POSTED: Friday, June 15, 2012 - 12:45pm
UPDATED: Friday, June 15, 2012 - 12:49pm
HAMMOND, LA — Capping a phenomenal junior season, Southeastern Louisiana pitcher Stefan Lopez was named the Stopper of the Year Friday by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Earlier this week the NCBWA named Lopez an All-American (first team).
Lopez compiled a 2-1 record and a miniscule 0.61 ERA to go with his nation-leading 20 saves. The right-hander fanned 42 while walking just five in 29.1 innings of work and held opponents to a .179 batting average. He was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 16th round of the Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
“I'm rally proud of Stefan,” Lions' head coach Jay Artigues said. “What an unbelievable honor to be named the top closer in the country and beat out some top notch guys. He represented the university and his teammates well all season.”
He was named a finalist for the award, along with Robert Benincasa of Florida State, Michael Morin of North Carolina, Robbie Powell of Stetson and Jimmie Sherfy of Oregon, on June 5.
The native of New Iberia, La., set both the Southeastern and Southland Conference single-season saves records en route to compiling the nation's top saves total. The conference record was previously held by former Sam Houston State Bearkat and Stopper of the Year winner Luke Prihoda. Lopez also set both the school and conference career (30) saves records.
This past fall, Artigues along with pitching coach Daniel Latham, recruiting coordinator Matt Riser and volunteer assistant Kyle Maxie decided to change the scope of Lopez' role as closer. With greater depth in the bullpen, Artigues could use Lopez more often in shorter stints.
“Stefan's strength and the strength of our bullpen allowed us to do this. Without Dylan Hills stepping up, we wouldn't have been able to scale back Stefan's work load.”
During the 2011 season Lopez worked multiple innings in 13 of his 21 outings, including a career high five-inning stint. The emergence of Hills, in combination with Jason Greenleaf and situational work from left-hander Matt Pittari, enabled Artigues to primarily limit Lopez to ninth-inning work. The right-hander worked more than one inning just four times in 28 outings during the 2012 season.
“I thought he'd be dominate in that role,” Artigues said. “It allowed his stuff to stay crisp and kept his arm fresh throughout the season.”
A conscious effort to keep his closer fresh helped generate the second-highest win total in school history and numbers that keep the accolades rolling in.
This season, Lopez has been named a Louisville Slugger All-American (second team), a semifinalist for the NCBWA's Dick Howser Trophy, the Southland's Relief Pitcher of the Year, Southland Pitcher of the Week (5/7) and Louisiana Sports Writer's Association Pitcher of the Week (5/7). He was also named first team All-South Central Region by the American Baseball Coaches Association and All-Southland Conference.
More than 90 of the nation's top collegiate relief pitchers were included in the selection process for this year's NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award, beginning with initial preseason nominations by baseball contacts at NCAA Division I schools. The winner is selected by the NCBWA's All-America Committee.
Texas hurler J. Brent Cox won the inaugural Stopper of the Year Award in 2005, with Don Czyz of Kansas claiming the honor in 2006, Luke Prihoda of Sam Houston State winning it in 2007, Georgia’s Joshua Fields topping the field in 2008, San Diego State’s Addison Reed taking it in 2009, Texas’ Chance Ruffin grabbing the honor in 2010 and Texas’ Corey Knebel winning it last season.
The NCBWA, founded in 1962, presents the Dick Howser Trophy to the nation's top player. It also selects All-America Teams for all Divisions, a Division I Freshman All-American team, Division I and III Players of the Week, Division I District Players of the Year and Division III Players of the Year.