By David Willis
Dustin Hunt admits that while watching his sister, Andover High softball ace Cassandra Hunt, pitch he can't help but make a few comments.
"When I go to see her pitch I talk to her about the pitches she throws," said Dustin with a laugh. "She has a great changeup and I don't think she throws it enough."
While the sideline coaching may not always be welcome noise, the older Hunt certainly knows something about pitching.
"We talk about pitching all the time after games," said Cassandra. "He always tells me I have to throw my changeup. It can be a little annoying, but I have learned so much from him as a pitcher."
Following a standout spring, Dustin Hunt has been off to a scintillating start this summer, pitching a one-hitter and a two-hitter in his first two starts for the Andover Post 8 Legion team through Monday.
"This is a guy that has been clocked at 89 miles per hour with a nasty changeup and a pretty good curveball," said Legion coach Joe Iarrobino. "He's always around the strike zone and he's only getting better."
Not bad for a player that just over two years ago, as a sophomore at Andover High, didn't even see himself as a pitcher.
"Going into that year I remember trying out for shortstop on the JV team," said Hunt. "When I was young I would pitch sometimes, but I would always play shortstop whenever I could in Little League and Pony.
"Coach Dan Grams told me to throw a bullpen (session) in tryouts my sophomore year, then he told me to pitch in a scrimmage and I felt pretty good."
Hunt made the varsity team as a pitcher, and didn't waste time making his mark.
In Andover's season-opener against North Andover, Hunt was called on to pitch in relief and delivered four one-hit, shutout innings to pick up the win against future Columbia University pitcher Mike Weisman.
"That was the day I said to myself that I was no longer a shortstop," he said. "That was when I knew I was a pitcher and really started to concentrate on that."
Hunt was a surprise star for the Golden Warriors in 2011. He finished the year 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA in 41 1/3 innings, earning MVC All-Star honors. He then followed that up with a stellar season for the Andover Legion team.
But before the most recent school year, Hunt made the decision to transfer from Andover to St. John's Prep.
"It was a very tough decision," said Hunt. "I had a great time with this guys (at Andover), and they weren't very happy with me for a while. But I wanted to try playing in the Catholic Conference and see what happened."
This spring, his new team's first scrimmage happened to be against his old teammates in Andover. Hunt did not appear in the game, which was met with mixed feelings.
"I really didn't know if I wanted to pitch that day," said Hunt. "It would have been fun, but it would have been very difficult pitching against them. I just don't know."
He may not have appeared in that game, but once the season kicked off Hunt was dominant for the Eagles. The junior finished the year 3-2 with a stellar 0.80 ERA and 35 strikeouts for St. John's Prep, earning All-Catholic Conference honors.
Once the high school season ended, however, Hunt was excited to put the Andover Blue and Gold on once again.
"I missed the guys so much so it's great to be back out there with them," he said. "I was really excited for this summer. We have bonded again on the field."
In his first Legion outing, Hunt dazzled Gloucester on the way to a one-hitter in a dramatic 1-0 victory.
In his second start, Hunt was just as good, allowing just two hits, with seven strikeouts and just one walk in a 1-0 win over Peabody.
"His progress has just been amazing," said Iarrobino. "Last year he was 6-foot-1 and weighed 155 pounds. I always said, when he grows into his body he's going to be great.
"This year he's 6-foot-4 and 178 pounds, and at 17 he's still growing. He sits around 86-87 with his fastball and umpires say to me all the time, 'This guys is really a pitcher, not just a thrower.' He has such a good work ethic we have to tell him he's not allowed to throw some days."
Colleges have also taken notice. According to Iarrobino, Hunt has been offered by Northeastern and Bryant, while Columbia, William & Mary and Holy Cross are among the teams that have come to see him throw.
But Hunt knows he still has room to grow as a pitcher.
"My command on the mound needs to be better and I want to develop my curveball," he said. "My dad never wanted me to throw a curve when I was younger, so it is coming along slowly. I want to improve all of that over the summer."
Pitching a family business
Around the Hunt household, pitching is always the topic of conversation.
"We love sports and we talk about pitching a lot," said Cassandra Hunt. "Baseball and softball are different sports, but pitching has some similarities."
While her brother stars at St. John's Prep Dustin, Cassandra Hunt is a standout on the mound in her own right.
This season, Cassandra delivered a breakout season for Andover High. Winning the pitching job in tryouts, she delivered such stellar performances as striking out 13 in a win over Whittier, a win in the title game of the Methuen Invitational and a five-hit gem in a tourney upset of Masconomet.
"In softball and baseball you have to be calm on the mound," she said. "You can't freak out because the bases are loaded. I think I learned a lot about that this season."
Her brother, now a senior-to-be at St. John's Prep, is her biggest fan.
"She had such a good season," said Dustin. "Something just clicked with her. She worked so hard and really impressed the coaches."
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