Photo By Kayleigh Omang
Traditionally, the game of baseball has been defined by its hardest throwers. Long ago, Nolan Ryan was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game with a fastball that was sometimes clocked at over 100 miles per hour. Then, there was RandyJohnson, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, who routinely threw triple digits. In more recent times, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Jacob DeGrom have all captured Cy Young Awardsthrowing fastballs in the mid to upper 90s.
By no means is pitch speed an adequate barometer by which to judge any pitcher. There are some pitchers who throw fast that struggle with control and finding the strike zone. Throwing fast does not make you invincible on the mound, but to be fair, it does not hurt.
Sophomore Max Loven is the antithesis of everything described above. Loven does not throw hard
and he admits he has never really been able to throw hard. However, whatever he lacks in velocity, he more than makes up for with control and a true command of the strike zone. This was on full display in 2019 where Loven showcased that he is one of the best pitchers in the Summit League, as just a freshman.
Before the 2019 season, no one outside of Bison baseball knew who Max Loven was. He was just a true freshman pitcher from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Loven himself did not know how he would factor into the NDSU staff in 2019. He expected to see some spot relief time here and there but was anticipating a developmental season. In 2020, everyone knows who Max Loven is and everyone in the Summit League is on alert.
“It’s just confidence. I always tried to have confidence in myself, but as you see more success, it’s easier to have confidence and envision yourself having more success,” Loven said of his success in 2019 and how he plans to thrive in 2020.
That success in 2019 translated to one of the stingiest seasons in recent NDSU baseball history. Loven pitched 88.2 innings as a true freshman, making 13 appearances, all as the Bison starter. By year’s end, Loven won four games and compiled 75 strikeouts, a .240 opponent batting average and an impressive 2.74 ERA. That ERA mark was second-best in the conference. On top of that, Loven’s control is what dazzled so many, only walking 15 batters in 2019.
Loven was named the conference’s First Team and Newcomer of the Year. He was also named a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American. Those individual awards are dazzling and are surely a sign of things to come for Max Loven. However, he is more concerned with team performance. North Dakota State offered forth a very young team in 2019 with just four seniors on the roster.
In 2020, the Bison are another year older and Loven believes that will benefit the team moving forward. “With a lot of newcomers, people coming back or junior college transfers who are juniors or seniors, we just have a lot more confidence and experience,” Loven said of the team’s growth from this season to last. “We know what it’s like and we’ve all done it before and went through it.”
As far as how he continues to improve in 2020, Loven says relying on control is vital. While he is not the hardest of throwers, his control is unparalleled. Loven believes that will carry him a long way this season.
“I always like to improve on a little bit of everything. I didn’t throw the fastest last year, but that really has to do with my control,” he said. “Being able to locate my offspeed pitches more specifically and getting a better feel with those was big.”
The obstacle the Bison must face like they do each season is the travel in their non- conference slate. NDSU did not practice or play outside until their first game of the season. In 2020, the Bison made trips to Hawaii, California, Florida and Colorado, spanning four time zones. That aggressive travel schedule can take its toll on anyone, but Loven believes the Bison are used to it.
“Obviously, we don’t practice outside before our first game. That is the first time we practice and play outside which is kind of a challenge,” Loven said. “With the time differences with long travel days, you’re always just a little bit tired. Usually, we do just fine with that and overcome any of the challenges.”
While the non-conference schedule is vital to building a team over the course of a season, the Summit League slate is where it matters most. In 2019, the Bison went 15-15 in conference play. Of those 15 conference losses, six of them were by one run. NDSU missed the Summit League Tournament by one game last season. This year, Loven and the Bison are focused on finishing games strong.
“The only thing I think about is that we missed the Summit League Tournament by one game. This year, the only thing we’re trying to do is make sure we get to the tournament,” Loven said of his goals for 2020. “Once we get there, we’re going to do our best and try to be the Summit League champions.”
Since NDSU did not make the conference tournament last season, they are using that as motivation in 2020. The Bison are eager to compete in the conference and get back to the top of the Summit League. Loven believes NDSU has the tools to be conference champions this season too.
“We had a lot of games last year where we can look back at games we should have won or something would have gone differently. This year, we are focused on being consistent all the time and not having those slip-ups that we had a lot of last year,” he said. “If we just clean that up and we’re more consistent throughout the course of the year, we have enough talent and everything we need to be one of the top teams in the league.”
Max Loven may not throw hard like Nolan Ryan or Jacob DeGrom, but he has showcased that speed does not always kill. In the sophomore’s case, it is an abundance of control and confidence that has made him one of the conference’s best pitchers. While Loven is a student-athlete to watch in 2020 he is concerned with other things.
Like his teammates around him, Max Loven is hungry for Summit League success this season.