Lufkin’s Ross nails pitching audtion

Collin Ross would love playing professional baseball some day.

So Sunday not only presented a shot at winning a Little League World Series game, but also some networking opportunities. As Ross pitched against Fairfield, Connecticut, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals players watched him throw. If it was an audition, Ross certainly nailed it.

Ross threw a complete-game 4-hitter, struck out eight and retired the final 14 batters he faced as Lufkin, Texas defeated Connecticut, 6-3 and earned a spot in Wednesday’ s winner’s bracket final. A win there would send Lufkin to the U.S. Championship.

“I wanted to pitch good for all the pitchers there so they could tell their coaches about me,” Ross said.

It never hurts to make a good first impression. Ask anyone who has watched Ross play all summer, though, and they would likely say Sunday was just another day at the office.

The hard-hitting, hard-throwing 12-year-old has been one of Lufkin’s most valuable players this year and has made a huge impact thus far at the Series. In addition to pitching so well Sunday, Ross is 4 for 6 with two home runs and a double.

Ross went 2 for 3 in each of Lufkin’s first two wins against Michigan and Connecticut. He singled and doubled Sunday, but it was his pitching that especially stood out. Retiring the last 14 batters and beating a team that had not lost in 19 games thi summer can do that for a person.

“Collin is a good pitcher,” Texas manager Bud Maddux said before Ross threw Sunday. “He will go out there and give us a good outing.”

Ross made his manager look like a prophet, although he did experience some early bumps in the road. Connecticut scored three times in the second inning and Ross allowed four hits during that time, including a home run and a double. Still, he remained unfazed and like a scientist, went to the lab and fixed some things.

Ross said he was delivering the ball too high and not generating enough velocity those first two innings. He lowered his release point from that point forward and was consistently throwing in the mid-70s as he started mowing through a potent lineup.

“I tried pitching different,” Ross said. “I was going over the top and not getting a lot of velocity so I tried lowering my arm angle and it worked.”

Ross let only two balls leave the infield after surrendering his final out. He also struck out five over the last five innings, walked none and gave his team a shot at coming back after trailing 3-1 early. Ross threw 85 pitches, consistently worked ahead, hit his spots, mixed his pitches and grew stronger as the game progressed.

In front of Major League pitchers, Ross delivered his own pitching clinic.

“He pitched a good ball game,” Maddux said. “After that third inning he kept his pitches down and did a really good job.”

Ross is equally impressive at the plate or playing in the outfield. The 5-foot-11, 153-pounder is a weapon on both fronts and jump-started Lufkin’s run at the Series in his first at-bat last Thursday. Ross fought back from an 0-2 count, worked a full count and then drilled a long home run over the left-field wall as Texas took a lead it never lost.

One could not ask for a much better Series start than Ross provided Texas. He was at it again in his next at-bat, homering again and putting Texas up, 4-0. His early home run jolted Texas and his second homer was part of three straight by Texas as it broke open what had been a close game.

“I feel like I got my swing back,” Ross said. “When I hit the first home run I was just thinking, ‘Ok, I hit my home run, now I just need to get base hits.’ The next one was a line drive and it just happened to go over.”

Ross has delivered similar performances all summer, helping Lufkin reach the Series for the first time. Maddux has coached for 41 years and has long been known for running hard practices and making players better.

Ross is yet another example of hard work paying off. Without that drive, Ross might not be playing at the Series. And he might not have had that shot at impressing the Major Leaguers.

“I thought it was going to be a little rough,” Ross said. “But in the end it’s been great.”

One could say the same about Ross.