Point Park's Ryan Loutsenhizer recently celebrated the first of his baseball fantasies.
His teammates rushed to the mound and "piled on" Loutsenhizer after he got the final out in an 8-6 victory against Southeast Indiana that clinched the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship at New Albany, Ind.
The victory earned the 19th-ranked Pioneers (39-14) the No.2 seeding and a first-round game against No. 3 Missouri Baptist (31-11) today in the double-elimination NAIA baseball regional at Kingsport, Tenn.
Loutsenhizer, a strapping 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior from Norwin High School and Huntingdon Township, still has two fantasies to go.
"I have the ball in my hands in the ninth inning and after the last out -- a strikeout would be perfect -- they pile on me on the field after we win the regional," he said. "Then they pile on me on the mound in Omaha after we win the World Series."
He added after a pause, "You have to visualize yourself being successful."
But Loutsenhizer never saw himself as the team's closer. He had been a starting pitcher his first three seasons and started a game earlier this year. He role changed dramatically when he pitched three scoreless innings of relief in a 10-6 victory against Asbury College of Kentucky that evened Point Park's record at 9-9 early this season.
"That was the first time I had ever thrown out of the bullpen," he said. "I was guessing all week that I'd stay in the bullpen and then coach [Loren Torres] told me that was going to be my new job. For me, it was not a demotion. It was a promotion. It meant I could pitch on the weekends instead of just during the week."
As the No. 5 starter in the rotation, Loutsenhizer was scheduled to pitch only in the non-conference games on weekdays. The other starters pitch in weekend conference doubleheaders.
He was the No. 4 starter as a freshman and posted a 2-4 record with a 12.30 ERA. He was No. 2 as a sophomore and was 7-3 with a 3.34 ERA and two shutouts. He was No. 2 to start his junior season, but dropped to No. 3 as his ERA ballooned. He finished 5-0 with a 7.09 ERA.
"Pitching can be a lot of luck," he said. "Every time I missed with a pitch last year, [the opponent] made me pay. I've missed with some pitches this year, but they have popped them up or fouled them off. It's all about location for me and I was leaving the ball up last year."
Loutsenhizer has been nearly perfect this season with a 3-0 record, six saves in six tries and a 0.83 ERA. He has 16 strikeouts and just three walks in 212/3 innings.
"I've only allowed two runs all season and both were solo home runs," he said. "And both came on the same pitch -- a changeup that was high and inside. Those were the two worst pitches I've thrown."
He said he mostly throws fastballs and changeups, with the changeup his "go-to" pitch.
"I'm not afraid to throw the changeup any time, even when I'm behind in the count," he said. "My changeup has always been better than my curveball.
"I think batters look at my size and think that I'm just a fastball guy. I think I surprise them with a 75 mph changeup. When I come out of the bullpen, I only see a batter once and they're not expecting the changeup.
"That's one of the reasons why I like being a closer. I think it takes a little more focus to come out of the bullpen than when you start a game. You don't have time to ease into the game. You can't throw balls. I just try to pound the strike zone.
"I like being the closer. Most athletes like pressure. All eyes are on me. The coach has confidence in me and that gives me more confidence. I never shy away."
Loutsenhizer is on schedule to graduate next fall with a degree in sports, art management.
"That," he said, "has always been my main goal at Point Park."