Stanhope Elmore junior Zach Stevens wants to win more than anything, so there wasn’t much deliberation when he committed to South Alabama on Friday.
Stevens, a pitcher and infielder for Stanhope, announced his decision on Twitter last week. He chose South Alabama over a handful of other schools.
South Alabama has built a winning culture that Stevens couldn’t ignore. He said the coaches also treated him more like a man and a friend than a recruit, which really helped sway his decision.
“All the coaches there are always talking about winning, and who doesn’t want to win,” Stevens said. “When I went on my visit there, the team was getting after it in the weight room and lifting and throwing bullpens, and that’s exactly what I would want to walk into. I want to walk into a good culture and that’s what they offer.”
South Alabama has proved capable of winning at a consistent level, especially under head coach Mark Calvi. Since taking over in 2011, Calvi has led South Alabama to three Sun Belt Conference championships and two SBC Tournament championships.
The most recent tournament championship came this year, when the Jaguars went 36-22 with a 15-9 conference record and earned the No. 1 seed in the East in the SBC tournament.
After going 4-0 to win the tournament championship, the Jaguars were sent to the Gainesville Regional as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. South Alabama played spoiler in the regional by eliminating both No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Miami before falling to South Florida in the regional championship.
“They’ve been first or second in defensive rankings for the last six or seven years, so they have the statistics to prove they’re going to win games,” Stevens said. “It definitely adds some bragging rights when you beat Florida, 19-1, like they did in the regional. It made it easier to recruit to them after that happened.”
Stevens jumped on the recruiting scene the spring. He said he was talking to one school before the 2021 season started, but his velocity jump really caught school’s attention.
Stevens was only throwing around 81 miles per hour as a freshman, but last year as a sophomore he was up to around 88, and he has touched 90-91 this summer. To go with his fastball is a deep breaking ball that can leave batters lost at the plate.
That was showcased throughout the season as he racked up a 7-3 record with a 2.23 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 47 innings.
“His fastball has been able to keep growing and growing, and that’s on top of the fact that he throws a really good breaking ball,” Stanhope coach Kaleb Shuman said. “That’s kind of been the separating factor. He not only has the over-powering fastball, but a really sharp breaking ball to go with it. I think that’s what South Alabama really liked from him.”
The recruiting process began picking up during his sophomore season, but one particular game really caught the eye of South Alabama.
Against Wetumpka in a conference game, Stevens pitched six innings against the Indians and allowed only four hits and two runs while striking out seven batters. That caught the Jaguars’ attention, and South Alabama offered Stevens only a few days after his outing.
“After they offered me, they really treated me like a man and not a kid, and they took the time to actually get to know me,” Stevens said. “I liked that about the coaches a lot. They liked my velocity jump and I started to really learn how to actually pitch and not just throw hard, and that helped me get some attention a lot.”
While Stevens is primarily a pitcher, there is the chance for him to play both ways at the college level when he gets to South Alabama in the fall of 2023.
He played all over the infield, and at the plate he hit .280 with 17 RBIs. At the moment, Stevens wants to play both ways. But he also believes it is apparent that his pitching is ahead of his hitting right now.
He hopes to spend the next two years of high school improving his velocity on the mound, and he just wants to mature at the plate and become a better all-around hitter.
If he can do that, there’s no doubt in coach Shuman’s mind that he will be able to play both ways at the Division I level.
“It’s really hard to play both ways in college, but if anyone is capable of doing it, it’s him,” Shuman said. “He’s the type of guy you have to dial back and tell him to rest instead of the other way around. If anyone can do it, it’s him. But I think especially on the mound, they’re expecting him to be an impact guy right off the bat from Day 1.”