Reunion finds 2 pitchers traveling 2 different paths Pugliese tops Mills in battle of former Atholton hurlers


Reunions are bittersweet pleasures.

A part of you longs to relive the past pleasant times. Another part remembers the not-so-happy moments.

So it was Friday night when two fine pitchers squared off as opponents on the same Atholton High School field that three years ago they shared as teammates.

Atholton ruled the county roost in 1990, led by a stocky, red-haired bantam named Alex Pugliese -- an aggressive and overpowering pitcher who established a state single-season strikeout record of 154. When Pugliese pitched, victory usually followed.

His efforts led Atholton to a county title and earned Pugliese a fair share of notoriety. He received a partial baseball scholarship to William & Mary, a Division I school in Williamsburg, Va.

One bad memory darkened that season, however. Pugliese, despite an excellent extra-inning pitching effort, lost the regional championship game when two outfielders got their signals crossed and let a pop fly drop between them, allowing the winning run to score.

Playing in Pugliese's shadow that season was Jason Mills, whose skinny physique and slower fastball didn't awe batters the way Pugliese could.

But what Mills lacked in physical prowess, he compensated for with mental toughness -- a never-say-quit attitude that enabled him to carve out his own niche beyond Pugliese's tall shadow.

Mills went 6-1 during that season and Pugliese was 8-3.

Like Pugliese, Mills also now pitches for a Division I school, East Carolina University (Greenville, N.C.). But Mills had to make the team as a walk-on, without a scholarship.

So it was a sort of kismet when their respective summer-league teams met Friday and the two pitched against each other.

Both pitchers were unbeaten this summer so something had to give. Each had something to prove.

Pugliese, who has never recaptured that glorious spring of 1990 and has spent two disappointing seasons at William & Mary, wanted to prove that he's still one of the best pitchers the county has produced.

Mills, who went from being No. 14 on the ECU pitching staff at the beginning of this season to No. 6 by the end, wanted to prove he's as good or better than Pugliese.

Pugliese was pitching for Corrigan's (formerly Johnny's), the most prestigious 19- to 20-year-old baseball team in Maryland and beyond.

Corrigan's has won 10 of the last 13 All-American Amateur Baseball Association national titles, 37 straight Baltimore titles, and has helped to produce numerous pros, including Reggie Jackson.

Mills was pitching for the Reds, a first-year entry into the 19- to 20-year-old league. The Reds' lack of history was in sharp contrast to Corrigan's long, rich one.

In the end, form won out and Pugliese and Corrigan's emerged victorious, 7-4, in the Baltimore Major Unlimited League game.

Mills lost control of the strike zone during Corrigan's five-run second inning, walking three, allowing two singles and falling victim to a Reds' error.

Mills gave up a fourth-inning double and two walks, but pitched out of that jam with no runs, thanks to a diving catch by left ## fielder John Frank.

And Corrigan's, which scored once in the first inning without a hit, nicked Mills for its final run in the sixth inning when right fielder Eric Glasgow allowed a ball to pop out of his glove and over the fence.

So Mills ended up with a four-hitter, but walked seven.

"I didn't have my slider [his best pitch] at all, and my [changeup] didn't start working until later in the game," Mills said.

Mills, whose record dropped to 2-1, had pitched a no-hitter the previous Sunday against another tough team, Mayo of Anne Arundel County. He walked one, and another batter reached on an error.

At ECU this year he pitched 15 1/2 innings, allowed six hits, three earned runs, five walks and fanned eight, all in relief roles.

Pugliese allowed the Reds five hits, including a single, double and triple to John Frank, who also walked once.

Pugliese fanned nine and walked five before departing with one out in the seventh inning. The bottom five batters in the Reds lineup reached base just once, on a walk.

It was vintage Pugliese: fastball, slider and curve. He learned the latter two pitches one summer in American Legion ball from Coach Marvin Whittaker.

He said he hasn't learned any baseball at William & Mary, whose coach, Bill Harris, was fired this spring after he had compiled the nation's worst Division I career coaching record over five years.

Pugliese posted a 1-5 record and 4.70 ERA this spring in 33 innings.

"It was a pretty bush league program for Division I," Pugliese said. "We never ran, we had to take care of the field ourselves and the football team practiced on our outfield. I threw well this spring, but sometimes just threw the wrong pitch. And after a while, he [Harris] stopped using me. My confidence has been really low."

But Pugliese hopes his confidence improves this summer. He's off to a 4-0 start with Corrigan's, and the runs against the Reds were the first earned runs he's surrendered. He's also shopping around for a new college, one where he can improve his baseball talents. Delaware, Towson and University of Maryland Baltimore County are places he's investigating.

Once the game ended and most of the players and fans had departed, Pugliese and Mills talked briefly.

"We're good friends," Mills said. "But I wished I'd have had better stuff."

Some things never change.

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