It was one swing and subsequent miss from Lee infielder Tyler Franklin that secured a landmark achievement for Stanhope Elmore’s Zach Stevens’ career.
One year to the day after giving up four runs in four innings against Marbury in his final appearance of the 2020 season, Stevens tossed a complete game shutout against the Generals on March 11.
He gave up two hits and struck out 13 batters on the day.
“It really wasn’t that exciting. I don’t know why,” Stevens said. “It really just didn’t feel like it should have. Like I pictured in my mind. It was very exciting when I got home and on the bus. But I just try to stay calm and pitch every game like it’s my last one.”
In 12 months, Stevens had completed his journey from a struggling freshman with more earned runs on his stat sheet than innings pitched to the clear No. 2 pitcher on Stanhope’s staff, behind fellow sophomore Colin Woodham.
Stanhope baseball coach Kaleb Shuman said it’s all a product of Stevens’ work ethic.
“We couldn’t do anything [Wednesday] because of the weather, and when they cancel school for weather purposes you can’t go after school,” Shuman said. “So he sends me a text and says, ‘Well what would the lift have been today? Because I’m gonna go lift.’ And that just describes who he is as a guy.”
Right after Stevens’ rough start against Marbury, COVID-19 brought the Mustangs’ 2020 campaign to an abrupt close.
Stevens said it was “definitely frustrating” to have his year end the way it did.
“It was fine the first week or so, and then after that it really just started to hit,” Stevens said. “Like ‘Dang, I can’t play baseball this year.’ We couldn’t even practice. That was really difficult for all of us.”
Stevens went to work that summer to ensure fewer results like those in his freshman season appeared on his stat sheet. He hit the weights, did long tosses and Shuman gave him weighted baseballs to throw as well.
He played the sport whenever he could, in summer leagues and fall leagues after the high school season ended.
“He’s a freak,” Allan Stevens, Zach Stevens’ father, said. “He’d play every day if I let him.”
Shuman said Stevens gained seven to eight miles per hour on his fastball as a result, which now clocks in at 88 to 89 mph consistently.
He added that the pitcher has a chance to be a legitimate D-1 college prospect on his current trajectory.
“That may not seem like much to the average person, but seven miles an hour is a huge jump, especially in high school baseball,” Shuman said. “Once you get up over 85, most high school hitters can’t catch up to it.”
Stevens’ ERA went from 7.64 in 2020 to 1.62 in 2021. He’s nearly doubled his innings pitched with strikeouts this season, fanning 49 batters in 26 frames.
Senior pitcher Christian Mozingo said Stevens sets a tremendous example for the rest of the Mustangs.
“It really pushes the team,” Mozingo said. “He’s starting today and I’m pretty sure he raked third, both baselines and home plate. He’s just always willing to put in the work and really tries to do everything right.”
Stevens has also gotten help from Woodham.
The duo have played on the same baseball teams since age 7, and remained close off the field.
“It’s still pretty tight [between us],” Stevens said. “We talk every day, we hang out. We went and got something to eat before the game [Thursday]. We’re just brothers.”
The underclassmen have emerged as the two best pitchers for Stanhope Elmore in 2021, and the Mustangs boast a 16-2 record on the season.
With more than two years left for both hurlers, Shuman said the Stanhope baseball should be in great condition going forward.
“I thought we were gonna be a year or two away,” Shuman said. “They said, ‘No, we’re here now.’ So I’m hoping that they can stay humble and not get complacent with where they’re at, and keep working. Because they’ve got a chance to be something special.”