with four pitches, including a fastball that’s hit 87 miles per hour. He also has a curve, slider and changeup.

    When asked what his out pitch is, Driscoll responded: “All of them. I have confidence in all my pitches.”

    Opponents struggle to consistently make solid contact off Driscoll, who’s allowed just 48 hits in 72.1 innings. He also has great command, walking just 14 and striking out 86.

    “He’s one of the few guys that I’ve had in a long time that can throw three pitches in any count and any situation,” Gilblair said. “The majority of the time, there’s success behind it. He throws it with conviction.”

    Driscoll credits Gilblair, who also was a left-handed pitcher during his playing days at Eastern, for his development as a pitcher.

    “We work really well together,” Driscoll said. “He’s very, very good at his job. He’s gotten me to the point where I am today.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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