The dust settles as Lewis & Clark’s Andrew Taver trots up to the plate. The batter’s box had been frequented by five previous batters in the fourth inning, so the umpire is busy shining home plate to perfection.
Eyes locked on his opponent, junior Trevor Lubking prepares to hurl a fastball past Taver. Lubking knows he has to throw a strikeout with the bases loaded and two outs.
It does not matter that nearly a month before, Taver hit two home runs in a doubleheader. It does not matter that going into the game, Taver had batted in 13 runs on the season.
That was in the past. Lubking was focused on the present. Lubking is focused on the task at hand and minimizing the damage.
Equipped with an wide array of pitches and a tastefully combed mullet, Lubking unleashes a pitch that freezes Taver. The umpire, fresh off his duty from cleaning home plate, pulls back his right hand.
Lubking escapes to pitch another inning. With the bases loaded, Lubking exemplified why he leads the nation in strikeouts during this April 18 game at Lewis & Clark.
“Strikeouts happen when a pitcher combines an overpowering pitch with great location,” head coach Geoff Loomis said. “Trevor is better than most at doing that.”
The orthodox approach to pitching is quite simple. When faced with a 0-and-0 count, the pitcher needs to throw a strike to get ahead in the count. When a 1-and-1 count occurs, the demand to throw a strike is even greater than on a 0-and-0 count, because the pitcher can really swing the at-bat in his favor.
Lubking has learned this basic approach to pitching through many years of training. The notion is ingrained in his head that getting ahead in the count is a necessity.
Falling behind in a count as a pitcher is never ideal, but these instances do happen.
Pitching against Concordia Feb. 3, Lubking had given up one hit in the fifth inning after conceding two runs in the inning prior. With a runner on first and two outs, Lubking stared down his opponent, knowing he couldn’t allow another run.
Two pitches later, Lubking found himself in a 1-and-1 count. Concordia’s designated hitter, Ryan McMonigle, gripped his bat and prepared for the third pitch. Strike. McMonigle raised his blunt weapon again and readied himself for pitch No. 4. Strike.
Before McMonigle could blink, he struck out.
“It’s all really about mentality,” Lubking said. “It’s all about not worrying about them [the runners], bearing down and getting your outs.”
In 12 appearances this season, Lubking leads the nation in strikeouts with 111. The next closest pitcher doesn’t even come close. Jake Perkins, from Ferrum College in Virginia, has compiled 83 punchouts.
“It’s pretty cool to look and see my name at the top of the charts,” Lubking said. “Hopefully at the end of the season, I can stay up there. My first goal, though, is to get wins. Strikeouts are kind of a bonus.”
Three years ago, the strikeout king wasn’t even supposed to attend Pacific Lutheran University. He had already signed his letter of intent to be a Bulldog at Bellevue Community College.
BECOMING A LUTE
Most people who reside in Buckley, Washington will say they live a fairly simple lifestyle. Growing up in a town with a population of about 4,500 people, Lubking’s priorities were baseball, school and family. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
“I started playing [baseball] ever since I can remember,” Lubking said. “I had a glove in my hand and a ball and bat and all that stuff. It was just kind of a family thing and ever since then, I’ve just had the drive to continue playing and keep going from there. It’s just always been my thing.”
The Lubking love for baseball didn’t begin with the Lute. It began with his grandparents. Lubking’s grandpa on his father’s side played semi-pro baseball in Wenatchee nearly 50 years ago.
With a rich family history of baseball, it only made sense for Lubking to pursue the sport after graduating from Buckley High School.
As a senior at Buckley High School, Lubking was strongly considering attending Bellevue College. After all, he had signed his letter of intent to be a Bulldog.
However, in January of his senior year, Lubking received a call from the head baseball coach at PLU. Loomis contacted Lubking, and said, “I’d like for you to come pitch and play outfield for us.”
While Lubking did play outfield and hit in high school, he knew if he wanted to become a professional ballplayer, his intended path would be to strictly focus on pitching.
“I feel like I get more satisfaction out of pitching than I do hitting,” Lubking said. “Hitting is fun, granted, but I’ve realized that if I just focused on pitching, I can turn baseball into a career.”
Lubking has four pitches in his arsenal: the four-seam fastball, the two-seam fastball, the slider and a changeup.
“The four-seamer slides away from batters because I’m a lefty,” Lubking said. “The two-seam fastball will have a little bit more dive.”
These four pitches have allowed Lubking to dominate Northwest Conference foes for the past three years.
Not only has he won six games this season, but Lubking has also thrown three complete games and kept his opponents’ batting average under .200. Perhaps the most telling statistic is the fact that Lubking has only surrendered 12 hits in two out situations this season. In those situations, Lubking has faced 100 batters, making for an impressive .120 average.
“Without question, his biggest area of improvement has been efficiency,” Loomis said.
As a byproduct of his pitching talents, Lubking has been contacted by scouts from the Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Making the jump from the collegiate realm to the professional level is difficult, no matter the talent of the rising star. But from what Lubking has shown professional scouts and the nation, it might not be too long before he strikes out batters at the next level.