Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt
Freshman pitcher Max Loven didn’t know what his role would entail on the North Dakota State baseball team when he arrived on campus in the fall of 2018. While he was confident in his pitching ability, he was simply hoping to carve out a role of any nature for the upcoming baseball season.
“Coming in as a freshman, I knew I didn’t throw that hard and there were a lot of guys that threw hard. So it was just a little intimidating at first,” Loven said. “My expectations were to be a reliable bullpen pitcher coming in maybe once a weekend and throw an inning or two. That’s what I was hoping for.”
Head Coach Tod Brown had different plans, and it would prove to be a wise decision for the winningest active head coach in The Summit League.
Loven has taken the mound in nearly a third of the Bison’s games. As of putting this to pen, the left-hander has posted a 2.60 ERA and .250 opponents batting average in 65.2 innings pitched while preventing free passes like nobody’s business (1.10 BB/9). The young southpaw has struck out 56 en route to an uber-impressive 7.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio, spearheading a team-leading seven quality starts.
The Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, native has shown the talent to place his pitches anywhere he wants within the strike zone; he is able to throw not just strikes, but good strikes, which he says has always been a strength of his.
“Growing up, I’ve never been the hardest thrower. I threw hard enough, but never too overpowering or anything,” said Loven. “I developed strong control at an early age growing up and now I really take pride in being able to throw where I want to throw and getting strikes.”
Fastball, curveball and changeup — these are the tools of Loven’s trade. The weapons he takes with him to battle opposing hitters. At 6-foot-1. 205 pounds, Loven doesn’t necessarily overpower hitters with speed. Instead, his bread and butter are predicated on hitting spots and keeping hitters off balance with a balanced pitch usage.
“He’s left-handed and throws strikes,” Tod Brown told KVRR’s Keith Albertson last month. “He’s got an excellent fastball 85-88 miles per hour, a great curveball and a developing changeup. He’s one of the best control pitchers that I’ve had here in my 12 years. Throwing strikes with three pitches and being left-handed, that’s a recipe for success right away.”
Loven ranks 10th in the nation in walks allowed per nine innings at 1.10, while also ranking 13th in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 7.0. Loven says it’s a little surreal seeing his name listed among the nation’s leaders.
“Growing up, you’re watching college baseball and professional sports in general; you never expect to be on a leaderboard like that. Like a national…anything.”
Loven has certainly made his mark on the baseball team in year one of his collegiate career. However, he’ll never take full credit himself. Talk to him for five minutes, and you’ll be quick to notice the genuine, hard-working and humble kid whose love for baseball drives his success. Growing up, that love inspired a goal to play at the collegiate level.
“For me, I’ve always liked baseball. I’ve been around baseball forever. My dad played town team baseball so when I was a kid I went to his games. It’s always been something I wanted to do. I didn’t think much about it until schools started contacting me and realized it was a possibility.”
Remarkably, Loven’s only Division I offer was North Dakota State. Two months into the season, it’s fair to suggest many head coaches across the country are kicking themselves for failing to notice Loven as a Division I caliber pitcher.
With Omaha unpredictably leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else in the Summit standings and Oral Roberts looking vulnerable for the first time in decades, it’s been an unpredictable year in the Summit. For Loven, as long as the Bison keep focus, he likes their chances of making some noise in the conference tournament.
“We just need to keep on working hard and don’t get complacent. We have to keep on pushing and do our best to stay focused and keep giving it our all.”
While the Bison, a team stacked with underclassmen, aren’t favored to win, they have Max Loven. And as the old baseball cliché goes, “pitching wins championships.” With Loven, the epitome of consistency, the Bison know they will be given a chance to compete when it’s his turn at the hill.
I’m Dan Slaubaugh and this is your Slaubaugh Scoop.
Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful May. Go Bison.
*All statistics are accurate as of May 3, 2019.