By Mike Gibson
For the Wire
Bensalem native Kurt Sowa finished this baseball season at Rider University with an 11–1 record.
There is always room for improvement, or so the saying goes.
That probably applies to everyone but Kurt Sowa. When you get close to the place called perfection, there’s not much further to go. With two years left at Rider University, that’s just where Sowa finds himself today.
To improve, at least on paper, Sowa will have to wiggle through that needle-sized hole and become 12–0 next year because he finished this baseball season with an 11–1 record.
No matter what happens in his future, the Bensalem native from Father Judge has etched his way into the Rider baseball record books, maybe for a long time.
This spring, he became the fourth Bronc ever to win 11 games in a season and the school has been playing baseball on an intercollegiate level since 1922. He ranked №10 in the nation in hits per nine innings (5.7), was unbeaten in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) games (7–0) and opponents hit a meager .176 against him. He finished with a 2.97 ERA.
For those efforts, he was named the MAAC Pitcher of the Year.
“I always had confidence in myself, but I think everything came together for me this year,” said Sowa, whose team was eliminated in the MAAC semifinals by Siena during the last weekend in May. “As far as the record, I didn’t know that it would be that good but I’m still going to be working on things to improve the next two years.”
Specifically, the record has captured the attention of the major-league baseball scouts who, while in attendance at his games this year, can’t touch him until after his junior year of eligibility is completed.
“I’m not eligible to be drafted, but there are a lot of things I can work on to improve my standing next year,” he said. “My fastball is my best pitch and my cutter is next, then my curve ball and my changeup.
“I got the fastball up to 92 (mph) the other day and it’s pretty consistently around 88. I’m kind of spindly (6-foot-4, 193 pounds) and I have room to fill out. I definitely gained some strength over the past year and with a little more weight training, I think I’ll gain some more in the future and that can only help the velocity of my fastball.”
While 12–0 might be a lofty goal to achieve, increasing the speed of the fastball and the location of the other pitches would no doubt make Sowa a larger blip on the scouts’ radar and those might be more realistic goals to achieve in the next 12 months.
If history is an indication, Sowa has done nothing but improve since he hit against the T as a 4-year-old playing for the Bensalem Ramblers.
He improved each year at Father Judge and became the ace of the staff as a senior. As a Rider freshman, getting adjusted to varsity ball for the first time, Sowa went 5–4 as a starter.
Now, the jump from 5–4 to 11–1.
Sowa’s 11 wins helped Rider to 34 regular-season wins and a MAAC title before falling in the post-season tournament, played at Arm & Hammer Park, home of the Trenton Thunder minor-league team.
“It was great that we were always winning because everybody was happy and it was great to show up every day,” Sowa said. “We not only finished first in the regular season, but we won every conference series and except, for two or three series, we swept every one.”
Not bad for a program that lost 32 games just two seasons ago.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Sowa wasn’t around then.
“Basically, I chose Rider because it was close to home and I knew I’d have a chance to play right away,” he said. “Everything just worked out that we had a good group of guys coming in and we were able to turn things around.
“I was 11–1 with three no-decisions and it was just the product of working really hard in the offseason and focusing on making each pitch.”
For four years, Sowa made the daily commute to high school from Bensalem with about 30 township residents who also went to Judge.
“They had a bus to take us from Bensalem to Judge,” he said. “I went there basically because of the academics and because my brother [Alex] went to Judge.
Now at Rider, Sowa says the boys on that bus might be surprised at how he’s doing.
“I’d say they’d be surprised,” he said. “I didn’t pitch a lot until my senior year.”
This year, his only loss was to South Carolina of the powerful Southeastern Conference, proving that nobody is perfect.
Some, though, are darn close.