The Pilots’ 2021 campaign is still very young, but one thing is evident: the pitching staff is going to have a direct correlation to the team’s success.

Five pitchers have trotted out to the mound for Peninsula in the early going, finding overwhelming success en route to a shutout victory Monday and a 6-3 victory Tuesday. 

Their formula so far has not been Sabermetrics-based or through technological advances that the likes of Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Trevor Bauer utilizes. Rather, they have stuck to the fundamental basics and simply thrown strikes.

[Junior right-handed pitcher Chris Ludman] really commanded the strike zone all night long and that creates discomfort for a hitter, creates bad swings,” freshman left-handed pitcher Jay Cassady said Tuesday. “I really just tried to continue the way he was attacking and really set the tone for the season.”

With conference and NCAA tournaments still being played, the selection process of an Opening Day starter was on a by-committee scale.

Ludman was tabbed as the man to toe the rubber for the Pilots and he did not disappoint, coming out firing from the get-go.

The University of Delaware product retired the Salamanders in order in the first, needing just nine pitches to do so — seven of which were strikes.

Ludman cruised throughout his entire start, retiring the first 10 Holly Springs batters before hitting Ryan Wilson on the forearm to end his perfect game bid, but the no-hitter was still intact.

That feat lasted until he allowed a leadoff single to Wilson in the top of the seventh. The threat sputtered out four pitches later when he induced a line-drive double play, capping off his seven-inning opening-day start with a weak pop out to Pilots redshirt freshman shortstop Zac Morris.

You can’t be any better than he was tonight really, can’t be much better. He really was a huge lift on a night where I thought our hitters were feeling the excitement,” head coach Hank Morgan said. “When our hitters are kind of scuffling right there, for Ludman to do what he did, just keep hanging zeros. I mean, they didn’t get a runner to second base against him. So, one hit-by-pitch and one single, just awesome.”

Ludman started off 13 of his 23 hitters with a strike, ending his night with 54 of his 77 pitches in the strike zone, striking out only five and inducing 10 groundball outs. Of the six flyouts he recorded, only one was putout by an outfielder — a line drive caught on the run by redshirt sophomore left fielder Trevon Dabney in the fifth.

He turned the ball over to redshirt freshman lefty Alden Mathes and it was more of the same, striking out four of the seven batters and having an incredible 72.4% strike percentage, preserving the Pilots’ first Opening Day shutout since an 8-0 win over the Outer Banks Daredevils June 3, 2004.

The next day was the same formula for Cassady who threw 74.4% strikes — going 18-for-23 in the first-pitch strike department — not needing to be overpowering.

Similar to his 2021 season at Christopher Newport — where he struck out just 50 hitters in 44 ⅔ innings — the Burke, Virginia, native let his defense do a lot of the dirty work.

“I think one of the things too with our staff is we had a nice defensive workout together a few days ago and I think they were able to see with their eyes the quality defense that we’ve got,” Morgan said. “I think it’s enabled them to be fearless in the zone; they’re less afraid of contact because they know they’ve got a really good defensive team out there.”

Pilots hurlers have combined for 243 pitches in its first 18 innings, but has only issued one walk — a seven-pitch free pass to Wilson’s Riley Cameron in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s game.

Peninsula’s pitching staff has taken pressure off the offense to score, allowing the least number of runs in the first two games since 2010, a stark contrast to a year ago when pitchers allowed 40 runs in a dismal 0-2 start to the season — the most allowed in any two-game stretch in Pilots’ history.

That’s the energy we need, that’s the momentum we’re going to carry throughout the rest of the year,” Mathes said.