Flourishing in a new role
Coker's Loraine moves from behind plate to closing games
Coker junior Zach Loraine is a rookie on the mound, but don’t let his inexperience fool you.
Loraine paces Division II with 13 saves in only his first season as a pitcher after converting from his life-long position behind the plate. He had dabbled with pitching in summer ball, and tossed a few innings during his time at Lindenwood, but it was only after he transferred to Coker this season that he made the change.
“I messed around in high school a little bit -- I maybe threw five innings a year,” Loraine said. “Last year, at Lindenwood, I threw seven innings total, but it was never anything serious. We’d be up or down by 10 or 15 runs. The coaches would just tell me to go have some fun.”
Then, Loraine decided it was time to see what his arm could really do.
“Over time, I ventured to the other side of the mound,” Loraine said. “I wanted to experience what it was like. Everybody said I should try being a pitcher.”
At the same time, Loraine wanted to transfer to a program that could compete in the postseason. Lindenwood is currently a provisional member of NCAA Division II, after transitioning from NAIA, but cannot compete in the postseason until it is granted full membership next season.
Loraine began looking around for a program that would fit with his two desires, and reached out to Lindenwood’s former pitching coach Ricky Meinhold, who is now serving at the same position at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C.
“I had known Ricky [Meinhold] from Lindenwood -- he was there my medical redshirt year,” Loraine said. “I stayed in contact with him and asked him if he was interested in making me a pitcher, and that’s where it started.”
Late last summer, Meinhold and head coach Dave Schmotzer found a spot for Loraine on the roster, and began training him to become a pitcher.
The result has been a closer who throws in the low 90s, and has been clocked as fast as 96 mph. Loraine has fanned 45 batters in 42.1 innings pitched, and is among the NCAA leaders in strikeouts per nine innings with 9.57 and hits allowed per nine innings with 6.23.
“First of all, he’s an athlete with some arm speed,” Schmotzer said. “There was no magic wand in Zach becoming who he is today. That came because the Lord blesses some special kids. He’s got the work ethic to want to improve.”
Loraine has been used only in relief situations, and has developed into quite the closer.
“I love being a closer,” Loraine said. “When the game is on the line, it’s my time to go in and show everybody what I’ve got. Who doesn’t want the ball in their hands when the game is on the line?”
Loraine’s 13 saves this season have helped the Cobras to a 28-12 record, and second place in the Conference Carolinas standings behind Mount Olive.
“At the end of the game, if it’s close, you can either win or lose it,” Schmotzer said. “Thirteen times he’s come in with the game on the line and shut the door. He’s been very valuable under pressure.”
Schmotzer said the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Loraine reminds him of another converted catcher who played in the Conference Carolinas -- former Mount Olive right-hander Carter Capps, who was drafted in the third round by the Seattle Mariners in 2011. Capps was called up to the majors last July and remains a part of the Mariners’ bullpen this season.
“He reminds me of Carter Capps with his make-up, with his body [and] with his potential,” Schmotzer said.
Loraine’s time behind the dish definitely gave him a head start when it came to making the transition to the mound.
“I think being a catcher has helped me make the transition a little better,” Loraine said. “It has allowed me to see or think as a hitter, instead of a pitcher. I take my catcher’s opinion and add in what I know from being a catcher. We communicate a lot between innings and that helps.”
While his pitching has been impressive, Loraine is no slouch at the plate, either. As the Cobras’ clean-up hitter, he is batting .303 with nine doubles, two home runs and 26 RBIs. He also leads the team with 16 stolen bases.
Loraine throws a fastball and a cutter, and is not worried about working another pitch into his repertoire quite yet.
“I’m trying to work on my balance and driving to the plate, and that is what my concern is right now,” Loraine said. “It’s about throwing strikes.”
Loraine, a native of Lake St. Louis, Mo., has made big strides since throwing his first bullpen in the fall, but is not satisfied with what he has accomplished so far.
“I think there is still a lot of room for me to improve,” Loraine said. “I came in not knowing anything and have been somewhat successful, but obviously to get to the next level I have a lot to learn.”
“The game for him down the road is still in front of him,” Schmotzer said. “He’s getting a lot of looks with the draft coming up and that’s good stuff. Even though he’s doing well for us on the mound right now, he’s still a neophyte when it comes to pitching. Sometimes, what you see is what you get, but what you see with Zach, will just get better and better because he is so new to this position.”
Coker concludes its regular-season schedule at Erskine on Friday and Saturday, and then heads to the Conference Carolinas tournament in Burlington, N.C. on April 25.