Successful pitcher-catcher combinations share a special connection, a chemistry that enables the two parts to function as one.
For Westville's Jesse Mills and Louie Grounds, that link extends beyond the diamond.
The Blackhawks battery, both four-year varsity players, have been step-brothers since seventh grade, when Mills' mom, Shannon, married Grounds' dad, Lou. The elder Grounds is a Westville assistant who has coached several of the seniors since youth ball.
"He knows me better than any other friends do," Mills said of Louie. "He knows what to say to get me back into focus. He's not afraid to throw it back to me real hard to get my head on straight. It's all about the mental part, knowing to take it one pitch at a time and not letting anything bother you out there. Being a pitcher, you're in control of what happens. Eight other guys are counting on you."
The lanky Mills has a sharp curve and touches the high 80s with his fastball. But he's often struggled with control, of both his pitches and temper. Grounds, a second-generation catcher, has learned how to dial in Mills when he starts to unravel.
"We talk baseball at home. It's just a bonus, him being a pitcher and me a catcher," Grounds said. "I know everything about him. If I see something going bad, I know when to go out there and when to give him space. Many times, the wheels came off the wagon for him last year. He's learned to take a deep breath, walk to the back of the mound and come back up. It's a whole new ball game after that. His composure has been incredible."
Westville's 8-0-1 start is the school's best ever, and the Mills is a big part of it.
"Jesse's always had a good arm. The most gigantic thing that's come around is his head," coach Kevin McMahon said. "That lump on his shoulders used to be a mess. An ump would make one bad call and it was over. The last couple games, he's kept his cool the entire game. I had never seen that before. Those are signs of real growth and maturity."
McMahon credits Grounds for guiding Mills, as well as the other pitchers, in the right direction.
"Louie calls a real good game," McMahon said. "The best thing about him is he's a student of the game. He does all the little things to try to get better. He works harder than any athlete I've ever had. Those are usually the ones who have to make up for a lack of ability, but Louie doesn't. That's for sure."
Grounds began playing at age 3. He started donning the catching gear soon after and dreams of doing so at the collegiate level.
"From Day 1, I fell in love with (baseball) and I've been playing it since," Grounds said. "I live it, breathe it. I was always the biggest kid, the one who could take beating, so (catching) suited me best. It came natural."
In addition to his pitching prowess, Mills is hitting .582 with three home runs out of the leadoff spot.
"I've been called Rickey Henderson a few times," Mills said. "The big thing for me (pitching) is cutting down my walks. I'm not trying to throw it past people any more. I have the utmost confidence in my defense to back me up. Having Louie is like a blessing. I'm not worrying about what if a pitch gets by. It's very relaxing."