Most freshmen college athletes aren’t disillusioned about their role on the team. While some get an opportunity to contribute immediately, most are relegated to reserve roles, and it’s expected for them to serve that purpose.
Sussex East pitcher Zac Spece has been a starting pitcher since playing major league baseball for the Lower Sussex Little League program. But he has now proven invaluable for his Legion team as a reliever.
“It’s definitely different,” Spece said of reliving, as opposed to starting a game, “but it’s probably preparing me for college.”
Spece was admitted to Division III Arcadia College in Glenside, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia and will play baseball for the Knights next spring.
He’s won his only start of the season in a complete-game effort against the Sussex West Patriots, earned his second win in a come-back relief effort in the second game of a double-header against R.C. DuPont and most recently secured his first save in an 8-4 win over Post 1 in a July 8 double-header.
Sussex East trailed DuPont 6-4 in the bottom of the fourth when Spece took the mound for Trevor Abbott, but from there he shut them down.
Relievers are allowed only a few warm up pitches before tossing to live batters and since Spece plays a number of positions (utility infield), head coach Jody Sweetman doesn’t have the luxury of keeping him on the bench.
“With Jay (Marsh) out (at third base), Zac has to stay out on the field,” Sweetman said, “which means he doesn’t get the same time to warm up.”
“I hate to do it, but he’s our best reliever. After six or seven pitches, he’s ready to roll,” Sweetman continued.
After allowing the first batter to score an RBI to stretch DuPont’s lead to 7-4, Spece tossed a flawless, hitless and scoreless 3-2/3 innings while striking out only two batters.
Admittedly, he’s not an overpowering pitcher, but he’s confident in his teammates and himself.
“I feel confident with the caliber of team we have here and know that they are behind me and can make plays,” he said.
“I just try to throw strikes and hit my spots,” Spece continued.
Last year, he finished the season 4-0-1 as a starter (second on the team in wins) in 29 innings pitched (third most on team) while only striking out 11.
He scattered 60 base runners (34 hits and 16 walks) in his five appearances with a 4.35 ERA, but that number is down this year.
This year, he’s allowed only six hits and seven walks, and has given up only four earned runs in three appearances – a feat Spece credits to longtime mentor Dick Grimes.
“Basically, he made me who I am as a pitcher,” Spece said.
Despite learning everything he knows from Grimes, nothing would prepare Spece for the tumultuous season he and Sussex Tech had this past spring season.
Sussex Tech went 2-18, with Spece earning both victories, so now he’s relishing every moment of every inning in each game, no matter where he plays.
“I didn’t do very well at the plate (or pitching) for my high school, but once the season ended I knew our Legion team was good. So I was just looking forward to playing baseball and winning,” he said.
“Winning games is all that matters and right now I’m making up for it,” Spece said.