May 17, 2012

The Fayetteville Observer: Campbell reliever Matt Marksberry throwing hard again after injury


Staff writer
The Fayetteville Observer

BUIES CREEK -- Campbell pitcher Matt Marksberry would rather talk about his team than his individual talent.

Both subjects are worth discussing with the redshirt sophomore.

Marksberry, a left-handed reliever with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, has drawn looks from several major league scouts. As a third-year player who turned 21 last August, he'll be eligible for next month's draft.

The Camels have enjoyed a bounce-back season, from 17-37 a year ago to a school-record 38 victories heading into tonight's opener of their final Big South Conference series, thanks to rebound efforts from players such as Marksberry, who had Tommy John surgery in the summer before he arrived at Campbell.

He struggled on the mound as a redshirt freshman in 2011, posting a 7.17 ERA, and is 4-2 with a 3.49 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 28-plus innings this season. The team's ERA has dropped from 7.11 to 3.86 in the same span.

"Everybody's like brothers on this team," Marksberry said. "It's the closest team I've ever been on in my life."

Marksberry credits much of his success to the person he deems a second father: head coach Greg Goff.

Marksberry, 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, grew up a short drive from downtown Cincinnati and was a star pitcher at Glen Este High School, striking out 19 batters in a game as a senior. Later that season, he felt a tingling sensation after throwing a pitch but didn't think much of it. He continued to make his starts and finally grew alarmed when his fastball topped out at 82 mph in a 4-0 state playoff loss to Archbishop Moeller, which had a lineup featuring future Campbell teammate Tyler Hutchinson.

Marksberry pitched a little more in summer ball before visiting a surgeon and learning he had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow.

"It was culture shock," Marksberry said. "I was like, 'What am I going to do?' I wasn't really the brightest kid in high school, and I knew my only shot to go to college was baseball. I thought my only opportunity was gone, but Coach Goff is a great man."

Calling Goff to tell him about the injury, unsure if the coach would find a way to revoke the scholarship from a damaged recruit, tested Marksberry's nerves. Goff remained committed to Marksberry, whose surgery was performed by Cincinnati Reds medical director Tim Kremchek.

Marksberry shared a rehab facility with Major League pitcher Edinson Volquez, who had Tommy John surgery the same summer, before relocating to Buies Creek with a brace still protecting his arm. On scholarship but unable to play, he spent countless hours in the training room.

"I didn't have to go every day, but I went every day because I heard people say that sometimes you don't get your velocity back and sometimes you get stronger, throw harder," Marksberry said. "I wanted to be one of the ones coming back and throwing harder."

Marksberry actually returned to pitch briefly in one game as a true freshman, throwing a scoreless inning against UNC-Wilmington early that April, but the coaches shut him down again. He still didn't have a comfortable feel for his off-speed pitches last season as a redshirt freshman, and his fastball was in the high 80s.

The outing that told Marksberry he was back occurred against UNCW, at the end of a 5-2 loss to the Seahawks. Wearing No. 14 at the time, a nod to Reds legend Pete Rose, Marksberry faced five batters, walking one and relying on his curveball to strike out the other four, all swinging.

Aiming for title

This season, Marksberry's fastball has been clocked in the 93-94 range, but he prefers to throw between 88 and 92 with command. He was lights out in one of Campbell's most dramatic wins, a 7-6 victory against Winthrop in the Camels' first Big South series. That game lasted 12 innings, and Marksberry pitched the final five, shutting out the Eagles and helping Campbell extend its winning streak to 17 games. It improved to 23-3 later that day by completing a doubleheader sweep.

"You work hard, keep living and doing things right, good things happen," Goff said.

The Camels begin their final conference series tonight against Presbyterian with a 38-15 overall record and 13-8 league mark, good for second place behind traditional power Coastal Carolina. The draft is less than four weeks away, and while Marksberry admits it's impossible to ignore what's ahead, he insists that he's focused primarily on his team.

"The MLB draft, that's in the back of my mind," Marksberry said. "On top of my mind is trying to win the Big South championship and trying to help our team get where we want to go. In near sight is our season and that batter. I want to get that batter out."

Staff writer Bret Strelow can be reached at strelowb@fayobserver.com or 486-3513.