Stefan Lopez shines in closer’s role

Junior closer Stefan Lopez is used to the high pressure of pitching in the ninth inning. So much so, that in Friday’s win over Stephen F. Austin, the right-hander recorded save number 28, putting him alone atop the career saves list in the Southland Conference (SLC).  
“I think it’s a wonderful thing. Especially in my junior year,” said Lopez. “It’s not really about breaking records. It’s about us winning. If I do my job, and we keep winning, then it will all take care of itself.”
Lopez surpassed UTSA’s Zach Calhoon, who notched 27 saves from 2006-2009.
Lopez’s career, however, did not start off as dazzling as it has progressed. At the end of his freshman season, he sported a 5.23 earned run average, but showed flashes of brilliance, throwing 10 consecutive scoreless innings, including an outing against LSU.
His sophomore year proved redeeming, appearing in 21 games, earning nine saves and posting a 3.25 earned run average. Lopez was even more effective against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .166 batting average.
His junior year started off with a bang, as he was nominated to Baseball America’s Preseason Stopper of the Year Watchlist, and the same mid-season watchlist. With his junior season now winding down, Lopez has a 0.75 earned run average, and has tallied 18 saves in 24 innings pitched, while striking out 36 hitters. While these stats are impressive, it is Lopez’s poise and composure that earned him a nomination for one of the most prestigious awards a collegiate relief pitcher can receive.
“I think if you have the right attitude, it’s not any different,” said Lopez, on his role. “People put the pressure on the ninth inning, and they build up the position. I think it’s a great role, and I love what I do, but throwing the ninth inning is no different than throwing the first inning.”
Lopez did not take over the closer’s role until his sophomore year and downplays the adjustment period.
“With the type of mentality I have on the mound, it’s not that hard of an adjustment,” said Lopez. “I was already a late reliever in my earlier years here. It’s not that huge of an adjustment, you just have to have confidence.”
Still, Lopez, much like his teammates, realizes the potential the 2012 Lions have and the importance of the team over himself.
“I’ve had some great memories, but with the group of guys we have now, I think there’s still more to come,” said Lopez.
Lopez’s statement could prove true, as the Lions drive to Huntsville, Texas for a three game series against SLC top-ranked Sam Houston State on May 11-13.