Pitching duo leading Howell baseball team to success


WHIP. It stands for walks plus hits per inning pitched.

It’s not a mainstream pitching statistic. You don’t see it often flashed across the television screen during Major League Baseball games. And the old school, fully tenured local announcers rarely ever discuss WHIP, if they even know what it means without Googling it.

But it’s also not an overly complicated analytical stat. The acronym is kind of long, but once you spell it all the way out, WHIP is easy enough to understand.

The stat is a fairly basic measurement of how many baserunners a pitcher allows in his average inning. One central New Jersey coach, Howell High School’s Eric Johnson, swears by WHIP.

Johnson believes it is the best indicator of how dominant his aces, seniors Bryan Bernard and Ryan Bearse, have been this spring.

Both hurlers have WHIPs under one, meaning they allow less than one baserunner per inning.

“It’s like one every other inning,” Johnson said. “That’s how effective they’ve been.”

Howell is 6-3 and Bernard and Bearse have earned four of those victories.

They have also been dominant according to pitching standards everyone is familiar with: earned run average and strikeout-walk ratio.

In 16.2 innings, Bernard has a 1.26 ERA and a 29-7 strikeout-walk ratio. In 11 frames, Bearse sports an 0.64 ERA and a 13-0 strikeout-walk split.

“When I see Bryan throw a great game, I want to go out and throw an even better game,” Bearse said. 

Both guys use the most classic pitching repertoire, fastball-changeup-curveball, to pound the strike zone and force hitters to swing early or fall behind. Once the batters fall behind though, they are done.

Bernard blows them away with his deceptively fiery fastball. Bearse finishes them with his late breaking curve.

“Bryan’s fastball looks effortless and then it’s on hitters much faster than they expect,” Johnson said. “Ryan is pounding the strike zone and getting guys to chase when he’s not pounding.”

Johnson is in his 10th spring as Howell’s coach, and he has never had a duo like this. Not even close.

But he did have one pitching tandem, Ryan Wares and Zach Loroesh in 2014, that was maybe in the same stratosphere.

And that year the Rebels made their deepest postseason run of the decade, falling to Jackson Memorial High School, 2-1, in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament quarterfinals.

From that run, the coach knows the key to postseason high school baseball: have a dynamic pitching duo. Johnson had it that year, and now five years later he has an even better version.

“These two are an edge we haven’t even had,” he said. “So I think definitely this team can top that one.”

“We look really good as a team and we’ll keep getting better,” Bernard added. “We have a really good shot this year.”

The 2019 Rebels are more than just a pair of aces, too. They won two recent games by 10 runs, beating Long Branch High School, 15-5, at home on April 10 and Marlboro High School, 11-1, on the road on April 16. They scored 7.8 runs per game during a recent six game winning streak.

Johnson’s club does plenty to support Bernard and Bearse. That’s another big reason why the coach is so confident.

But mainly, it’s his hurlers with the impressive WHIP numbers. Between the way they control at bats and keep runners off the bases, the aces are pitching like collegiate level arms, which they are.

Next spring, Bernard and Bearse will pitch for Brookdale Community College and Monmouth University, respectively.