Chagrin Falls rising senior Jack McMullen, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher, committed on Saturday to continue his baseball career with the Division I Leopards at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Already strapped for cash to dole out college scholarships, Division I baseball recruiters now have the added obstacle of the NCAA extending the eligibility to athletes who were unable to play out their 2020 spring sports seasons.

Additionally, the unknown of athletes entering transfer portals, as well as the NCAA extending the recruiting deadline period, has left high school prospects from the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021 with fewer options at their disposal.

Fortunately for Chagrin Falls 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher Jack McMullen, a rising senior with the Tigers, an offer was already on the table. He committed on Saturday to continue his baseball career with head coach Tim Reilly and the Division I Leopards at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles north of Philadelphia.

“A couple of my family members have gone there, so it’s always been a college in the back of my mind throughout the recruiting process,” McMullen said.

“And then they just got a new head coach in Tim Reilly,” he said. “I’ve been talking to him, gotten to know him, and I really respect him. I know a lot of the kids on the team right now, and they seem to be a really unified group behind him and the other coaches. It just seems like a really good program that’s on the rise right now.”

McMullen’s uncle, Hal Kamine, played baseball at Lafayette and cracked the program record book for career stolen bases before graduating in 1978.

And McMullen’s cousin, Matt Kamine, also played baseball for the Leopards and still holds the program’s single-season record for 94 innings pitched during his senior campaign in 2007, when the Leopards were the Patriot League champions.

“I think it’s a pretty special thing to follow in both of their footsteps that they’ve left,” McMullen said. “My uncle made the initial introduction, I think with coach (Joe) Kinney, back when he was the head coach, and then from there I really appreciate them kind of taking a passive approach to the whole recruiting process and letting the coaches and myself work it out from there.”

Another connection to Lafayette, Chagrin Falls 2019 graduate Jack Amendola just finished his freshman year with the baseball program there, starting in seven of 14 games with a .300 batting average.

McMullen said he also developed relationships with coaches from Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Richmond, but, with the temporary ban on recruiting, Lafayette was his only official offer. And with baseball scholarships difficult to come by, McMullen pulled the commitment trigger.

Under NCAA rules, Division I baseball programs can award 11.7 scholarships divided among a maximum of 27 players. The average scholarship per team is $13,220.

Meanwhile, Division I football programs can award 85 full-ride scholarships with an average scholarship per team of $36,070, and Division I basketball programs can award 13 scholarships with an average per team of $38,246.

“Baseball is already strapped for cash with the low amount of scholarships they have to offer,” McMullen said. “So, with this backup in seniors, I think a lot of the incoming classes of 2020 and 2021 are going to be kind of shafted in that regard. But, luckily, Lafayette doesn’t have a grad school, so I don’t think that’s going to be too big of an issue for them.”

While McMullen didn’t get to play his junior baseball season at Chagrin, with Ohio High School Athletic Association spring sports being canceled from coronavirus concerns, head coach Michael Sweeney had tabbed McMullen as a possible No. 1 starter in the Tigers’ lineup.

As a sophomore in 2019, McMullen fought through a back injury and was still able to pitch 20 innings for the varsity team. In his preseason form for the 2020 campaign, he was throwing fastballs in the 85-87-mph range.

“He worked extremely hard in the offseason to get ready,” Sweeney said. “Jack obviously played basketball, too, and I know he would drill right after practice; he would head to his pitching lessons. He was kind of relentless in his work ethic. And he had a pretty big goal in mind to pitch at the Division I level, so that amped him up.”

Getting into his midseason form with the Spiders Baseball Club this summer, McMullen increased his velocity on the mound with a max fastball of 90 mph, not to mention an 82-mph slider and 75-mph curveball.

When high school pitchers hit 90 mph with their fastballs, Division I college recruiters seem to take notice.

“That’s sort of the magic number,” McMullen said. “I think part of it is just getting into midseason form. You know, some of those other numbers are preseason. But since the quarantine, the silver lining is really all the extra time we’ve had on our hands. It’s been a lot easier to bear down on the lifting regimen, as well as eating properly and mobility, flexibility – all the that kind of stuff that’s proved positive in the results.”

While Chagrin Falls didn’t get to play out its 2020 season, the Tigers were coming off a 21-7 record from 2019, including a 13-1 mark in the Chagrin Valley Conference during a three-peat title campaign.

The Tigers locked up their league banner thanks to McMullen getting the call from the bullpen to work out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the top of the first inning against rival Orange. McMullen went on to pitch 4 2/3 innings of relief, yielding just one hit.

In addition to McMullen, top Tiger returners slated for the 2021 spring season include rising senior catcher and second baseman Charlie Greenlief, rising junior first baseman and pitcher Andrew Kirkpatrick, rising senior catcher and pitcher Dawson Peirce and rising senior outfielder and pitcher Will Tropp.

“Not getting to play lit a fire under us,” McMullen said. “I know a lot of my fellow seniors have been working very hard during this quarantine, as I have. And now that our junior year was taken away from us, we have to jump into it and be ever better leaders, better teammates right now, and then we’re going to have it.”

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