During the previous two seasons, the Dublin Coffman High School baseball team lacked a second consistent pitcher to complement Neal Smith.

During the previous two seasons, the Dublin Coffman High School baseball team lacked a second consistent pitcher to complement Neal Smith.

As a result, Coffman finished 13-15 in 2007 and 14-15 in 2006 after having winnings records the previous eight seasons.

This season, coach Tim Saunders has found a player to fulfill that role in Neil Bittel.

Through 16 games, Bittel was 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA, 29 strikeouts and 11 walks in 33 innings. Smith was 4-2 with an 1.75 ERA, 46 strikeouts and six walks in 36 innings.

"Bittel and Smith are doing equally well this year, which has given us two No. 1 pitchers," Saunders said. "I've always felt like you need at least one pitcher who is capable of winning 10 games and another who can win at least half that many to win a league title and go far in the tournament. This year, we've got two guys who are capable of winning a lot of games, so I feel good about our chances."

After going 2-5 with a 2.65 ERA last year, Bittel decided to focus on his pitching rather than lift weights with his teammates on the football team during the offseason.

Taking lessons from former New York Mets pitcher John Pacella from December through March, Bittel improved the velocity of his fastball from 82 mph to 87. He also improved his changeup, curveball and split-finger fastball.

"Neil has two or three pitches that he can get outs with now," Saunders said. "Last year, he didn't have that second or third pitch to go to in tough situations, so he wasn't as effective."

Bittel said Pacella taught him to put his body into each throw, which has helped improve his endurance. He threw complete games in four of his first five starts. On April 3, Bittel pitched a two-hitter with nine strikeouts in a 1-0 win over Olentangy Liberty. On April 9, he gave up six hits in a 3-1 victory over Upper Arlington. On April 19, Bittel pitched a three-hitter in a 4-1 win over Grove City. On April 23, he gave up five hits in a 2-1 victory over Grove City.

"My pitching coach noticed that I was standing straight up and I was using just my arm to throw the ball," Bittel said. "He taught me to use my entire body, including my lower back and butt muscles, when I pitch. He helped me get rid of the wild leg kick that I was using, too. Now that I'm using my whole body, my arm doesn't get nearly as sore as it used to, and I'm able to come back and feel good pitching twice a week."

Bittel is hoping he can play a role in helping the Shamrocks win their first league title since 2003, their first Division I district title since 2005 and their first regional title since 2001.

"I feel like a completely different pitcher this year," Bittel said. "I used to go out on the mound and just throw as hard as I could. Now, I'm a smarter pitcher, and I actually get mad at myself when I give up a hit because I feel like I've made a mistake. My personal goal is to win 10 games because if Neil and I both win 10 games, my team should be able to win a champ-ionship. Our football team won a regional championship in the fall, and that has motivated me to work harder at baseball because I want to experience that feeling all over again in a different sport. For us, anything less than a regional championship will be unacceptable."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Coffman baseball team:

*April 14 -- Lost to Davidson 7-6

*April 16 -- Defeated Reynoldsburg 6-1. Neal Smith pitched a three-hitter.

April 19 -- Lost to Hilliard Davidson 4-3; def. Grove City 4-1. Neil Bittel pitched a three-hitter against Grove City.

*April 21 -- Def. Westerville North 4-1. Smith pitched a three-hitter.

*April 23 -- Def. Grove City 2-1. Bittel gave up five hits.

April 24 -- Def. Pick. Central 6-1

*Last Monday -- Def. Upper Arlington 3-2. Bittel threw a five-hitter.

*Last Wednesday -- Played Davidson

Today -- At Gahanna. Coffman lost 9-0 last year.

Friday -- Home vs. Lancaster

Saturday -- Home vs. DeSales and Cleveland St. Ignatius

*Monday -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg

*Wednesday -- At Westerville North

Of note: The Shamrocks were 11-6 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Buckeye before last Wednesday.

*OCC-Buckeye game