Luke Crumley’s first start couldn’t have come against a better opponent last season.
The White County graduate and then University of Georgia freshman started his first collegiate baseball game against what was, at the time, the No. 1 team in the country in Florida on a Sunday.
For a breather, his next start a week later was in Baton Rouge, La. against No. 4 LSU.
“He made a great transition, gave us a chance in both games,” said Georgia coach Dave Perno, who added that he hated that he didn’t start him sooner.
“He was a difference maker for us last year — as soon as he went into the Sunday starter role he gave us a chance to win on the weekends, and I think he’s ready to take off this year.”
The 6-foot-6, 190-pound sophomore right-hander from Cleveland finished his freshman season 3-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 37.1 innings pitched, including five starts down the stretch.
Perno liked him so much as a weekend starter that he said he’s likely to return to that role again this season, only this time right from the get go, making Crumley a key component of a Bulldogs team looking to challenge some of the country’s best for the SEC East title.
“If we win the East, the rest will take care of itself,” Crumley said. “Then we want to win the regional.”
His former coach at White County, John Brown, isn’t surprised with how well Crumley, a 2011 graduate, is doing.
The Warriors coach listed his former ace’s attributes, “He throws it 92-93, his stature, his maturity. His size helped him a lot, and he had a lot of experience playing in quality travel ball leagues.”
Crumley also helped lead White County to a Region 8-AAA title in 2011 along with fellow senior, and now fellow Georgia sophomore, David Sosebee.
He was good then. Now, as he continues to grow into his formidable frame, his prospects for the rest of his collegiate baseball career — and possibly further — are only improving.
“Early on he hadn’t quite put it all together, and he had a little unorthodox delivery, but he cleaned that up,” Perno said. “I think he has one of the best changeup’s that we’ve ever had, and he has a chance to be one of the best we’ve ever had, especially when he commands his fastball like he can.”
The transition to big-time college baseball did come with a few bumps in the road, however.
In high school, Crumley remembered being able to simply throw his low 90s fastball by many of the hitters he faced — not so in the SEC.
“The batters are definitely a lot better, you can’t just rare back and throw it by SEC hitters,” he said. “You have to learn to pitch a lot more.”
The former White County ace also had to learn to throw out of the bullpen, something he did for the first part of the season.
He remembered his worst outing during that time, a game against Kentucky when he entered with Georgia up three runs, then proceeded to blow the lead.
He said it was one of his more important lessons.
“It was big for me,” Crumley said. “It taught me how to respond and be able to bounce back, and work my way up from there.”
He continued to work and improve, and before long his coach eyed him for a starter’s role. Crumley didn’t get much time to think about that first start.
“I was surprised; I hadn’t really pitched that much,” he said. “We had a big-inning game Friday, but I didn’t pitch, and then Saturday I didn’t pitch, and that night they said, ‘lets go with you Sunday.’”
He pitched three innings against the Gators, and then threw four or five innings the rest of the way, blossoming in the role he felt most comfortable with.
“I don’t want to use Luke as a reliever — when he gets comfortable, he gets better,” Perno said. “I don’t think we could get him into a starter’s role quick enough.”
“I like being able to control the game from the get go,” Crumley added, “trying to get your team off to a good start.”
Now he’s been working in the offseason to make sure his second season gets off to an even better start than his first.
With the slowest part of the year in the rearview mirror, Crumley has begun throwing in preparation for the January practices that lead into the beginning of the regular season in February.
“He’s worked hard over the holidays, and I think he’s going to come out in January better than in his whole career,” Perno said. “And he’s a great teammate, he’ll do anything he can to help the team.”
Whether that means relieving or starting, even a last-minute start against the nation’s best.