James Buckelew discovered a lot of similarities between playing in a rock band and being Collins Hill’s ace pitcher.
“You’re performing up in front of people, having fun,” Buckelew said. “When you’re on the pitcher’s mound, there are a lot of people watching you. It’s same thing with taking the stage with the band.
“Both are exciting. And once you get started, you don’t even notice the people.”
The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Buckelew is one of the state’s top left-handed pitchers, helping lead Collins Hill to the Region 7-AAAAA championship.
The Eagles (20-6) qualified for the playoffs for the fourth time in the past six years. Collins Hill plays host to Alpharetta (15-11) at 4 p.m. Friday in the opening round of the Class AAAAA tournament.
“James has done a great job with his leadership, leading by example,” Collins Hill coach Paul Pierce said. “He has grown and matured for us this year, and been a vocal leader. It has been exciting to see how he has come along.”
Buckelew is well-known at the Suwanee school for both his baseball and musical talents.
During his freshman year, he started a rock band named “Who’s Cassidy” with three classmates. They practiced together in a friend’s basement and later changed the name to “Blame It On Thursday.” The group performed its own original tunes, and played gigs at local gyms and church activity halls.
Buckelew was the lead guitar, an instrument he has played since his mother purchased an acoustic guitar for him in the sixth grade. He had a strong stage presence, according to fellow band member Andy Miller.
“From the very start, James was always a good focal point,” said Miller, who played the keyboards. “I usually saw people watching him more than the drummer or the other guitarists.”
In January, “Blame It On Thursday” decided to temporarily shut down so its members could focus on schoolwork, graduation and baseball.
Pitching is the strength of Collins Hill’s team, as the staff has a three-man rotation backed by depth in the bullpen.
“Why are they so good this year? It’s simple — the pitching,” North Gwinnett coach Frank Vashaw said. “They have so many options. It’s kind of scary. You get rid of one guy, and here comes someone else in relief, and you can’t hit that guy either.”
Buckelew has a 7-2 record with 0.97 ERA, setting up hitters with a fastball clocked as high as 89 mph and then baffling them with a breaking ball that can be spotted anywhere around the plate. Buckelew had a three-game stretch against North Gwinnett, Peachtree Ridge, and Norcross in which he did not allow an earned run.
No team has felt the lefty’s wrath more than North Gwinnett: He has allowed a total of one run in his past three appearances against his archrivals.
“I think [Buckelew] is very under-rated,” Vashaw said. “A lot of people look at velocity. Mill Creek’s Matthew Grimes [who signed with Georgia Tech] gets a lot of attention and is very good.
“I like Buckelew because he’s the type of pitcher that when he gets himself into trouble, he takes it to another level. When the situation arises that you have to bear down mentally, he is able to do that.”
One of the major reasons for Buckelew’s success is his close relationship with his coach. When he pitches, the two will discuss strategy between every inning.
“James has a good idea of what he’s doing on the mound,” Pierce said. “I value the information he gives me. He has good ideas about how to pitch to certain hitters, and it helps me get the defense lined up correctly.”
Buckelew signed a baseball scholarship with Belmont, but has drawn moderate interest from major-league scouts, as has pitcher/infielder Grant Earls, who has signed with Georgia.
“We’re fortunate to have guys in our region that scouts follow pretty heavily, so they’ve seen our players, too,” Pierce said.
Baseball comes first for Buckelew, but he hasn’t ruled out returning to his rock band in the near future. “Maybe after college, or maybe during college if I get the chance,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of jam sessions within the last month or so. I’ve missed it.”