Bugonowicz a rare breed on the mound for Hornets

Shenandoah University's Michael Bugonowicz fires a pitch during their April game against Bridgewater in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University senior Colin Morse calls fellow pitcher Michael Bugonowicz a warrior. Catcher Chase Smallwood says he’s got a rubber arm and a supremely confident demeanor. Longtime head coach Kevin Anderson has used the term “throwback” and “bulldog” when referring to Bugonowicz. Whatever term best describes the senior right-hander, it’s clear that Bugonowicz is a rare breed.

Entering Friday’s ODAC tournament game against Randolph-Macon College at Lynchburg’s City Stadium, Bugonowicz is Shenandoah’s go-to late-inning reliever. At other points this season, the 6-foot-2, 260-pound right-hander has been a workhorse starter.

His stat line alone is astounding.

Bugonowicz, who is 5-2 on the mound this spring, has worked out of the bullpen 70 percent of the time in 2018, and yet he ranks second on the team in innings pitched (58). He leads the Hornets in ERA (2.33), strikeout rate (9.93 per nine innings) and total appearances (16), and he’s also Shenandoah’s leader in saves (six) and complete games (two).

Bugonowicz has thrived as both a mid-week conference starter and a weekend closer, and Anderson – who is in his 15th season at Shenandoah – said he’s never in his coaching career had a pitcher who could not only assume both roles, but do them well.

“It’s a pretty special gift he’s got,” Morse, SU’s ace, said of Bugonowicz before practice on Wednesday evening. “But he just does the job. If you need him to do something, he wants to do it. He’s ready to go whether it’s 100 pitches, whether it’s 10. He wants to be the guy and I think that’s what a lot of us look to be.”

Bugonowicz, known as “Bugs” to his teammates and coaches, is no stranger to playing a position he referred to as “utility pitcher.” It’s one he said he’d held pretty frequently before transferring to Shenandoah from Luzerne County Community College in Pennsylvania prior to the 2016-17 school year.

This year it’s been a role that has proved invaluable to the Hornets.

Entering 2018, Anderson expressed confidence in a starting rotation that included Morse, the 2017 ODAC Pitcher of the Year, Bugonowicz, fellow senior Robert Klinchock and sophomores Gerard DePhillips and Reeves Lowry. The back end of SU’s bullpen, however, was cause for concern for Anderson and the coaching staff.

The Hornets opened the season by taking a committee approach to the closer role before Tyler Ritenour seized the job midway through the season. When Ritenour went down with a hand injury a few weeks ago, it was Bugonowicz who took over as SU’s primary late-inning arm.

Bugonowicz has recorded four saves in his last six relief appearances dating back to April 14. He closed out a 6-4 win over Hampden-Sydney to complete a two-game sweep in the opening round of the ODAC tournament on Sunday and recorded his sixth save in a 3-1 win over Penn State-Harrisburg on Monday evening.

He’s also 3-1 in five starts, his lone loss coming in his first appearance of the season, a 3-1 setback to Misericordia on Feb. 23 in which Bugonowicz allowed only one hit through five innings.

“He’s carried us this year, honestly,” Smallwood said. “Colin Morse has not had his best year, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that. After him, we’ve got a couple freshmen, we’ve got a couple younger guys, we’ve got a couple guys who haven’t pitched at the varsity level. Bugs has come in and just straight-out dominated.”

Even more impressive, Bugonowicz has gone the distance twice – both against Washington and Lee – in his five starts, and in three of those starts he’s thrown 125 pitches or more. Anderson said on Wednesday that Bugonowicz is a “throwback the whole way.”

“He’s what we all wanna strive to be in terms of commitment, in terms of support for the team,” Morse said. “I mean he’s out there supporting with his performance, he’s out there supporting with his personality. He’s a great kid. He’s funny. But he’s also very talented. It’s important for the younger guys, especially, to see that and grow into what he is, and it’s also important for us older guys who have been around. I’ve been here at the school longer than him but I still can learn a great deal from him, watching him pitch.”

For Bugonowicz, playing multiple roles within Shenandoah’s pitching staff in the same season boils down to one basic responsibility – “getting big outs in big situations.” It just so happens that those situations vary wildly on a game-by-game basis for the Hanover Township, Pennsylvania native.

“In some ways, yeah,” Bugonowicz replied when asked whether his approach on the mound changes based on the situation he’s put in. “Sometimes you come in the ninth inning and it’s a one-run game, it’s a tie game, and there’s sometimes you start the game and you’re trying to get deep in the game. There’s times when you come in and their best hitter’s at the plate. So it sort of varies between situations. You come in, either way you have to get outs, though.”

Bugonowicz, who throws from a low three-quarters arm slot, goes about generating outs with a four-pitch arsenal that includes a fastball that sits between 85-87 mph, a changeup and two breaking balls – a curveball and a slider – that split time as his out pitch. He also limits walks (he’s allowed only 16 against 64 strikeouts), and Anderson said Bugonowicz is aggressive and can work both sides of the plate with his fastball.

The constant evolution of Bugonowicz’s role on a daily basis also works in his favor, the right-hander said.

“How often do you see other teams, their closers starting the next game?” Bugonowicz said. “Versatility, that’s a big part of it. Basically you’ll see me throw one game and be like ‘oh, he’s not pitching today,’ then (I’m) out on the mound again. I feel like it shakes teams up a little bit, not expecting me to throw that game. So I feel like that sort of keeps teams off-balance a little.”

Bugonowicz, who said he chose Shenandoah after leaving Luzerne County because he felt it was the best place to improve himself as a player and a student, said a lot of the credit for his success at SU is a credit working with Anderson for the past two years.

“I was only here for two years but the group of guys that we’ve played with and the coaching staff makes it feel like I was here for four or five years,” Bugonowicz said. “I learned a lot from them and I hope to learn a lot more through (the ODAC tournament).”