Standing at 6 feet, 3 inches tall, Hilmar High starting pitcher Brandon Cummings has been a dominator in the Western Athletic Conference.
Taking advantage of his long stride, Brandon has leverage to envy. When finishing his momentum of pitching to the catcher, he's closer to the plate than rival starters, giving batters less time to react to the high downward angle pitch created by the greater-than-average release point. And as a left-handed pitcher, he naturally throws with a three-quarter or sidearm motion, giving his pitches excellent movement.
As if peering around a corner, Cummings begins his ferocious self-taught pitching mechanics to release his changeup, curveball or four-seam fastball that hits in the mid-80s. As a junior last season, Brandon put up impressive statistics — 65 strikeouts and six wins — and was a major contributor to Hilmar High's run to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 title game.
Last year was the first that Hilmar had ever made it to the section championship game. The last team in the school's history to make it as far as the second round of the playoffs was the 1983 squad.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
Becoming sort of a heroic figure for his town's faithful fans, Brandon has brought in many spectators to home and away games for Hilmar High's varsity squad.
"He is one of the most relaxed pitchers I have ever seen at the high school level. I think this is one of the reasons he has such a following of people that come to see him," one fan said. "I feel by his contribution of confidence on the mound, he also makes the team play better because they have the confidence in their leader."
Although the outcome of a baseball game is unpredictable, Brandon's Tim Lincecum-type of reliability gives the Yellowjackets and their fans confidence.
"When we hear he's expected to start, we all are hopeful to come out of whatever rut the team has gone through," proclaimed another Hilmar fan.
Brandon has been playing baseball for 14 years, since he was 3, and has tried out and made many other teams and baseball leagues outside of school.
"I went to Arizona when I was 12, 13 and 14. I played for a team out of Merced called the Merced Bearcats to play in a tournament," Brandon said. "I also went when I was 16, where I played on Cen Cal and we were in the Junior Olympics."
Referred to try out for the Under Armor National Team by his Hilmar High head coach, Justin Steelman, Brandon was one of nearly 30 players in the area to try out. This team is so sought after that players all over the United States try out, and Brandon made the cut.
Nicknamed "The Eraser" by a teammate's parent for his exceptional pick-off skills, Brandon has improved in all aspects year after year.
"He's getting a lot stronger, and it shows from last season," Steelman said. "He wants this. His arm strength is stronger; he's getting his velocity up. Last year, he was a very quiet kid, but he's coming out of his shell to be the leader of the team and take control."
Comparing Brandon to other pitchers his age, Hilmar catcher Darren Clarot said, "He's the most consistent at hitting the spots set up for him. He uses his head and shakes off the pitches he thinks will be bad and not work."
One skill that is an important piece of the puzzle for any pitcher is the ability to stay calm and have a game plan when obvious strikes aren't being called or when a batter gets a hit.
"I usually just take a deep breath, try to relax, and stay positive," Brandon said.
Inspired by the Sandy Koufax quote "I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it," Brandon relies on a good defense behind him.
But not only does Brandon support his team from the mound, he supports it and himself at the plate — he batted .274 last season.
Brandon hopes to eventually play in college. Over school breaks, the Cummings family attends camps for schools like Sonoma State and Sacramento State to showcase what Brandon has to offer.
"I got more recognition at Sonoma State and the coaches really like me. They said if I wanted to play for them, I could," Brandon said.
For now, he is excited about his senior season and hoping to lead Hilmar back to the section playoffs.
Stephanie Rodin is a junior at Pitman High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom program.