Tommy Wilcox always had the control.
What the Corona del Mar High junior baseball pitcher added last summer was the curveball.
To hear Sea Kings coach John Emme tell it, it didn't take long for Wilcox to learn to throw the curve.
"We got in the bullpen, and I think he picked up the pitch in like 10 pitches," Emme said. "It didn't take him long, and it was a real good one."
A fastball that will reach the upper 80s, pinpoint control and now a curveball to help keep the hitters honest? That has been a recipe for success this season for Wilcox, who is thriving in his second year as a starting pitcher for CdM.
Opposing hitters cannot say the same.
Wilcox, who committed to the University of Tennessee in January, has thrown four straight shutouts for Corona del Mar and has 31 straight scoreless innings. The latest impressive outing was Tuesday, when the Sea Kings earned a 2-0 Pacific Coast League win at Northwood. Wilcox went the whole way, allowing eight hits, walking two and striking out eight.
He is 7-1 with a 1.34 earned-run average this season for the Sea Kings, who are 16-5 overall and 9-2 in the Pacific Coast League. Wilcox is a big reason why CdM is in contention to defend its league title, though the Sea Kings are a game behind Beckman with four to play. The right-hander provides a good contrast to CdM's other starting pitcher, UC Santa Barbara-bound senior Chazz Martinez, who is a hard-throwing left-hander.
"I can't complain, obviously," Wilcox said of the shutout streak. "I really don't feel like I've been doing anything different. I just think sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't. It's been going my way for a few games now. You get a few lucky bounces and good plays behind you.
"The past two starts, my fastball command and velocity have been down a little bit. But my curveball has been a little bit better, so I've kind of used that as leverage."
Wilcox makes sure to give credit to his defense, which is very strong, especially up the middle. The Sea Kings, ranked No. 6 in CIF Southern Section Division 2, boast players like San Diego State-bound senior second baseman Reece Berger, UCLA-bound senior shortstop J.T. Schwartz and USC-bound senior center fielder Preston Hartsell.
"Probably the most polished [middle infield in my 21 years as head coach]," said Emme, who has announced he is retiring after the season. "We've had some very good middle infields over the years, but these guys make big-league plays. If we don't turn two double plays in the middle during a game, we're surprised, and that doesn't happen at the high school level. And Tommy's not afraid to use them. He pitches to contact. He's not going to strike out 17 guys, but he's going to let them put it in play."
Wilcox said he's been pitching since he was 10. His longtime Newport Beach Little League coach, Dewain Campbell, convinced him to give it a try. After playing on the frosh-soph and junior varsity teams as a freshman at CdM, Wilcox stepped into a No. 2 starter spot last year as a sophomore.
CdM lost at home to Chino Hills Ayala 8-3 in eight innings in the first round of the Division 2 playoffs last year, but Wilcox took individual confidence out of the tough team moment due to his performance pitching in relief.
"I came in with the bases loaded in the second inning with their [cleanup] hitter up," he remembered. "I ended up getting the strikeout, and then I think I went seven more innings. The wheels eventually came off, but I don't think I ended up giving up an earned run. That was a confidence-booster to me, just to show myself, 'OK, if you're on, nobody can beat you.'"
Only one team has done that this season. Wilcox lost at Gahr on March 5 in a Newport Elks Tournament game. It was his first start of the season. Since then, he has won each of his next six starts, five of those coming in league play. Emme said that even the one run that Wilcox allowed in the fourth inning of CdM's 12-1 win over Irvine on March 27 — the game that started his current scoreless innings streak — was unearned.
"That game could have well been a shutout as well," Emme said. "Tommy's done nothing but good things for us."
The Sea Kings are hot this season too, winning 14 of their last 15 games. Wilcox said getting them past the first round of CIF this year is a team goal. The Sea Kings haven't earned any playoff wins since a Division 3 wild-card victory in 2012. Their last first-round victory came in 2009.
As for Wilcox, his next start is scheduled for Tuesday at Irvine. Another shutout and he would be within one of Scott McGregor, who threw a Southern Section-record six straight shutouts for El Segundo High in 1972. McGregor went on to a 13-year Major League Baseball career pitching for the Baltimore Orioles.
Wilcox doesn't have to think that far ahead. Really, he doesn't have to think about his scoreless innings or shutout streak, either.
"You don't want to think about it when you're pitching, but it's in the back of your mind," he said. "It'll obviously end eventually, and when it does, it doesn't mean much to me as long as we keep winning."
Born: June 23, 2000
Hometown: Long Beach
Height: 6 feet 4
Weight: 215 pounds
Coach: John Emme
Favorite food: Swedish Fish candy
Favorite movie: "Movie 43"
Favorite athletic moment: Helping Corona del Mar win the season series against rival Beckman last year and capture the Pacific Coast League title.
Week in review: Wilcox threw his third straight shutout on April 17, blanking Laguna Hills 15-0 at home in a Newport Rib Co. Tournament game. His scoreless innings streak currently stands at 31.