Reith continues to lead Wildcats’ pitching staff

Warren County senior right-hander John Reith has resumed his role as the Wildcats' top pitcher this season. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – John Reith saw enough action on the mound as a reliever for Warren County High School’s baseball team during his sophomore season to get a grasp of what it took to be a successful pitcher at the varsity level.

Expecting a larger role on the mound his junior season, Reith went to work two summers ago preparing his arm for a starting role. When he took the mound for the Wildcats’ season opener last spring, Reith emerged as the ace of Warren County’s pitching staff.

“Honestly, I don’t really think it was planned that way,” Reith, now a senior, said recently. “I kind of got the call one game to start against Skyline. It was the very first game and I just took the ball and ran with it, basically.”

Reith would go on to open the 2014 season with three straight complete-game victories for the Wildcats, and the right-hander finished his junior season with a 4-3 record, a 1.97 earned run average and 41 strikeouts in 42.2 innings pitched. He was a second team all-Bull Run District and all-Conference 28 selection.

With the mentality of a starting pitcher firmly entrenched in his mind in the months leading up to his senior season this spring, Reith entered the 2015 campaign once again as Warren County’s top arm.

Prior to Reith’s short outing in a loss to Clarke County on Wednesday, the senior was 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA, 17 hits allowed, 16 walks and 28 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched this spring.

“He’s a kid that’s really worked in the offseason, going to camps just to get better,” Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said. “Baseball’s his sport. … He’s done a lot of work on his own. [Assistant] coach [Jon] Nicholson’s worked with him quite a bit in the offseason, which has really helped. Extremely coachable. Very competitive. Extremely competitive, although you wouldn’t know it just talking to him. He kind of keeps it internal.”

It’s that competitiveness that Mathews said serves to help Reith pitch so deep into games. Reith has two complete games among his five starts on the mound this season.

“That’s the internal bulldog that you don’t really see. That’s just him being a competitor,” Mathews said.

Reith, who is “not too happy” when he’s removed early from a start, says Mathews, said his goal each start is to go the full seven innings, and he makes every effort to ensure that’s the case every time he steps on the rubber.

“A lot of it is endurance during the offseason, practice and running a lot. Just pitching a lot,” Reith said. “The most important thing is just keeping your pitch count low. Also during those complete games I was throwing over 100 pitches but it wasn’t 130 or something like that. A lot of it is more pitching to contact than trying to get strikeouts because strikeouts do tend to run up your pitch count a lot. That’s really the main key, for me at least.”

Reith said he considers himself to be a pitch-to-contact thrower, although not in the traditional sense in that he possesses a powerful fastball that generally sits in the mid-80s, which is accompanied by two off-speed pitches. Reith’s 27 strikeouts prior to Wednesday were among the most in the area.

“When he’s at his best, he’s able to get all three pitches over,” Mathews said. “He has an above-average fastball, above-average curveball, above-average changeup. When he’s able to get all three and then start hitting location, I mean he’s really tough.”

Reith’s success on the mound was enough to catch the eye of the coaching staff at Division II Alderson Broaddus University, located in Philippi, West Virginia. Through a recruiting profile he set up through Baseball Factory – a company that specializes in player development and generating college interest for high school baseball players – Reith came in contact with the Battlers’ coaching staff and visited the school’s campus last August.

Reith, who was sold on the school’s small-town feel, said he will attend Alderson Broaddus this fall on a partial athletic and academic scholarship. The Battlers baseball team is 29-13 this season and has a chance to secure the top seed in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference tournament this weekend.

“They were actually one of the first schools that gave me a tryout showcase date,” Reith said. “I went there and the coach seemed to like me and a couple months later we were in the works of a scholarship offer.”

Reith credits much of his success on the mound during his high school career to his work ethic – “When I’m not pitching, I’m pitching,” he says – and Mathews said the senior has made the rest of the Wildcats’ pitching staff better by serving as a positive role model.

Mathews called Reith a great leader not only on the baseball diamond, but also in the classroom.

“Great kid,” Mathews said. “What you see on the baseball field, he’s real competitive here and in school he’s real quiet. Not one discipline incident the whole time he’s been here. You know he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be and do what he’s supposed to do. Again, he’s a team leader and he sets a good example in school also.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com