A majority of the 205 fans at USA Stadium in Millington, Tennessee were silenced by the fourth inning. Zach Schneider, Webster University freshman pitcher in 2011, took the energy from supporters of the No. 1 team in the country Christopher Newport University (Pen.). He threw a complete game and allowed one run in the Gorloks 11-1 victory in the first round of the NCAA Division III Regional Tournament.
“That was something I’ll never forget,” Schneider said.
Three seasons later Schneider has again pitched himself into a lead role on the Gorlok staff. He is one of three Gorlok pitchers, along with Dylan Dean Smith and Jason Gray to return to form this year after major arm surgery.
Video by Sam Masterson
He is 2-0 in his first two starts and through 13 innings has not allowed a run. Most recently he went seven innings and struck out three against the Illinois Wesleyan University on Sunday March 23.
“It’s about time,” Schneider said. “It feels good to finally be back in the groove. And everything feels good when you win.”
Schneider did three things after each of his seven scoreless innings on Sunday. He thanked his catcher (Zach Allam), fist bumped Assistant Coach Chad Hammons and was stopped by Assistant Coach, and former teammate David Mueller.
Mueller and Schneider shared the top of the rotation in 2011, Mueller’s junior season. After a 2012 season in which Mueller earned the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) Pitcher of the Year, he returned in 2013 for his first collegiate coaching position.
Webster secured its first ever berth to the College World Series in 2012. Then repeated for a second fifth overall national finish in 2013, with Mueller’s contribution coming from the bench. For the second year in a row a Gorlok took home SLIAC Pitcher of the Year honors, this time it was senior Steven Dooley.
Mueller said. “Individual awards are a great thing to look back on at the end of the year, but we are trying to do something more important with our team here.”
He said the team goal is an eighth straight conference championship.
Junior Isaac Behme and seniors Jason Gray and Dylan Dean Smith all have shown the talent to be a pitcher of the year candidate. Behme was a First-Team All-Conference selection in 2013 and SLIAC Newcomer of the Year in 2012 as a freshman.
Gray is perhaps the least likely to win the award. He is used primarily in late inning and closer opportunities, which keeps his number of innings pitched low. The four SLIAC Pitchers of the Year all have thrown 59 or more innings, Gray has never pitched more than 28 in full season.
“If they want to be pitcher of the year then that’s fine,” Gray said. “But I just want to do my job.”
Smith has all the tools a pitcher needs. He picked up two wins between March 20 and 23, both times he came out of the bullpen. And he’s a proven to be a successful starter since he went 4-0 as a freshman in 2011. This year he has as 3-0 record with a win and a no-decision in his two starts.
This is the first time since 2011 that Schneider, Gray and Smith have all been healthy. Each had major arm surgery which kept them out for the 2012 season and only Gray had a full 2013 season.
Smith and Schneider underwent the same surgery to repair labral tears in their pitching shoulders. Gray received ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, or Tommy John as it is better known in baseball.
Schneider said his shoulder was in pain halfway through the 2011 season, but he pitched through it. He was told before he got the surgery of the possibility he may never throw a baseball again. But the 45 minute operation to remove torn muscle from Schneider’s shoulder was successful.
“When you finally start throwing (after surgery) the baseball is the heaviest thing you’ve ever thrown,” Schneider said. “The mind set of knowing you can hit your spot at full speed is the hardest thing.”
All three seem to have returned to the mindset they had in 2011. They are a combined 6-0 and Smith, with an ERA of 2.29, is the only one to have allowed a run this season. The pitchers give much of that success to Mueller and his guidance.
“He brings a lot of insight to the pitching staff,” Smith said. “A lot of help from an older guy who’s learned a couple things over the years.”
Mueller can attest to the difficulty of pitching after surgery. In the summer of 2013 he played in Roswell, New Mexico for the Invaders semi-professional baseball club in the PECOS League. But he was subjected to the same pain Schneider and Smith felt in 2011 before surgery.
Mueller received labrum surgery at the end of the summer.
“The hardest thing is that first pitch that you really let go and you throw it 100%,” Mueller said. “And then do that every day for a couple months. You don’t know how your arm is gonna react every time.”
Mueller plans to further is coaching career this summer and won’t return to Roswell. Instead he will coach with the Rawling Tigers 17U boys, a travel team based in Chesterfield, Mo.
Mueller said he will stay on Webster’s staff as long as he is needed. And in 2015 he will still have Schneider and Behme to contribute to the possibility of a tenth straight conference championship.