Take me home, where I belong

Pupa leaves West Virginia school, returns to the area with a flourish

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

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Laurie dewitt⁄the gazette
Northwest graduate Jensen Pupa has flourished on the diamond since transferring from West Virginia Tech to Montgomery College-Germantown.

Northwest High graduate Jensen Pupa headed to West Virginia Tech last summer full of hope and future promise for his budding baseball career. But less than halfway through his first year, the former Jaguar felt a change was needed — and fast.

‘‘I just wasn’t having fun,” Pupa said. ‘‘I didn’t like some of the people, and it was in the middle of nowhere.”

Instead of putting his career on hold, Pupa called up first-year Montgomery College-Germantown coach Dan Rascher and asked to join his squad for the 2006 season.

‘‘He called me in the winter and said he was not having fun,” Rascher said. ‘‘He didn’t like the school. We said, ‘Come on down.’”

That’s exactly what Pupa did, transferring between semesters, and suddenly, the versatile player’s career is once again full of promise, with plenty of current success, to boot.

‘‘He’s definitely helped us,” Rascher said. ‘‘With the injuries we’ve had, he’s eaten up a lot of innings and he’s steadily becoming one of our best players. He’s definitely kind of our silent leader. He’s a hell of a player. He’s doing great on the mound.”

Pupa, in fact, has been fantastic at times this spring. On March 17, the right-hander threw a no-hitter in a 10-0 win over fellow Region XX squad Westmoreland (Pa.), striking out seven and walking one in seven innings. The walk and an error were the only blemishes that denied him a perfect game.

Offensively, Pupa, who plays second base or shortstop when not pitching, blasted all of his team-high six home runs during a seven-day span two weeks ago, including three homers and six runs batted in during the team’s 10-2 win over Division I Anne Arundel Community College on March 28.

‘‘I was just seeing the ball,” Pupa said. ‘‘I’ve never done that before.”

Through Monday’s doubleheader sweep of visiting Prince George’s Community College, Pupa was leading the Gryphons (18-15) on the mound with four wins (in six decisions) and 51 innings pitched. He had thrown three complete games in eight starts and had produced a 2.47 earned-run average and 49 strikeouts.

At the plate, Pupa, who bats from the left side, had compiled a .280 batting average (26 for 93) with six home runs, 25 RBI and 22 runs.

‘‘Jensen ... is one of our two best pitchers,” said Gryphons catcher Tim Park, a Good Counsel graduate. ‘‘Jensen goes out there every fourth day or whatever and gives us quality innings. He also hits very well. He’s hitting in our fourth spot. He leads us in home runs. He’s been a very, very big help to us.”

Pupa’s performance this spring is a continuation of his play at Northwest, where he earned All-Gazette first-team honors as a junior and second-team recognition as a senior.

Two years ago, Pupa put together one of the best seasons by any Montgomery County player, going 7-1 on the mound with a 1.71 ERA. He also produced a school-record 33 hits with 11 doubles, 26 RBI, 37 runs and a .471 batting average.

Last spring, Pupa batted .377 with 20 runs, seven doubles, three triples, four home runs and 21 RBI. On the mound, he compiled a deceptive 4-4 record — he faced all the top teams on Northwest’s schedule — with 54 strikeouts and a 3.04 ERA.

‘‘He’s had a terrific time out at Montgomery College,” Northwest coach Matt Noble said. ‘‘He got off to a slow start hitting, but he’s come around, especially with power. He’s put more speed to his fastball. He’s always had great command. Now he has a 90-mile-per-hour fastball. There’s no doubt he’s a super baseball player. I’m glad things worked out for him.”