With a slick fastball, devastating slider and a distinct side-arm delivery, Stephen Schoch (UMBC) has outdueled nearly every Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League hitter he's faced this year.
“I kind of wanted to just push myself to be better and be the best instead of being another pitcher,” Schoch said.
Through 36 regular season games, the Big Train's closer has yet to give up a single run and has allowed only 12 hits against the 88 batters he's faced. He's also eighth in the CRCBL with 32 strikeouts, despite pitching just 25.1 innings -- the 41st most in the league.
“He just understands his abilities,” manager Sal Colangelo said. “He understands what he can and can’t do. He understands what he needs to do to get people out and he’s very confident.”
Schoch’s stellar campaign has been a pleasant surprise for the Big Train coaching staff. In 2016 the Big Train closer pitched only 15.2 innings with 14 strikeouts and a 2.87 ERA for Bethesda. But with a year off from gameplay the Laurel, MD native has played like a man possessed, armed with an arsenal of deadly pitches that have mowed down nearly every batter he’s faced.
“I felt like last year I was just [an] average reliever,” Schoch said. “I didn’t really ask that much of myself other than just go out there and throw like I usually do.”
The major change for Schoch came while sitting out this past college season following his transfer from Appalachian State. After head coach Billy Jones was fired at the end of the 2016 season, Schoch decided to leave Boone, North Carolina
“When the coach left it was kind of like you were just losing someone who was there for you,” Schoch said. “So you got to find someone else.”
Upon his release from Appalachian State, Schoch committed to the University of Maryland – Baltimore County over George Mason, George Washington, Lindenwood, James Madison and Elon.
“I had kind of established a relationship with them,” Schoch said of UMBC. “Once I got permission to contact, they were the first people to contact me and so I just thought very highly of them.”
“They respected me a lot as a player so I [knew] it was somewhere where if I go I could play my game.”
Upon his arrival at UMBC, Schoch had to sit out this past season for the Retrievers due to NCAA transfer rules. During his time away from competition he refocused himself on baseball. Added time in the weight room helped Schoch physically, but he said the driving force behind his renaissance this summer was watching his teammates play every day. The feeling of missing out forced Schoch to recognize how fortunate he was to be playing the game he loves.
“One of the things that really helped me was just realizing how much I missed the game and just sitting out," Schoch said. "Watching all my teammates go out there and ball out, I just kind of missed it.”
“And I’d just get angrier and angrier that I wasn’t out here and it just kind of made me feel like not to take the game for granted because you never know when you’re going to be sitting out for good.”
With that thought in mind, Schoch has taken his game to a whole new level. And when it came time to take the mound for the Big Train this summer the rising sophomore felt a year’s worth of built up frustration and work come to fruition.
“It’s one of the best feelings ever,” Schoch said of getting back on the field. “You don’t realize every day you’re playing baseball. You don’t really realize how great of an opportunity you have. And just missing out on that opportunity for a little bit you really get to learn a lot about how much the game offers you and how you can’t really take any of it for granted.”
With the added work and extra year of maturation, Schoch’s dominance has helped the Big Train to a 7-9 record with five games to play in the regular season. However, his influence is felt beyond the diamond as well.
“It definitely helps,” assistant coach Tyler McKee said of having Schoch in the locker room. “And especially the younger guys will listen to him and learn from what he’s doing,”
Schoch has taken his role as a clubhouse leader in stride, saying that he hopes the issues he’s faced can help others learn to be better players.
“I think I’ve been through a fair amount of adversity in my career so I know just from the mental side of things how to handle things,” Schoch said. “And I know that even my worst outing I’m going to be able to bounce back from it and I think I can help guys realize that regardless of how bad the last outing went, the next one can be so much better.”
Now as the CRCBL season enters its final few games before the playoffs, Schoch is taking things day-by-day but he continues to stay competitive whether he’s on the bump or on the bench.
“I’m going to compete to see how fast I can get ready, how quick I can do this, I’m going to compete about literally anything,” Schoch said. “And if you can do that about small, trivial things [then] when doing it about the one thing you care about most you’re going to be pretty good at it if you’ve got the right mindset.”
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