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Justin Blood and Sean Newcomb turning around Hartford Program

In three years, Sean Newcomb has done a lot for the Hartford baseball program.

His pitching perfection started earlier this season with a 0.00 ERA through his first six starts. This has brought on intense media attention while having MLB scouts to campus to the Hawks’ (18-14 overall, 6-2 America East) games, giving the program a boost in attention and his teammates who had not yet reached scouts’ radars a chance to grab their eye.

The lefty pitcher and potential first round draft pick in June’s MLB Draft has a sense of his impact on the Hartford baseball program. But what he may not fully realize is how much he has impacted his head coach, Justin Blood, and how much that relationship has played into both of their successes.

“We relate to each other more than I think we realize,” said Blood, a former lefty pitcher himself for New England Division II power Franklin Pierce. “As much as he has helped me, I hope I have helped him.”

Blood, a Keene, New Hampshire native, started coaching at Hartford after a successful assistant coach stint at UConn which he helped oversee two players get drafted in the first round including current Houston Astros outfielder George Springer. Newcomb, a Middleboro, Mass. native, joined the program as a freshman during Blood’s first season with the Hawks. The similarities between the two are striking.

“I think Sean and I have a lot more in common than he even knows, beyond being lefty pitchers,” remarked Blood. “We both come from smaller towns, and we both weren’t really recruited. Sean comes from a separated family, and I come from a separated family. There are a lot of similarities between us.”

“It definitely helps to have (Blood),” said Newcomb. “He knows how to relate to us pitchers.” Especially as a lefty pitcher himself, we can relate.”

There is one more important similarity between coach and student-athlete. Blood pitched three years at Franklin Pierce before being drafted by the Seattle Mariners. Now three years into Newcomb’s Hartford career, all signs point to his name being called by a Major League team on June 5th.

The six-foot-five Newcomb’s athletic success isn’t a shock to those back at Middleboro High School, where he was a three sport standout. He received much of his baseball fundamentals from the strong program at Middleboro and its longtime coach Bill Lawrence, and knew college would take his pitching to the next level.

“Coach Lawrence was a great coach, but he always said he wasn’t the best pitching coach,” said Newcomb. “What I’ve done at Hartford is refine my mechanics.”

Blood and Hartford pitching coach John Slusarz have turned an outstanding overall athlete into one of college baseball’s most exciting pitchers. Newcomb credits both of them for increasing his talents (he has been clocking in at 94-95 miles per hour) and velocity, while adding new pitches to his repertoire.

“I’m starting to throw a cutter now, and it’s helping me get through lineups,” said Newcomb.

Blood and his staff also introduced Newcomb to better training techniques. “I gained a lot of weight and strength in the past few years,” Newcomb said. “I got on a workout regime, which I didn’t have in high school.”

Newcomb’s personal improvements on the mound have led to significant team improvements. “My first year here, our team ERA was 6.5, and that was down a point from the year before,” said Blood. “Now we are at a 2.73.”

A lot of that improvement is due to Newcomb, who has a 1.40 ERA and a 3-2 record this season (through April 17) after recording a 3.91 over his first two seasons. His success is inspiring his teammates and the program.

“It’s carrying over to the rest of our team,” said Newcomb. “We have a great sense of team. It’s rubbing off on everyone.”

Newcomb’s elevation of Hartford to a bigger stage has his teammates – current and future – stepping up for their own chances in the limelight.

“I go back to my time at Franklin Pierce when we had a few guys getting looked at by scouts, and it made us all improve,” said Blood. “When you have one or two kids the scouts look at and the media interviews…that gets others on their radar and then you end up with three or four kids drafted.

“It also helps with our recruiting. Recruits are saying, ‘if this kid can get attention out of this program, I could too.”

Newcomb would rather not focus on the draft talk. He insists that the America East season and a post-season berth is the only thing on his mind. “We want to keep winning, obviously. I hope we continue doing well in America East and the tournament. Hopefully we can get a regional spot. I think we can. I’m not really worried about the draft until after this season ends.”

Newcomb’s calmness and connectedness despite having scouts zeroed in on him is one of the things Blood most admires. “Sean has been able to handle this pressure extremely well, better than other guys could,” said Blood. “He’s such a down-to-earth, 72 degree kid.”