Baseball is a game of adjustments. As ballplayers move from Little League to high school and into college, adjusting to every pitch, every count, every inning in every game often makes the game so difficult that when one can succeed three times out of every 10 tries at the plate, it’s considered a success.
Mix in the level of talent from high school to college with adjusting to life off the field and in the classroom during freshman year, it’s no surprise some are unable to make the grade when it comes to succeeding on all fronts in their first year away from home.
For Topsail High School alum and Belmont Abbey student-athlete Sam Luchansky, the right-handed pitcher has overcome obstacles to put him in a good position both mentally and physically to have a solid sophomore campaign next season at school.
Flash black to 2014 and his junior year at Topsail. Luchansky was a second baseman/outfielder who occasionally took to the mound. His fastball wasn’t fast enough. His curve ball didn’t have the bite. He lacked a quality change-up, throwing like a traditional pitcher from an over-the-top arm slot.
Luchansky needed to make an adjustment. After months of working on a new side arm delivery, trying to perfect the arm slot and release point to not only consistently throw strikes, but to do it by relearning how to throw a baseball, the sidewinder eventually found his groove.
“I didn’t throw hard enough to begin with,” said Luchansky. “I wasn’t going to pitch in high school anyway so the coaches decided to try and give me a shot at ‘submarine,’ trying to do different things and it just ended up sticking. I found a nice little run to my fastball and a slider that’s still my best pitch and am developing that a lot.”
His senior campaign in 2015 may have not turned out the way he would have liked with a state title repeat, but Luchansky carved out a niche that made him a desirable candidate to pitch in college.
The numbers spoke for themselves as the righty allowed just two earned runs in 28 innings pitched as a senior in high school. He carried that dominance into the summer while throwing for the Hampstead Post 167 American Legion baseball team.
However, during his first year at Belmont Abbey this past spring, more adjustments had to be made and Luchansky was up to the test. He saw a drop in innings as any freshman pitcher would see in his first season at the college level. He also learned what life was like solely coming in to pitch out of the bullpen, with his days as a position player done like most every college pitcher who’d at some point played in the field and hit during their high school years.
“I really miss hitting and I think everyone misses hitting,” Luchansky added. “Pitching in college, there’s definitely a learning curve your freshman year. In high school no one was seeing a sidearm guy so you could get away with throwing it wherever you wanted. In college, the strike zone gets tighter; eyes get better at the plate. They’re picking a pitch to hit and not just swinging the bat. If it’s down the meat of the plate, it’s over the fence and I learned that really early.
“I played every inning of every game in high school. I like baseball enough so it’s not the worst thing in the world to sit in the bullpen and wait for your name to be called and you got to realize your role on the team.”
Now, with a year of college under his belt and a nearly perfected arm angle that’s increased his ball movement from the hill due to his unusual release point, Luchansky has built off his first season at Belmont Abbey, where he made 14 appearances and logged just 9.2 innings.
Luchansky was in the Port City twice this summer as the Petersburg Generals made a trip to Buck Hardee Field for a pair of Coastal Plain League contests against the Wilmington Sharks. He’s been virtually unhittable this summer, with 23.2 innings worked and a 1.90 earned run average. He’s allowed just five earned runs, with 22 strikeouts to 10 walks.
“This summer I’ve really been trying to work on some things my coaches and I talked about after the spring,” said Luchansky. “I’m trying to dominate early in the count, throw first pitch strikes and making the most of every outing. Facing some top level Division I hitters this summer is definitely helping me prepare for next season and I know that I will have opportunities at school come spring so just trying to get everything I can out of each time I take the mound.”
With some standout numbers and confidence growing after every inning logged as the deceptive relief pitcher, Luchansky can thank his work ethic and willingness to adjust as he readies for the upcoming season at Belmont Abbey.