For Pfeiffer University baseball coach Mark Hayes, there is nothing ambiguous about the role Bryan Tuttle fills on his team. Tuttle, a right-handed pitcher, just finished his junior season at the Division II school in Misenheimer, N.C. The 2009 Hibriten graduate earned a spot on the Conference Carolinas all-conference first team for the second year in a row.
“He’s been the ace, no question,” Hayes said. “The ace on the mound, in terms of production and numbers but also in terms of that bulldog approach and the mentality we look for in pitchers and recruits. He’s able to display that every time he takes the mound.”
Tuttle, who also played American Legion ball for Caldwell County Post 29, posted a 7-3 record in 13 starts for the Falcons (25-25). He completed five of those games, racking up 82 1/3 innings.
Tuttle’s 2.73 ERA ranked fifth in Conference Carolinas, while his 83 strikeouts were first and compared favorably with his 12 walks.
“That’s something that just sort of came naturally growing up,” Tuttle said. “I’ve always had pretty good control.”
The numbers were similar to the ones Tuttle put up as a sophomore, when he went 6-4 with a 3.50 ERA, 83 strikeouts and 21 walks 72 innings.
But not everything has gone according to plan for Tuttle in his college career.
Not wanting to sit on the bench as a freshman, he pursued an opportunity for playing time at Pfeiffer, only to deal with a tired arm that caused him to miss a chunk of the season. Tuttle went 1-3 with a 7.61 ERA in 23 2/3 innings.
He rebounded over the summer of 2010, when he rediscovered success with the 29ers.
“It was kind of like a warm-up,” Tuttle said. “Building off the Legion hitters, you face some good ballplayers and then I had to turn around and play college guys, so it kind of built me up.”
Tuttle returned to Pfeiffer with a year of experience and a rested arm, then made his big leap.
“Once he did that and figured out what it took to win at the college level, there was no turning back,” Hayes said.
The only potential stumbling block was a serious injury to Tuttle’s pitching shoulder. He felt a sharp pain in the joint near the end of his sophomore season and was diagnosed with a tear to his labrum, the cartilage that helps connect the arm bone to the socket.
Tuttle underwent surgery in July and couldn’t pick up a baseball until December.
But when Pfeiffer opened against Lenoir-Rhyne on Feb. 1, Tuttle not only took the mound, he also didn’t allow an earned run in six innings, totalling seven strikouts. He still had his stuff, despite the injury.
“I’ve always been an off-speed guy, so I didn’t have to throw as hard as I could every time,” said Tuttle, who uses a fastball, changeup, curveball and slider. “So I think that made it easier.”
Tuttle allowed three or fewer earned runs in all but two starts, but the jewel of the bunch came against powerhouse Mount Olive on April 14. In what he called the highlight of his season, Tuttle surrendered only one run on four hits in seven innings and struck out eight to stop the fourth-ranked Trojans’ 22-game winning streak.
Tuttle is taking the summer off from baseball to give his arm a rest but will be back with the Falcons next season as a senior.
His coach is expecting even bigger things.
“You never count Bryan Tuttle out,” Hayes said. “He’s going to continue to get better and continue to push himself. He’s not going to be satisfied with where he’s at. He wants to win a conference championship and go to regionals, and he’s going to do everything in his power to make himself better and make those around him better. That’s what a leader does.”