May 21, 2014
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Earlier this week, the Conference USA postseason awards were announced and senior right-handed pitcher Chase Mallard of the UAB baseball team was recognized as the league's Pitcher of the Year. It marked the first time in program history that a Blazer pitcher had received this honor. It has been a long journey to where Mallard is today, starting from his role as a reliever in the UAB bullpen to an emergency starter to one of the best pitchers in collegiate baseball.
Mallard arrived on the campus of UAB in the fall of 2010, a strike-thrower and athlete. The Cullman, Ala. native had helped his high school team to a state championship in 2008 and state semifinal appearance in 2009. His decision to come to UAB was a quick and easy move.
"He was a strike-thrower," commented head coach Brian Shoop. "He was an athlete. He was an in-state guy that we liked. Coach Polk saw him in the Mississippi State team camp when he was over there. He really liked him, too. We felt like that he could develop. He was a good fit for our program. That is an understatement. He has developed incredibly and been a phenomenal match and fit for our program."
"We only visited UAB," Cindy Mallard, Chase's mother, said. "We had plans of visiting other places, but we went down on a Friday for a visit. They offered him and we talked about it a little bit. Chase came in on Monday afternoon and said he called Coach Shoop and told him that's where he wanted to go."
"He and I were sitting and he told me he was going to call Coach Shoop," Tony Mallard, Chase's father, added. "He called him and 10-15 minutes later he committed. I asked if wanted to visit anywhere else. He really liked the coaches and that was where he was going to go. I told him that he knew where his heart is better than I do and to go where you feel like you need to go."
Mallard came in and contributed in his first year on campus. Mainly as a reliever, the right-handed pitcher made 13 appearances, finished with a 1-1 record and 3.20 ERA in 25.1 innings on the hill.
"At first, he was a strike-thrower, as a freshman," pitching coach Josh Hopper stated. "He could log innings and be a middle-relief guy, if needed. He really was getting his feet wet. He was playing a role in the process."
His sophomore season, he began to emerge as one of the Blazers' most reliable arms. Mallard made 24 appearances, including one emergency start in one of the biggest games' of the squad's 2012 Conference USA Tournament championship run.
Ben Bullard was slated for the start against Tulane on May 25, 2012 against Tulane in the conference tournament. In warm-ups, Bullard was scratched due to injury. The Blazers turned to Mallard in the emergency situation. He did not disappoint, allowing two earned runs and striking out four in 6.2 innings of work against the Green Wave. His performance earned him a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
"His sophomore year, he became more of a steadfast in our bullpen," said Hopper. "He was a guy we could depend on, a guy that we could go to where if our starter got in trouble or we needed a guy to bridge the closer. He became one of those main guys."
In his third season as a Blazer, Mallard started to transition to a starting role. He began the year as a reliever, looking to close out contests, but was not getting many opportunities to do so. At that time, the coaching staff began to use him in the starting role, looking for the same results they saw in the 2012 C-USA Tournament.
At the end of the year, we weren't getting to those leads, so we did something different with him," commented Hopper. "It's just a tribute to his competitive nature. His stuff kept developing and he kept getting better and better."
The right-handed pitcher made two starts down the stretch for the Blazers in 2013. He recorded four strikeouts in 6.1 innings of work against Tulane on May 17. His second win of the year helped the Blazers secure the series against the Green Wave and a spot in the 2013 Conference USA Tournament.
With a spot clinched in the conference tournament, UAB turned the ball over, once again, to Mallard for the opening contest of the tourney against perennial powerhouse Rice. Mallard struck out a then-career-high seven in his second straight quality start.
With the conclusion of the 2013 season, the seeds were in place for Mallard. The coaching staff was not certain which spot Mallard would fill in 2014, but one could see the potential.
"We weren't fully committed to him being the Friday night guy this year," said Shoop. "We were committed to him starting this year. I told Coach Hopper that I wanted Chase to start Opening Day. I thought what he had done for the program, how loyal he had been, and all of the service he had given our program, I wanted him to be the guy that got the first start at Regions Field and pitch the first game at Regions Field."
Mallard delivered in the team's first game at its new home. The right-handed pitcher combined with freshman left-handed pitcher Thomas Lowery for a one-hit shutout against UT-Martin on Friday, Feb. 14. Mallard did not allow a hit, struck out a career-best 13, and walked one in 7.0 innings on the mound. For his efforts, Mallard was named the Conference USA Pitcher of the Week, NCAA.com Top Performer of the Week, and Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week.
"It meant the world to me to know that Coach Shoop had that much faith and confidence in me," stated Mallard on his opening-day start. "It meant the world to me."
With that start against UT-Martin at Regions Field, Mallard hit the ground running and never stopped. The senior became the first player to earn Conference USA Pitcher of the Week four times in a single season since 2006 Dick Howser Trophy winner Brad Lincoln. He had a quality start in every outing during the regular season, making him the only pitcher in the nation to be a perfect 14-for-14.
Mallard uses his experience as a reliever to aid him in keeping runs off the board. Entering the conference tournament, Mallard owns a 1.32 ERA, which ranks 10th in the nation.
"When you come out of the bullpen with people on base, the name of the game is to keep them from scoring," Mallard said. "As soon as a runner gets in scoring position, that's when the mindset to make quality pitches and get out of jams kicks in. I try to get momentum swing back to us."
Coach Hopper and Coach Shoop were two of the people who witnessed the transformation, firsthand. The staff attributes Mallard's work ethic in his evolution from the kid from nearby Cullman to 2014 Conference USA Pitcher of the Year.
"I think he really became committed to his craft," commented Hopper, "Not that he wasn't before; you're talking about a guy who bugs me to watch hours of film. There are not a lot of them who are willing to do that. He is a perfectionist. He's his own worst critic. That's his strength and weakness. He will work tirelessly and it shows. He goes out and maintains stuff for nine innings."
"I think he will go down as one of the best that we ever had," added Shoop. "We've never had a pitcher make All-Conference USA First Team ever. All those pictures on the wall are hitters. It is pretty cool."
In his latest start, Mallard struck out three batters to raise his season total to 94 on the year. His 94 strikeouts in a single season ranks second in program history. The Cullman, Ala. native allowed four runs for the first time in 2014 in a 4-1 loss to UTSA in the opening round of the 2014 Conference USA Tournament.
Mallard is doing everything he can to extend his final season on campus. The senior right-handed pitcher ignores the numbers and accolades and goes out what he does best, pitch.
"I do the best I can for my team. You can see stats all the time, but that's nothing once you are out on the mound. The stats are going to help you at all. I am just trying to do whatever I can do to help this team win."
For the latest news on Blazer sports, follow the UAB Athletics Twitter account: @UABathletics. For baseball news, follow@UAB_Baseball.