Stephen Schoch (UMBC) pitches against the Baltimore Redbirds. Photo by Allison Druhan
Coming in with a bases loaded and no out situation, the thought of giving up a one-run lead did not run through Stephen Schoch’s (UMBC) mind as he jogged from the Big Train’s bullpen to the pitcher’s mound.
Instead of imagining the worst, the former Washington Conference Player of the Year out of Good Counsel High School in Olney, MD was envisioning the best in the top of the eighth inning against the Baltimore Redbirds on Wednesday.
As Baltimore’s Cole Zabowski stepped into the batter’s box, Schoch’s focus was primarily on getting the Big Train out of a hole.
“Internally, you just have to be able to understand that you can control the pressure put on you just by the way you precede the situation,” Schoch said. “If I go out there thinking, ‘Oh God. This could be really bad,’ it’s not going to go well.
“But if I take that pressure off by just focusing on how good I can do and how well I think I’m going to pitch and just focus on visualizing the success I think I’ll have, than I’m more likely to get.”
The 6-foot-5-inch pitcher quickly came to the Big Train’s rescue, striking out Zabowski on four pitches. Schoch washed away Jack Cunningham’s hopes of bringing in a run in the next at-bat, fooling the pinch hitter on a swinging strikeout that took away a sacrifice scoring situation.
Facing Austin McNicholas, who hammered a solo home run to left field in the top of the first inning, the Big Train’s leader in innings pitched and strikeouts wiped away Bethesda’s worry of giving up their lead by delivering his third consecutive strikeout that left all three Baltimore runners stranded.
“I feel like he does well because he loves the game,” outfielder Matt Green (Saint Mary’s), who hit the go-ahead RBI double in the bottom of the seventh inning, said. “He loves to do well. I feel like there’s not much tension in his body and I feel like his performance comes as a result of that.”
With the power of the Redbirds’ lineup due up, Schoch made sure Baltimore would not have any chance to tie or take the lead. Sitting down AJ Lee and Drew Blakely with strikes, only designated hitter Andy McGuire stood in the Laurel, Maryland native’s way of delivering the finishing touch.
After two called strikes, the 503 fans in attendance at Shirley Povich Field slowly clapped in anticipation of Schoch’s sixth strikeout. As the ball flew past McGire’s bat, catcher Gaby Cruz (Bryant) ran towards Schoch, who earned his second save of the season, with an over joyous hug.
“Schoch is mentally prepared. That’s the role he’s in,” manager Sal Colangelo said. “He’s got the mindset when he comes in (that) he needs to come after it. His ball moves, it crosses, dives, sinks. He can do a lot with (his pitches) and he’s very effective.
Colangelo had trusted Schoch following the 2016 Big Train season. Once the UMBC pitcher made his way back to Bethesda this summer, he understood that his role on the team would be of larger value.
Schoch said that the trust that Colangelo and the rest of the coaching staff has in him fuels right-handed pitcher to strive for dominance.
“One of the most important things as a player is to have a coach who trusts you,” Schoch said. “I’ve been with Sal for a few years now and so just knowing that he trusts me to be in this situation, when the big situation comes, he goes to me.
“It’s kind of an honor and something that’s very big to me, so I can’t let him down for that. It just feels good to know how valued I am by the coaching staff.”
The 7-1 Big Train return to Shirley Povich Field on Thursday to take on the Baltimore Dodgers at 7 p.m. The Dodgers hold the worst record in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, coming to Bethesda with a 2-7 record.