This past Sunday’s game, which ended in a ninth-inning walk-off win for the Samford Bulldogs, served as quite the ending to what had been an exciting three-game series against the visiting Xavier Musketeers. While the game gave coach Casey Dunn’s squad the series win, it also served as a special moment for one newcomer to this year’s team.
Junior pitcher Zach Hester spent his first two collegiate seasons at LSU-Eunice, helping lead his team to a 2018 NJCAA Division II National Title behind a 13-1 record, with 134 strikeouts and a 2.34 ERA. He was also named 2018 NJCAA Division II Pitcher of the Year and the MVP of the NJCAA Division II World Series.
The 6-foot-one-inch right-hander from Vidor, Texas, talked about how he felt well-prepared for the jump to Division I baseball.
“I can honestly say that I went to one of the best junior colleges in the country,” Hester said. “They expected excellence every day, and that’s what really prepared me. It helped make me who I am today, really competitive. That’s what you have to be when you are on a baseball field.”
Hester has been playing baseball ever since he could walk, but did not settle in as pitcher right away.
“I started playing baseball when I was 4 years old,” he said. “I grew up playing baseball, playing travel ball growing up until high school. In high school, I played first base and third base and also pitched. Then I went to junior college as a pitcher and pitched my first two years there, and now I’m here.”
Coming into what was already a solid returning pitching staff for the Bulldogs, Hester knew he wanted to come in and compete and show what he could do. He believes that his demeanor on the mound is an aspect that really stands out in his game.
“I think I am able to be really composed on the mound,” Hester said. “I am going to be able to come at (the pitcher) with everything I have. I’m going to challenge you. If you hit me, then you hit me, but everyone who steps in the box is going to get a challenge. I go into each at-bat expecting to win the challenge.”
Along with a strong pitching staff, Samford returned many other keys pieces from a 2018 team that produced a 37-26 record and a trip to the NCAA Regionals. Hester is already getting along and fitting right in with his new teammates.
“The camaraderie we have is awesome! Everybody on this team is going in the same direction. We are all a family here and I love it. That’s how a program has to be,” he said.
Off the field, Hester already has a career path in mind, aiming toward a career in coaching in the future. Hester was a 4.0 student while earning his associate’s degree from LSU-Eunice.
“I am going into Sports Administration. I want to graduate here with a bachelor’s degree and then go to graduate school,” he said. “One day, I hope to become a college coach because watching how my junior college coach and my coaches here coach me, it’s something I love and could do on an everyday basis.”
When it comes to his overall transition to Samford, Hester described the process as super welcoming and easy. He identified one aspect about the Samford community as being his favorite that many people would probably agree with.
“Definitely the people around here,” Hester said. “Everybody is so friendly and you meet a lot of people. Coming in from Texas, I really didn’t know anybody. After being here a few days and meeting with the team, it’s easy to get to know people around here.”
Hester’s first two starts of the season for the Bulldogs haven’t quite gone as planned, as he has failed to go deeper than four innings in either outing, posting a record of 0-1 while giving up six earned runs on 11 hits.
He acknowledged that pitching on the mound knowing that he has strong bullpen ready to back him up if needed, to go along with an explosive offense, gives him extra confidence and can be a big help.
“Its awesome. It takes a lot of pressure of of me. I know I have a bullpen that can come in and do exactly what they are supposed to do,” he said.
Through the first two weekend series of the season, the Bulldogs have used the same weekend rotation of Strickland, McCord, and Hester, which projects to be one of the conference’s strongest as the season moves along.
The Bulldogs return home to Joe Lee Griffin Field on March 6 to take on Alabama State at 4 p.m. CST.