West Xtra: Fort Cherry grad tunes his game in Federation League

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Matt Shaffer has thrown just one inning of college baseball in two years at Bethany College in West Virginia.

But this converted catcher has been Ohio Valley's No. 2 pitcher this summer in the Greater Pittsburgh Federation League.

Shaffer, a Fort Cherry High School alumnus who will be a junior at Bethany this fall, entered last weekend having thrown 212/3 innings, posting an 0-1 record with a 3.32 earned-run average with 18 strikeouts and nine walks.

"It's been a great experience," Shaffer said. "I just started pitching this year and this has given me an opportunity to work on all my pitches."

Shaffer said he throws a fastball, curveball, slider and split-change, a pretty deep repertoire for someone who until this past season was mostly on the receiving end of pitches.

Shaffer was mostly behind the plate at Fort Cherry, coming in to pitch occasionally as a reliever.

He also played exclusively at catcher for Bethany as a freshman, starting six games and playing in 11.

But he had just two hits in 24 at-bats, and Shaffer said that longtime Bethany coach Rick Carver asked him to make the switch to pitcher his sophomore season.

"Honestly, it didn't really faze me," Shaffer said. "If the coach needs you to play somewhere, you just do it."

Shaffer got in just two games for the Bison this past spring, giving up eight runs -- four earned -- while recording just three outs.

But he's been a revelation for Ohio Valley, which is short on pitchers. Mike Reilly, the son of Ohio Valley manager Pat Reilly, has thrown about one-third of the team's innings this season, but after him, no one else has thrown half as many innings as Shaffer.

"He told me that [Bethany] was working him as a pitcher," Pat Reilly said of Shaffer, who caught for Ohio Valley last season. "So in our second or third game, we threw him out there and he threw three scoreless innings.

"He can't go for very long -- the best we can really hope for is five strong innings -- but he's been good."

Shaffer's first appearance was against Allegheny Valley May 30, when he allowed just one hit and no walks in recording nine outs.

He came back four days later against Allegheny Valley and had his longest outing of the season, pitching seven innings and giving up four runs on 10 hits while striking out seven. He left with the lead, but the Bucs came back to beat Ohio Valley.

With Ohio Valley short on pitchers, he came back on three days rest to face the league's top team in the standings, the Steel City Black Sox. Shaffer held the Black Sox to just one run over 42/3 innings.

In fact, in 91/3 innings spanning three appearances against the Black Sox and St. Johns-Lefty's, the defending national champions, Shaffer has allowed just three runs.

He's hoping the experience gained against tough competition will benefit him when he returns to Bethany in the fall.

"Hopefully, the experience of facing a lot of batters will help me," Shaffer said. "I'm also building up my arm strength.

"I think this is the best way to get ready for next season."

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