Ramapo junior Kevin Stewart, from Tommy John surgery to NJAC Pitcher of the Year
From Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, Ramapo College junior left-handed pitcher Kevin Stewart always enjoyed playing baseball despite the fact football and lacrosse were the more prominent sports at Mountain Lakes High School. Even with a small program, Stewart said he felt no pressure to play in the well-known sports. The crowning achievement came in 2014 and 2015 when Stewart was named to the First-Team All Conference and All-Morris County teams.
“We had a small program with not a lot of recognition, but I was used to that environment,” said Kevin Stewart. “The feeling of going one on one with every single person from the other team as opposed to a hitter you go one on one with the other teams’ pitcher and I enjoyed the match-up against everyone else.”
After making the decision to attend Marist College, Stewart went 2-1 in his freshman year on the baseball team, striking out 18 in 22 innings while being named MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) Pitcher of the Week. However, Stewart felt Marist was not the perfect fit for him.
“My first year at Marist was tough because it was my first time away from home, Division I was too intense for me and didn’t like the atmosphere,” Stewart said.
Searching for a new school to attend, Stewart found the ideal fit in Ramapo College. Pitching for the Roadrunners baseball team, Stewart dominated on the mound in 10 appearances, posting a 6-0 record, 3.00 ERA and striking out 44 in 51 innings. Ramapo enjoyed a very successful season, registering a 35-15 record, 13-5 in the NJAC (New Jersey Athletic Conference), reaching the conference tournament championship game and NCAA Tournament Regional Championship Game.
“The level of play in the NJAC is just as competitive with many Division I schools,” said Stewart. “Division III is at the same level and just as competitive. Everyone puts in the same type of effort from top to bottom and not too many holes. Some of the teams’ had down years but pretty even across the board. When I came to Ramapo it was much more tight knit and everyone played for each other.”
“Personally, I have never been on a playoff team and traveled for the playoffs. We got a taste of the championship in the NCAA Regional last year and everyone that came back this year wanted to go back there and motivated by that memory.”
Just when it seemed things were falling into place for Stewart, he faced Tommy John surgery that set him back for a lengthy time. “Coming off Tommy John surgery I came back a little earlier than I should have and my arm wasn’t in good shape, Stewart said. I worked out through the summer and pre-season to get myself into better shape and pitching mode. My surgery taught me a lot about patience, not so much I couldn’t do it mentally but my body was still recovering and reaching the point of doing it physically.”
Displaying absolutely no rust at all, Stewart returned to the pitching rubber, logging a 5-1 record, 3.10 ERA, walking just 12 hitters and striking out 65 in 52 innings earning him NJAC Pitcher of the Year. Despite losing to TCNJ in the conference tournament, the Roadrunners finished with a 26-14 record, 13-5 in conference and have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament.
“Honestly, it’s more humbling than anything because I went into this year with no expectations at being NJAC Pitcher of the Year and just wanted to go out and compete,” said Stewart. “I think our younger position players came out of the background this season. Last year we had a very senior dominated lineup and young guys getting their chance this year and really showed out on the field and pitching staff has older guys that are very close with each other.”
“Kyle Buser is a vital part of the team, got it going for us and started a lot of rallies. The offensive energy comes from him and we just jumped on his back as well as Anthony Kuzmenko and Kellen Hardy.”
“The coaching staff not having a lot of experience and giving us a lot of say as well as making themselves better and everyone grew and learned together at the same time and were comfortable with each other and respected the coaches authority. Everyone in the dugout was part of the success, having the same attitude and goals.”
Majoring in sociology at Ramapo College, Stewart is appreciative of the administration, faculty and his family. “I don’t think my parents have missed a game and my sister who attends school down in Mississippi is watching games online and texting me. A lot of my professors are very supportive and understanding of how serious baseball is and same with the administration and it rubs off on everyone because they believe in us.”
Sunil Sunder Raj
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