Scheels Athlete of the Week: Paulsen a Pleasant Surprise for West Branch

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Photo by Jeff Yoder

Ryan Murken

Your Prep Sports

WEST BRANCH – With just one appearance lasting a mere 1 2/3 innings on his varsity resume before this season there was no detailed scouting report on Matt Paulsen.

Pete Espensen had seen plenty over the years from his West Branch teammate and close friend to know the key to success for Paulsen on the mound.

“The curveball, that’s the pitch for him,” Espensen said. “Matt P’s curve that’s the pitch. When he gets that going, watch out.”

Paulsen certainly had his patented breaking ball working last week.

The sophomore righthander posted the two best outings of his young career in back-to-back starts last week in road wins over Mid-Prairie and Highland.

Paulsen struck out six in a five-inning two-hit shutout at Mid-Prairie on Monday and then allowed two runs on five hits in a complete game victory over Highland on Friday.

“His whole thing is throwing the curveball for a strike and once he does that he’s really, really effective,” West Branch coach Rich Stout said. “He’s been a nice surprise for us this summer.”

Paulsen gave up eight runs and recorded just five outs in his varsity debut last season in a relief appearance against Class 4A Bettendorf.

He started this season working out of the bullpen, posting a 1.24 ERA in six relief appearances that lasted 11 1/3 innings.

In his first career start last month Paulsen allowed one run on four hits in a 1-0 loss to West Liberty.

Since that start Paulsen hasn’t let the West Branch rotation.

“He’s been solid all year for us,” Stout said. “Defensively we have to make plays behind him and we’ve done a pretty good job of that for the most part.”

The key to success for Paulsen lies in his assortment of off-speed pitches, the most potent of which is a curveball he’s been working on for years.

“I throw different variations of curveballs along with the fastball,” Paulsen said. “But I definitely rely on the curveball.”

The curveball has helped Paulsen become a valuable asset to the West Branch rotation this season.

He has posted a 3-2 record and team-leading .82 ERA while leading the Bears with 34 innings pitched.

Paulsen has struck out 26 while allowing opponents to hit just .173 against him.

“I’m not a hard thrower, I’m more of a finesse pitcher,” Paulsen said. “I’ve got to hit spots and keep them off balance.

Paulsen has been at his best over his last two starts.

After shutting out Mid-Prairie on Monday he needed just 89 pitches to go the distance in a 4-2 win over Highland.

Paulsen struck out five and walked one in the win over the Huskies.

“I think the curveball makes his fastball look harder than it is because he can slide that fastball in there,” Stout said. “He does a good job of mixing his pitches.”