King of Co-Lin K’s

Published 5:00 am Thursday, May 5, 2005

WESSON — Call it the Cajun Connection.

Following in his brother’s footsteps, Copiah-Lincoln CommunityCollege sophomore pitcher Ryan Belanger has achieved a new schoolstrikeout record with the Wolfpack. The Houma, La., product planson adding to his total this weekend in the NJCAA Region 23Tournament at Poplarville.

Belanger (5-10, 155) has recorded 96 strikeouts in 72.4 inningsthis season. He’s issued 21 bases on balls, allowed 65 hits andcompiled a 2.77 ERA in posting a 4-7 record.

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His older brother, Brandon, pitched for Co-Lin in 1998-99 andamassed 94 strikeouts for the region champions. Teammate ColbyCalcote of Brookhaven (Loyd Star) recorded 84 strikeouts in1998.

“My brother rags me about that record,” said Ryan, smiling andrecalling the recent conversation. “He claims I’ve pitched moreinnings.”

The 2005 Co-Lin edition has been plagued by injuries to keyplayers, starting in January before the season began. Ace hurlerColby Beach had to have reconstructive surgery on his elbow. TheWolves are taking a 24-24 record into the regional.

“We’ve had a lot of injuries this season,” said Belanger. “Myelbow bothered me for a couple of weeks. I’ve always been blessedwith a healthy arm.

“We have a good chance in the regional,” added Belanger. “Peoplejust have to step up and fill their roles.”

Belanger’s physical size is deceiving. His fastball has beenclocked in the low 90s. He averages 86-92 miles per hour. Hiscurveball averages 76-81 mph. He is developing a slider, with thehelp of Co-Lin pitching coach Bryan Nobile.

“My top out (speed) and consistency have improved at Co-Lin,”said Belanger. He starred for Vanderbilt Catholic in Houma duringhis prep career.

“Ryan is a small guy and he’s not your prototype pitcher,” saidCo-Lin head coach Keith Case. “But No. 1, he’s a competitor. He hasintensity and focus. He brings it to the mound every day.”

Case praised Belanger’s curveball. “His big pitch is hiscurveball. It’s a Major League-level breaking ball.”

Belanger said Case and Nobile work closely with the pitchers.”They give us (pitching) charts and I watch the hitters, too. Theyswing when they are on deck. They’re swinging to getcomfortable.

“Every batter is different,” he continued. “I try to mix it upas much as I can. I like throwing the fastball inside to thebatter. That’s my favorite pitch.”

Catcher Connection

Freshman catcher Matthew Schexnayder has a close connection withBelanger. He caught him during their high school careers atVanderbilt Catholic. They also played together during the summerleagues.

“I’ve been catching Ryan since I was 13,” said Schexnayder. “Hehas a lot of confidence on the mound.”

When things get difficult on the mound, the two players talk toeach other. “We’ll get on each other pretty good,” saidSchexnayder. “We have a little feud. It gets us both fired up. Ourteammates think it’s hilarious.”

Belanger said he appreciates Schexnayder. “I couldn’t have doneit without Matt behind the plate. Coach Case and Coach Nobile havehelped me out a lot the last two years.”

He also praised his teammates for their support in achieving thestrikeout record. “We have a bunch of good, tough guys at Co-Lin.Each one of us different. Everybody gets along real well. Teamchemistry is very important.”

USM Signs Belanger

Looking to the future, Belanger won’t follow his brother toTulane where Brandon earned All-American honors as a relief pitcherwith the Green Wave. Instead, the 20-year-old right-hander hassigned with the University of Southern Mississippi.

“I love Conference USA,” said Belanger. “My brother played init.”

Whenever he has free time, Ryan enjoys fishing. He used to huntalligators outside of Houma.

His oldest brother, Chad, also pitched in high school. He playedbriefly for Louisiana Tech. Their parents are Brud and KarenBelanger.

At Co-Lin, he has compiled a 3.15 GPA in the classroom. Casesaid, “Ryan takes care of business in the classroom, too. He’smature about the way he works and the way he wants to representhimself. He wants to be the best.”

Summer League Star

Last summer, Belanger pitched in the Clark-Griffith League inVirginia. He played for Vienna and was second in the league inearned run average.

“Ryan has succeeded wherever he has been,” said Case. “He’s hadsome tough luck this year because we haven’t made the plays behindhim and we haven’t supported him with runs. That’s very frustratingfor him. and our team.”

Case hopes his Wolves can find the right gear in the regional.That means Belanger will add more K’s to his record, too.