Story by William Carter / Contributing Writer
In a world filled with highlights, statistics, and star players, the underdog goes often unnoticed. Everyone wants to see a 450-foot bomb over the centerfield wall, but many times it’s the quiet ones without all the highlights that propel a team to wins. For MTSU pitcher Zach Keenan, that story rings true.
Keenan came to Murfreesboro by way of Suwanee, Georgia where he controlled the mound for the Lambert High School Longhorns and was named to the All-State team his senior year. Pitchers who can consistently place the ball where they want are highly regarded by coaches at all levels, but Keenan was overlooked for most of his career.
“I was smaller throughout high school, so I didn’t make the team my freshman or sophomore years of high school,” Keenan said. “I made the junior varsity team my junior year, and finally was able to make the varsity team in my last year.”
As one might expect, Keenan wasn’t highly recruited out of high school due to his lack of playing experience but was still able to land a scholarship offer from the College of Charleston. Two weeks before he was set to make the move and start his college career, the head baseball coach was terminated by the school in the summer of 2017. That put a damper on Keenan and his future in the game, but thanks to a family friend he found himself on an unofficial visit at MTSU.
“It was a blessing from God to end up at MT,” said Keenan. “A family friend of mine knew Coach (Jim) McGuire, and after talking with him I found my home at MTSU.”
The long, bumpy road didn’t stop there. In the summer of 2018, MTSU cut ties with McGuire, and a month later hired current head coach Jim Toman. A new coaching staff for any team means a new team culture, philosophy and sometimes even skepticism of where you stand as a player. For Keenan, he had struggled in his freshman season posting a 4.98 ERA in 43-⅓ innings, but a phone call from the new pitching coach kept him at ease.
“Transitioning between coaches was pretty easy,” Keenan said. “I had a good summer, and Coach (Kyle) Bunn called me to check in on me. It really gave me a good feel for the new staff and confidence for the upcoming season.”
In his sophomore season, Keenan improved but still found himself struggling on the mound. He posted a 4-4 record with a 4.48 ERA in 60-⅓ innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio improved as he struckout 77 opposing batters while only walking 17. Disappointed in himself and needing a boost of confidence, Keenan found himself back home talking to his summer ball pitching coach.
‘“I went to him and basically just asked, ‘Am I just not good at baseball? What am I doing wrong,’” Keenan said. ‘“He looked at me and said, ‘Zach you have what it takes to be great. You just need to find it.’”
The rest is history in the making for Zach Keenan.
His junior season was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Keenan showed that he had made improvement in his six appearances. He was 2-1 in the condensed season holding a 3.06 ERA with 19 strikeouts. Opposing teams were put on notice as Keenan allowed a batting average of .221.
It was obvious that he had started to find his groove before the season was cancelled and he was hungry for more. Of all the things that he could have improved upon, Keenan took to his diet to further his success before what would be his senior season.
“I knew going into this year the biggest thing for me was my diet. I wasn’t a very disciplined eater until a year ago,” said Keenan. “I did some research and it seems to have worked out so far. I’m in better shape, and it’s shown on the field this year.”
Just as the old saying goes, the numbers never lie.
So far this season, Keenan has made four appearances on the mound for Middle Tennessee, totaling 23-⅔ innings and a 2-0 record. He’s struck out 28 batters and is tied for first in the nation for walks with zero. Of the 88 batters he faced, only 12 of those have scraped a hit off Keenan for a batting average of .140. He was also named Conference-USA Pitcher of the Week for his efforts at the start of the season.
It’s safe to say that opposing teams are prepared to struggle when Keenan takes the mound the rest of the season. He will look to continue his remarkable year this weekend at UAB.
To contact Sports Editor Nathan Vaughan, email firstname.lastname@example.org.