|Knight pitchers step up to the plate
By Bruce Van Baren
Calvin baseball team pitchers Nate Pocock and Kyle Cousins led the baseball team in several statistical categories for the second straight year, but not the categories the Knights' one-two starting punch expected in spring training.
A year after leading Calvin's league-best rotation, tendinitis forced both four-year starters to shut down their pitching arms as the two combined for just three starts the entire season. Instead, Pocock and Cousins proved they could be just as deadly behind the plate as they had been on the pitching rubber.
"I thought they did a wonderful job of putting aside the disappointment of not being able to pitch and embracing the roles they were given," coach John Sparks said. "Both of these guys are team players and are willing to do whatever it takes for the team to succeed."
Instead of griping about season-ending injuries that kept them off the mound, both Pocock and Cousins anchored Calvin's MIAA second-best offense. The Knights (23-17, 20-8 MIAA) finished second in the conference. [Nate Pocock went on to earn MIAA Player of the Week honors.]
The MIAA pitcher of the year during Calvin's league championship run a year ago, Pocock transitioned into the Knights designated hitter. The senior right hander led the team in RBIs (38), sacrifice flies and extra base hits this season. Pocock was also second on the team in batting average (.384), home runs (4) and hits (48).
"Nate was our go-to guy on the mound and the guy we could count on just about every outing to get us a win last year," Sparks said. "This year he was the go-to guy at the plate. He was our most consistent hitter and came through with the most clutch hits this season."
A native of Wayland, Mass., Pocock was just 5 for 19 in a limited offensive role a year ago and 1 for 17 as a pinch hitter in his first two years. As Calvin's designated hitter, Pocock was third on the team with 125 at bats.
"I knew I could hit, but early on in my Calvin career I wasn't able to get a lot of at bats," Pocock said. "The main thing this year was that I was able to get consistent at bats."
Cousins, an all-MIAA second-team pitcher a year ago, also mastered a new role, filling a critical spot in the lineup and a gaping hole in the outfield. The 6-3 senior lefty flashed the leather in left field and transformed into a model number-two hitter in Calvin's lineup.
"He understood that role and was able to fit it will," Sparks said of Cousins offensive production. "He was a guy who could really make things happen not only with his bat, but with his speed. He put pressure on opposing teams at some really key times this season."
The Holland Christian graduate had also seen only a limited number of at bats in his first three seasons.
But Cousins led the team in games played (40), hits (49), stolen bases (9) and at bats (144).
"It was tough," Cousins said of the transition. "I hadn't hit consistently since high school and even then I was a leadoff hitter. It was a learning curve the first few weeks of the season -- learning to hit the off-speed pitch and learning to move a guy over. But once I got that learning curve it was just a blast to be out in the field."
The irony of the situation was that both Pocock and Cousins ended up seeing more playing time than they would have if they had pitched. Still, Cousins admitted it was humbling, and at times frustrating, dealing with a nagging injury.
"When you put a little too much emphasis on your success in a certain sport, it's funny how God chooses to humble you sometimes," Cousins said. "It was kind of a blessing how things turned around this season -- that we were able to hit and play as much as we did."
Pocock will finish up his degree in accounting at Calvin in the fall. Cousins graduated this spring with a degree in business with plans to attend medical school. Both played an integral part in turning around Calvin's baseball program, which had previously recorded five under .500 seasons, with back-to-back 20-win seasons and the Knights' first league championship since 2002.
"I'm honored to be a part of one of the classes that sort of helped Calvin College baseball make a turn and become a winning program," Pocock said. "I think our voice was heard over the past two years and it feels good to be a part of the changing of gears."
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