Cunningham signs with Mount Olive College
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on July 4, 2004 2:00 AM
MOUNT OLIVE -- A recruiting coup?
A few college scouts looked at Philip Cunningham this past spring, but disappeared without a trace once the signing period began. Cunningham received attention from some in-state colleges, but none appeared too interested in giving the Charles B. Aycock standout a tryout.
Except Carl Lancaster.
The veteran Mount Olive College coach stayed in contact with Cunningham throughout the season, but expected the hard-throwing right-hander to get picked up by a Division I program. As the signing period progressed, no one claimed Cunningham.
Lancaster seized what he called a "missed" opportunity. The two met earlier this week and Cunningham signed a national letter-of-intent to play for the NCAA Division II school.
"Philip, for some reason, fell through the cracks for the bigger schools," Lancaster said. "For whatever reason, he just didn't get seen enough by those guys. We felt like a local kid, with the ability he's got, we certainly wanted to try to get him into our program."
Cunningham was disappointed that more college scouts didn't call or visit. When Lancaster made an offer, Cunningham quickly accepted. The chance to remain close to home and hunt during his free time also influenced his decision.
An all-Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference pick, Cunningham helped Aycock amass 38 wins the past two seasons. He played a significant role his junior season as the Golden Falcons advanced to the eastern regional title game, losing 1-0 to East Chapel Hill.
Cunningham, admittedly, knows he needs to develop a deeper arsenal to be successful on the college level. He throws a fastball that consistently hits in the high 80-mile-per-hour range and also utilizes either a curveball or a cut fastball.
"I don't care who is up at bat, I'm going to throw them a fastball to see if they can hit it," a grinning Cunningham said.
That aggressiveness also attracted Lancaster to Cunningham.
"What I like about him more than anything else is he's very competitive," Lancaster said. "Once he gets on the mound, he goes at it hard. We feel like he's got some flaws in his mechanics that he can clean up a little bit and probably get more out of him.
"We're going to experiment with some grips and maybe a little arm angle, and he could turn out to be real special."
But Cunningham realizes his fastball won't intimidate college hitters. He knows he needs a change-up -- something in his repertoire that he can use to challenge batters in the box.
"That's the main thing he's got worry about is picking up a change-up that he's got confidence enough to throw," Lancaster said. "His arm angle is good enough where he throws a decent curveball, but we feel like the slider is going to be his pitch.
"It won't take him long to understand that he has to pitch below the belt. College hitters hit a good fastball and he'll learn that's not going to be his main pitch -- a pitch not good enough unless he has something to go along with it."
Cunningham joins a pitching staff that will return 10 lettermen who helped the Trojans capture the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference tournament championship this season. He probably won't crack the starting rotation as a freshman, but with his bulldog-like approach on the mound, Lancaster can easily see Cunningham sliding into a closing role.
"He's going to go right at you, and he's got a lot of grit in him with a desire to win," Lancaster said. "That's obvious when's he out there. We're tickled to death to get him here."
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