By Dennis Garcia
The goal of every college baseball player at the end of the season is to be a member of that one team left standing. To be a part of that one team that is celebrating a championship. Of all the teams that begin with championship aspirations in the fall, only one team per NCAA Division can lay claim to being a World Series champion.
Jackson Balzan and Salisbury University experienced that feeling last season as the Sea Gulls advanced to and captured the Division III World Series for the first time in school history.
Balzan, who won two games in that World Series and was named the NCAA Division III College World Series most outstanding player, will be one of the pitchers the Asheboro Copperheads are counting on heavily for the upcoming Coastal Plain league season.
“It’s exciting, our expectations are high and we feel a lot more confident than last year knowing we can do it,” Balzan said as the Gulls prepared for the new season. “It’s a different feeling coming back after winning that. We lost a couple of good players, but we have most of our guys back.”
The Sea Gulls, who finished 34-4, captured their final 14 games of the season last year, including a perfect 5-0 in the World Series. Balzan, a 5-11, 185-pound left-hander, spun a complete-game win over Cortland State in the opener, winning 11-1 and he opened the best-two-of-three Championship Series against St. Thomas by throwing five effective innings on just two days rest. Overall in the World Series, he finished with a 1.29 ERA in 14 innings of work with two walks and 12 strikeouts.
“I wasn’t expecting to start that first game of the World Series, it was a shock to Courtland and to me,” Balzan said of Salisbury’s first-round opponent, adding that because ace Clay Dwyer had thrown so many innings in the postseason, he was handed the ball. “It was a different feeling pitching in the World Series, but it definitely amps you up and makes you enjoy it that much more. You just have to focus on the task at hand.”
Balzan did that all season long. After a freshman season in which he was 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA in four appearances, he finished his sophomore season 9-1 with an impressive 2.26 ERA. He appeared in 15 games, 14 as a starter, hurled 67 ⅔ innings and gave up just 48 hits. He walked 28 and fanned 87.
Balzan said he learned a great deal his freshman season.
“I think in my first start of my freshman season I did very well (one hit and 11 strikeouts in six shutout innings), but the second start I didn’t do too hot, (five hits and four earned runs in five innings)” Balzan said. “I found out teams actually studied me. That was a big adjustment my sophomore year, knowing that they were watching me every time I pitched.”
After his incredible sophomore season at Salisbury, he was named to the World Series All-Tournament Team, ABCA All-South Region First Team, D3baseball.com All-South Region Third Team and All-C2C Second Team.
“All three of my pitches play off one another,” said Balzan, who played for the Trenton Generals in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League and for the Silver Springs-Takoma T-Bolts in the Cal Ripken league the past two summers. “My curveball is probably my out-pitch, but I use the changeup to keep them off balance.”
Brazen is looking forward to his junior season with the Sea Gulls and then his summer in Asheboro.
“I’m excited to get to that next level of competition and see where I am,” Balzan said.
The Copperheads believe he will be ready.
“We are excited to have Jackson joining us for the summer,” Asheboro head coach and general manager Jeremy Knight said. “Anytime you can secure a proven winner and someone who has won a title, it’s a big deal. Jackson was outstanding in the D3 World Series last year and I expect to see big things from him again this year.”