With runners on second and third, two outs and a 2-2 count, Bowdoin pitcher Oliver Van Zant '13 stood on the mound knowing that his next pitch would be the most important of the game. It was the top of the seventh inning last Saturday and Bowdoin held a 4-1 lead over powerhouse Trinity College.
Coach Mike Connelly had just come out to the mound and told Van Zant that if the Trinity batter got on base, Van Zant's outing would be over. Van Zant needed the out.
On deck was one of the most dangerous hitters in D-III: Trinity's James Wood. Van Zant came through in the clutch, blowing a pitch past Matt Sullivan to keep the Polar Bear's lead secure.
Van Zant wasted no time beginning his collegiate career. As a starting pitcher, Van Zant has a 4-0 record this season. His ERA is 2.74 and his 32 strikeouts are second-highest in the NESCAC. Meanwhile, Bowdoin is off to its best start in program history. Its 15-5 record has earned a first-place ranking in a recent New England D-III poll.
Van Zant's victory over Trinity is his most notable achievement of the season thus far. Trinity has won the NESCAC Championship for the past two years, and claimed the D-III Championship in 2008. Nevertheless, Van Zant held the team to just one run and posted an impressive 11 strikeouts on approximately 130 pitches. As a result, Van Zant was named NESCAC Pitcher of the Week.
"He throws hard," said teammate Tim Welch '12. "His fastball has a lot of speed and he gets a ton of strikeouts."
Fellow pitcher Aaron Allen '13 further commented on Van Zant's style.
"He's a fast worker on the mound," said Allen. "It lets him control the pace of the game. He just goes up there and mows people down. He throws really hard, I'm guessing somewhere in the 80 mph range."
"I consider myself a power pitcher," said Van Zant. "Since coming to Bowdoin, the location of my fastball has gotten a lot better, and my slider and curveball have stayed consistent."
While Van Zant has showed particular skill as a hurler, he also plays second base for the Polar Bears when not on the mound. While his pitching is his most notable talent, Van Zant still hopes to improve in other areas of his game.
"I've not done as well at hitting this year, so that is definitely something I'd like to get better at," he said.
Playing for Green Farms Academy, the Wesport, Conn., native posted a stellar .474 average his senior year. Van Zant's current average is .235, a decent mark considering the huge increase in competition he encountered on entering the college league.
Allen suggested that Van Zant's love for baseball puts goals within reach.
"He has a great passion for the game," said Allen. "The kid breathes and eats baseball and that translates to success on the field."
As a devoted New York Yankees fan, Van Zant looks up to the major leaguer Mariano Rivera. Van Zant admired that Rivera, at age 40, has stayed a strong player despite being relatively old for the major leagues. Van Zant added that Rivera was a power pitcher like himself.
"I actually once saw an interview with him about how he delivered his cut fastball," Van Zant said. "It helped me to develop my own slider."
Van Zant's pitching is noticeably benefitting the Polar Bears. He has exploded onto the Bowdoin team, but his decision to come to Bowdoin did not come quickly. Van Zant considered schools such as Duke, Holy Cross, Yale, and Brown, but after a long process filled with recruiters and admissions officers, he settled on Bowdoin.
It has worked out well thus far. Van Zant has proven to be an important asset to a Bowdoin team brimming with talent. Van Zant described the sense of anticipation he felt when he visited the Bowdoin team last year.
"There were a lots of kids on the team saying that we were going to be really good this year," he said. "Almost all the starters were returning and the captains said that this was the year to really step up to the plate."
Bowdoin has started off in fine form, but with the playoffs quickly approaching, players' minds are more focused on the next game than on past outings. As such, Van Zant will be looked to again for the dynamic performances that have helped to energize the Polar Bears this season.