For Navy Baseball’s Charlie Connolly, Mechanical Changes Unlock Potential

When Charlie Connolly was sorting through possible college destinations while attending Radnor High School in Wayne, Pa., he didn’t initially have the Naval Academy on his radar. However, he opened up to the idea as he went through the recruiting process.

Since coming to Annapolis, Md., the right-handed pitcher has continued to open up to new ideas, as he’s grown from a talented but raw pitcher into the Midshipmen’s Friday night starter.

“He’s a very good listener in the sense that [he takes] the coaching that’s given to him and he’ll try to apply it,” head coach Paul Kostacopoulos said. “He’s a believer, too. He believes in the people around him and I think that’s helped contribute to him improving so much. He’s an achiever, he wants to do well and I think that’s the way he’s gone about the business on the field and at the Academy.”

Kostacopoulos and pitching coach Bobby Applegate were both intrigued by Connolly’s 6-foot-4 frame and the right-hander’s potential coming out of high school. They knew he had the chance to become a good pitcher — it was just about trying to unlock that potential. Connolly struggled as a freshman as he adjusted to academy life, recording a 6.55 ERA in 11 innings across nine appearances.

Now, Connolly is the unquestioned ace of the Mids’ staff, but it took plenty of work to get there.

“You’re not only adjusting to Division I baseball, you’re adjusting to a military lifestyle,” Connolly said. “So learning to balance all my different responsibilities, be that a challenging course load, a challenging baseball workload and also military aspects. My freshman year was not as great as I would like, but definitely a learning experience and I grew a lot from it.”

After his freshman year in 2018, Connolly worked with Applegate to help change his delivery. They worked to “smooth out his delivery,” according to Applegate, to ensure Connolly had an efficient throwing motion that would allow him to throw strikes consistently. In high school and as a freshman, Connolly was super aggressive on the mound and tried to throw the ball harder while sacrificing control, according to Applegate.

They worked on multiple things, all to try to simplify his throwing motion. Both said Connolly had a “herky-jerky motion” that needed improvement. They looked for any way to improve, including something as simple as the way he would take the ball out of his glove. Those changes set Connolly on the path to success at Navy.

He converted from a windup to pitching solely out of the stretch, which pitchers usually only go to with runners on base. Gone was the inefficient throwing motion, an unnecessary leg kick and taking the ball out of his glove in a way that put pressure on his shoulders. With fewer things to worry about, Connolly could focus on repeating his delivery and throwing strikes.

In a game as difficult as baseball, turning his delivery from complicated to simple worked for the right-hander. His numbers improved dramatically as a sophomore in 2019. Connolly had a 3.69 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 61 innings and made 12 starts. By the end of the season, Connolly said he was a much more confident pitcher.

“My first couple starts of my sophomore year I was definitely a little nervous and not super confident in myself as a pitcher,” Connolly said. “As the season went on, [the] coaching staff allowed me to work through those struggles and gain confidence in myself.”

Connolly’s junior year in 2020 brought a new challenge. With star pitcher Noah Song having graduated, Connolly was selected to be the Friday night starter. With series in college baseball running Friday through Sunday, he set the tone for Navy every weekend.

The transition was seamless. In four starts, Connolly had a 1.04 ERA and struck out 32 batters in 26 innings. Connolly and Applegate attributed that success to Connolly’s mechanical changes becoming second nature.

“I think the fall of his junior year, last year, things really started to click,” Applegate said. “And he really started to get confident and wasn’t thinking as much about what his arm was doing or the timing of the separation of his hands, and things really started to come alive. At that point in [the] fall, he just really excelled and obviously the numbers he put up last year were a big result of that.”

Though last season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Connolly has picked up where he left off. He had a 2.70 ERA in 20 innings across four starts heading into Navy’s weekend series against Lafayette April 9-11.

Connolly would’ve taken the mound more often early in the season if not for Navy going on an athletic department-wide pause starting Feb. 28 due to COVID-19. The Midshipmen didn’t play again until March 27, missing 13 games and three potential starts for Connolly.

Connolly is majoring in quantitative economics at the Naval Academy. He service selected surface warfare officer and will eventually report to San Diego. But for now, he can chase his individual and team goals at Navy. He wants to win Patriot League Pitcher of the Year, but the conference championship is more important. Navy hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016 despite winning the Patriot League regular-season title every year from 2017-2019.

The Mids were off to a 14-1 start in 2020 before the season was shut down.

“I think all of us recognize that we were off to such a hot start and [we were] frustrated when it got cut short,” Connolly said. “I think we’re ready to pick right back up where we left off.”

Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics

Issue 268: April/May 2021

Originally published April 14, 2021

Justin Fitzgerald

See all posts by Justin Fitzgerald. Follow Justin Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jfitzgerald52