Don't let North Carroll senior pitcher Kevin Dull's last name fool you: He's been nothing but sharp this season in the Panthers' bid for a county title.
Sharp to the tune of five wins in five starts, a stingy 2.16 earned-run average and 34 strikeouts in 32 innings. The 18-year-old right-hander has a number of theories for his success this season.
"It all starts with our defense. The guys have played great behind me," said Dull.
"I have the confidence that I can challenge some hitters and know the plays will be made. We've also been in some close games late where they've given me the needed runs in the sixth and seventh innings."
Dull saw more time on the mound last season than he anticipated after a number of pitchers were sidelined by injuries. He finished the season with just three wins, but learned some valuable lessons along the way that are now paying dividends.
"I grooved the ball a little too much last year and found myself in some tough situations. I pitched a lot more than I expected and it has really helped my composure this year," he said.
North Carroll coach Randy Clark believes Dull's mental toughness has been the key to his success this season. He showed it earlier this season in a game against defending county champ South Carroll. He got into a couple of jams but had the ability to get big outs when it was needed. He went the distance in a 7-4 win.
"He paid some dues last year and had some outings where he had to grow up fast. He took his lumps a bit but learned a lot from it," Clark said.
"A lot of his success is just having another year under his belt. His mental toughness and overall maturity has been the difference. He's keeping the ball down more and has confidence in his defense."
Dull has three pitches -- a fastball, curve and change -- and isn't afraid to use any of them at any given time. He gives a lot of credit to catcher John Swam, who Dull said always keeps the batters guessing.
"He does a great job behind the plate. He just tells me what to throw and I throw it," Dull said.
"I just try to mix it up and go with what's working. I'm working with a little more velocity this season and the control's been there -- that's one of the big differences from last year."
When Dull's not on the mound, he's anchoring the Panthers' infield at shortstop and has a steady .316 batting average. Along with baseball, he was a captain on the soccer team in the fall and also plays a lot of golf. His plans to attend Elon College in North Carolina and is pretty much set on playing soccer.
But he knows he still has a lot of high school baseball left to play. The Panthers are 3-0 in the county, with Westminster right behind at 2-0.
"Winning the county is our No. 1 goal and we'll just go from there," Dull said.