Don’t let his classification fool you.
Labeled as a freshman, pitcher Zach Neal is pitching well beyond his years. Despite having started less than half-a-dozen games in his collegiate career, the Flower Mound native has been a pleasant surprise for the Bearkats rotation early in the season.
“I feel pretty good,” Neal said. “I would like to get a little more consistency in my starts. They have been team efforts throughout all of them; I can’t do it without my defense.”
Neal currently leads the Bearkats in wins (3), innings pitched (26 1/3) and strikeouts (25), while having allowed only three walks.
“Zach has been very consistent for us,” SHSU head baseball coach Mark Johnson said. “He throws strikes well, which is what separates him for other guys his age. He’s doing a great job for us. He’s a hard worker and very demanding of himself and expects himself to do well.”
In his first start on the road against the University of Texas Pan -American, Neal went five innings, allowing four hits while striking out nine. During his time on the mound, Neal along with not allowing an earned run in his first collegiate start, etched his first victory at SHSU.
“It came as a surprise,” Neal said. “I usually don’t strike out people. I guess my stuff was just working well that day.”
Not the classic “power pitcher”, Neal throws both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, which tops out at around 87 miles-per-hour, a slider and his “go-to” pitch, the change-up. Through his first two starts, and nine and a third innings at SHSU, Neal had 16 strikeouts, but the punch-out total came as a bit of a surprise.
“I always try to pitch to contact, to throw strikes,” Neal said. “Those two times, I guess they weren’t hitting it.”
As his strikeout total began to decrease, Neal’s productivity as a pitcher improved with the next two subsequent starts throwing his two longest starts of the season, six and a third innings against South Dakota State and eight innings of one-run baseball against Central Arkansas, earning his second and third victories of the season.
“I just tried to throw strikes, not get behind the hitters and let the defense do most of the work,” Neal said of the two starts.
As for going forward, the team along with the young starter looks to be preparing for another run at a conference title.
“I think we’re a good team, I think we’ve struggled a little bit, but we’re getting better and going to turn it around and do a lot better,” Neal said. “We just want to go out and get better every day as a team and as individuals.”