Smoot continues to shut down Rams’ opponents

Mark Smoot

STRASBURG – Mark Smoot got put in a bit of an unfamiliar situation during Strasburg’s baseball game last week at Moorefield (West Virginia) High School.

With the Rams clinging to a 7-6 lead and needing only three outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to keep its unblemished record intact, Mark Smoot’s father and longtime Strasburg head coach Jeff Smoot turned to the senior left-hander to come in and close the door.

It was a largely foreign moment for Mark Smoot – a four-year starting pitcher for the Rams making just his second relief appearance in his high school career – who generally doesn’t like stepping foot on the mound before he’s gone through his typical routine of stretching, light throwing and long tossing prior to his warm-up session in the bullpen.

“When you relieve you can’t do that, you’ve just got to run down to the bullpen, maybe an inning before and just start chucking it. I don’t really like that,” Mark Smoot said Tuesday. “I like just having a routine every game, stretching. You can’t really stretch, and I don’t think you get that loose. I like a routine and when you relieve you don’t have a routine.”

It wasn’t exactly a smooth appearance for Mark Smoot – Moorefield eventually loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh following a pair of walks (one intentional) and a single – but the senior picked up his second career save when his twin brother and catcher, Ryan, picked off a runner at first base to end the game.

Three nights later Mark Smoot, the Northern Virginia Daily’s Male Athlete of the Week for April 28-May 1, was back in his comfort zone for the Rams as he started last Friday’s Bull Run District game at home against William Monroe. The lefty responded by pitching a complete-game shutout while limiting the Green Dragons to only three hits in Strasburg’s 3-0 victory, his seventh win in as many decisions this spring.

“He pitched real well,” Jeff Smoot said. “Had to work out of some tough situations. We did make some very good defensive plays behind him to help get us out of a couple of uncomfortable situations.”

Early in his high school varsity baseball career, Mark Smoot benefited from being groomed as a starting pitcher in low-pressure situations against some of the weaker opponents on Strasburg’s schedule.

Last season, Mark Smoot thrived as part of a tandem atop the Rams’ pitching staff alongside then senior Tyler Doman, as the lefty went 7-1 with a 1.85 earned run average and 42 strikeouts as Strasburg advanced all the way to the Group 2A state championship game.

Mark Smoot has continued that success this spring, as he’s used an 80 mph fastball accompanied by a curveball and a changeup (three pitches he says he can throw for strikes every night) to already match his win total from a season ago. Mark Smoot said he thinks that three of his eight starts in 2015 have been complete-game shutouts.

“He does not overpower people, but he throws hard enough that what he is able to do is all of the other things,” Jeff Smoot said. “He can control the running game. He can throw three pitches for strikes. He can throw to both sides of the plate, particularly away from arm side, which a lot of pitchers have trouble with. He’s a solid fielder. He understands how to get hitters out.”

Jeff Smoot added that Mark’s greatest strength might be his composure on the mound, saying that he hoped the left-hander’s ability to shake it off when things don’t go well is rubbing off on his teammates.

Behind the leadership of Mark Smoot and fellow left-handed senior Garrett Richards, the Rams have allowed only 17 runs in 14 games this season, an average of 1.2 runs per contest. Six of Strasburg’s wins have been shutouts, and the six runs surrendered against Moorefield were twice as many as the Rams have given up in any other game this spring.

“Coming into this year I wasn’t going to do more than I thought I could do,” Mark Smoot said. “I was just going to take it game by game … and pitch to the best of my ability. I couldn’t try to pitch for Garrett, or be the one and the two. I had to be the one. I had to take care of the Monroes, the [George] Masons here in a week. I think as a staff, we just throw guys out there who can throw strikes, throw three pitches and just get soft contact. That’s how we’re doing it.”

A day after Strasburg’s win over Moorefield, Mark Smoot announced that he would continue his baseball career at Division III Ferrum College. He said he chose Ferrum over Eastern Mennonite University, Bridgewater College and Lower Columbia College, a two-year community college in Longview, Washington.

Mark Smoot said he was tempted by the allure of playing for former University of Virginia assistant coach Eddie Smith at Lower Columbia, but he chose Ferrum because it offered his major (criminal justice) and provided the college atmosphere he was seeking.

“When you go out there [to Lower Columbia] you have to live in an apartment. I just wanted more of a college setting, in a dorm and all that,” Mark Smoot said, adding that he also knows two players on Ferrum’s baseball team, including Page County graduate Ty Comer. “I was really close to going out there but I was like I’m just going to do my four years in Virginia, get a criminal justice degree in a college setting.”

Mark Smoot’s college announcement came shortly after Ryan Smoot made his own announcement that he was going to attend Division I Virginia Military Institute next school year.

“Their mom and I, we’re proud of them,” Jeff Smoot said. “Athletics have been important to them. I think more so, Strasburg athletics have been important to them. They both certainly bleed purple. And I think their chance to play at the next level is a reward for their work and the effort that they put into their athletic careers, not just in baseball but in other sports and in the weight room and that type of thing. We’re proud of them and we’re happy for them.”

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