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El Toro's Spooner quietly building stellar resume
For three years, Bradley Spooner waited, never giving any sign he was growing impatient.
Spooner, a senior right-handed pitcher for El Toro, spent his first three years in the program developing at the lower levels, while younger kids were brought up to varsity to help out immediately.
Throughout those years, Spooner trusted the system and his coaches, never questioning why others were given an opportunity on varsity before him.
“In terms of waiting, it really helped because I got my mindset into knowing I needed to watch varsity games,” Spooner said. “See how they handle each pitch against the batters and work around that.”
That patience is paying off. This season Spooner is quietly putting together numbers that could have him considered as one of the best senior pitchers in Orange County.
Confidence has been key and its hung around since Spooner’s first performance of the season, a complete-game shutout over Irvine in early March.
Spooner’s repertoire of pitches doesn’t necessarily overpower hitters, but his constant pounding of the strike zone forces batters to make their move before it’s too late.
More often than not, those hitters turn into easy outs.
“He just pounds the zone and there’s no real mystery to it,” said Mike Gonzales, the Chargers baseball coach. “If he can throw strikes, attack hitters and trust the defense, he’s going to be just fine.”
Through seven starts, Spooner has seven complete games, four shutouts and sports a 1.69 ERA that would be significantly lower if it weren’t for one outing against one of the better offensive teams in the county.
Spooner’s only recollection of his early days in baseball was that he started playing because it was the sport of choice among his friends.
His father was a huge football fan, he said, but the combination of intrigue and possible peer pressure took Spooner in a different direction.
“My dad hated baseball; he was a football fan growing up,” Spooner said. “I just had a lot of friends that played baseball and I wanted to join them and found out that I was pretty good. I was decent as a tee-baller.”
When he was old enough, Spooner began pitching and playing infield with the Saddleback Cowboys and ASD Bulldogs travel teams.
Upon reaching high school, Spooner focused solely on pitching. He came in smaller in size than most, but willing and eager to keep learning.
“I was very small. Everyone was outgrowing me and getting stronger,” Spooner said. “I hit a growth spurt my sophomore year. My arms were all dangly and big, so I knew I was going to grow.”
Spooner was forced to adjust to his new height and length he possessed on the mound.
Those transitions may have slowed his move to varsity, but Spooner saw it as an opportunity to gain experience with those changes.
“It was just a matter of time like when he was going to start hitting his peaks,” teammate Gavin Garcia said. “His parents are tall, so it’s expected with his 6-foot-7 wingspan.”
While younger pitchers in Sam Glick and Noah Fluman gained notoriety on varsity, Spooner had a productive year on junior varsity last season through hard work and observation. When he wasn’t on the mound, he would notice what others were doing from the dugout.
In preparation for his senior season, Spooner hit the weight room for at least two hours on three or four occasions per week to get stronger against on varsity competition.
“He had a good summer and he’s had a great spring,” Gonzales said. “All his hard work, he’s waited for his time and now its here and he’s taking advantage of his opportunity.”
Spooner isn’t flashy on the mound. He keeps his approach simple and it works.
With his command of the strike zone, Spooner keeps his pitch counts down. He has yet to throw 100 pitches in a start this season and, in a 2-1 win over Capistrano Valley on March 22, he threw fewer than 10 pitches per inning.
“He keeps his pitch count down because he throws a lot of strikes and a lot of guys swing early on him,” Gonzales said. “He gets a lot of low-pitch innings. It’s a nice luxury to have as a coach, knowing that we’re going to get at least five, maybe seven innings, out of one guy.”
Spooner routinely works ahead in the count and his coaches trust that he can throw any of his three pitches – a fastball, curveball and changeup – for a strike in any count.
In adding to his precision, his ability to locate his pitches down in the strike zone induces a high number of groundball outs.
“(We) pretty much expect anything to happen and at any point a hard ball is going to come at me,” said Garcia, a corner infielder. “He just keeps throwing strikes so the defense can do the work for him.”
But, as with almost every baseball player, Spooner has had a rough outing. It came on April 3 against Tesoro, a 11-0 loss in which he allowed 10 runs on 32/3 innings.
Every member of the team agreed it was just one of those days. When Spooner took the mound in his ensuing start against Trabuco Hills, April 18, no one could tell his previous outing was his worst of the season.
“He’s remained the same. He’s a pretty even-keel guy, he’s real loose,” Gonzales said. “It happens to everyone, but you get back out there when you get the ball again and trust your stuff, and that’s what he did.”
Because he shows so little emotion, batters have a hard time picking up where Spooner may locate a pitch during an at-bat.
“If I show that I’m angry or happy, they base their at-bats on that,” Spooner said. “If I’m mad, they’ll think I’ll throw a fastball because I’m angry and I just want to blow it by them. How I express myself effects how they do.”
That Spooner hasn’t given many opponents an opportunity to get to him this season is perhaps a product of his patience during his development in the Chargers’ lower levels.
After all, this season is his one shot. He has no plans on letting it go to waste.
“He works on his craft a lot,” Gonzales said. “He’s a guy that likes to throw a lot, whether he’s come off of a start or not. He just likes to get a good feel for the ball out of his hands and that has resulted in the season he’s having.”
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