Pilots' Tyler McSwain grounded by church and family

HAMPTON

Tyler McSwain looked forward to this morning's services at Hope Baptist Church in Sophia, N.C. His hometown friends, favorite hymns and father's sermon.

The four-hour, middle-of-the-night drive? The subsequent sleep deprivation?

No worries. With Monday and Tuesday off, the Peninsula Pilots' best starting pitcher has plenty of time to recover.

Or so he thought.

Rather than snoozing and playing golf, McSwain will travel from home to the Coastal Plain League All-Star Game — a Monday fan fest precedes Tuesday's competition in Wilmington, N.C.

The honor is deserved, despite an original snub.

"We weren't sure we had an ace," Pilots coach Hank Morgan said of his pitching staff. "But Tyler has (emerged)."

Indeed, McSwain's talent and humility combined to cloud Morgan's judgment Thursday as the right-hander struggled through his worst outing of the season.

"I thought about taking him out in the third inning and again in the fourth," Morgan said, "and someone else I probably would have. But I wanted to give him a chance at the win. He'd earned that right."

So Morgan stuck with McSwain through the fifth inning, the minimum required for a starter to receive a victory. The Fayetteville SwampDogs took advantage, roughing up McSwain for 10 hits and five runs, two coming on Tanner Biagini's line-drive home run with two out in the fifth.

McSwain, a rising sophomore at UNC Wilmington, did not figure in the decision as the Pilots rallied to win 8-7. It was the first time he'd needed a bailout from the offense.

Entering Thursday's start, McSwain had pitched 23 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, a streak that included the game of his life: a one-hitter July 9 against the Wilmington Sharks.

McSwain struck out 10, walked one, threw a robotic 84 pitches and faced the minimum 27 batters in the 2-0 road victory. And who foiled his perfect game with a single leading off the seventh inning? College teammate Mike Rooney.

"He hit a pretty good pitch, a curve ball down but over the plate," McSwain said. "I couldn't get too mad at him."

McSwain's scoreless stretch ended quickly Thursday as the SwampDogs opened the game with three consecutive opposite-field singles to take a 1-0 lead. His best stuff clearly AWOL, McSwain made no attempt to mask his frustration on the mound, kicking and pawing at the dirt.

Ironically, he'd learned a few hours earlier of his all-star selection — he was chosen not originally but to replace a late scratch caused by injury.

Picking at a postgame stadium meal of baked chicken, mashed potatoes and mac-and-cheese, McSwain lamented his poor control and the grooved 3-0 fastball that Biagini, a rising VMI senior, crushed.

But what of his all-star honor?

"I don't really need that," McSwain said. "I was just looking forward to going home."

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