Lovvorn could be key in Oxford’s series against Pell City
by Joe Medley
Apr 27, 2012 | 3434 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
OXFORD — If all goes ideally for Oxford in its second-round playoff series, there will be today’s doubleheader, no Saturday “if” game and no reason for senior Zach Lovvorn to take the pitcher’s mound.

Then again, No. 6 Oxford (31-11) might not sweep Pell City (23-13) on Bud McCarty Field.

First-game starter Tucker Simpson might not match the perfect game he threw in last week’s opener against Hewitt-Trussville, and Oxford might just need bullpen help. One never knows.

Then, at least, the Yellow Jackets’ third Division I pitcher who is drawing longer and longer looks from pro scouts might pitch in a playoff game, and Oxford coach Wes Brooks can more fully enjoy his luxuries.

As of this season, Oxford has three starters pushing radar gun readouts past 90 mph.

“We get a best-2-out-of-3 series, and we’ve got to like our chances,” he said. “We’ve got three guys that touch 90 (mph) every now and then. Most guys have, maybe, one in 6A ball.”

There’s Simpson, the No. 1 starter who has signed with Florida.

There’s Alabama-bound Jackson Stephens, the No. 2.

Then there’s Lovvorn (4-3 with a 2ish ERA), who signed with Samford back in his 80s days.

The 6-foot-2 senior who keeps growing but has yet to match his 6-4, former-pitcher dad added about 5 mph to his top pitch speed this season. People noticed.

Scouts came out early in the year to measure the progress of Simpson, Stephens and center fielder Matthew Goodson, also Alabama-bound, and discovered Lovvorn’s startling velocity jump.

“He hit 92 a couple of times, 93 a couple of times, early in the year,” Brooks said. “Because he is later-blooming guy, meaning he gained 5 or 6 miles an hour over the last year, everybody is like, ‘Who is this Lovvorn guy?’

“At the beginning, they couldn’t pronounce it. They were call it Lo-vern. So, I said, ‘It’s Zach Lovvorn.’ They were like, well, so more and more guys are out to see him.”

How interested are scouts?

They scouted Oxford’s Sunday intrasquad game to get a look.

Brooks sent Lovvorn to the mound for 85 pitches against Oxford’s lineup this past Sunday, largely to keep him on schedule after he wasn’t needed in the Hewitt-Trussville series.

“There were three or four major-league guys that come to watch our Sunday intrasquad game because they knew that he was going to throw,” Brooks said. “They all kind of asked, ‘When is Lovvorn going to throw again?’”

The obvious question becomes, how did Lovvorn make such a velocity jump from his junior to his senior year?

His growth has just come more gradually than that of someone like Simpson, who was 6-6 with a power arm as a freshman. Lovvorn has grown eight inches since eighth grade.

He lists at 6-2, 185 on Oxford’s roster on AHSAA.com, but Brooks puts him 195-200 pounds. Lovvorn said he’s 6-1.

“Last year, I was probably about 5-11,” he said. “The year before that, I was probably about 5-9, and the year before that, I was probably about 5-4.”

He hopes to draw even with his dad, Mike Lovvorn, who pitched for Woodland High School, Southern Union and Jacksonville State.

While Zach Lovvorn’s size has changed, his workout habits haven’t. Between Oxford’s offseason throwing programs and daily workouts at Excel Baseball Academy, he has dramatically strengthened his arm and core.

“We do arm bands and weighted-ball throws, and we’ll do medicine-ball touches against the wall to improve the core,” he said about Oxford’s throwing program.

The Excel workouts vary from day to day but include squats and bench press plus stationary bike and band work.

“He comes out of those workouts dripping with sweat,” Brooks said.

It’s paying off in velocity. Brooks said Lovvorn was hitting 78-80 mph as a sophomore, 85-86 as a junior and low-90s this season.

Lovvorn has also expanded his pitch array.

“He’s got a curve ball, slider and changeup (to go with his fastball), and all four pitches are great,” Brooks said. “He’ll tell you his changeup is probably his best pitch. It’s nasty.”

While Lovvorn, his velocity and his pitch selections have grown, one thing hasn’t changed. He’s always had Simpson and Stephens as classmates.

The best Lovvorn could hope for on Oxford’s staff is the No. 3 starting position.

“It actually makes me strive to be better, to do better than the next guy,” Lovvorn said. “They’re two good guys to be in their shadows.”

Brooks certainly appreciates his No. 3 starter.

“We’ve played about 40 games and about 20 (different) teams,” he said. “I’d say 15 of those 20 teams we’ve played this year, he’d be their No. 1.”

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or jmedley@annistonstar.com. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.

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