The final six outs of UCF Baseball's title-clinching victory Saturday were picked up by junior right-hander Jason Bahr. He capped not only a remarkable regular season for both him and his team but his jagged collegiate baseball journey as well. That's because prior to 2017, UCF Baseball didn't seem to have much need for Jason Bahr.
He redshirted as a freshman in 2014 and threw just two-thirds of an inning the following year. Then former head coach Terry Rooney cut Bahr prior to the 2016 season, a move that Bahr told the Orlando Sentinel he felt was unnecessary. Bahr actually didn't pick up a baseball for three months before resuming his career as a member of the Altamonte Springs Boom of the Florida Collegiate Summer League. All the while, he was uncertain if that stint would mark his last time playing competitive baseball.
Thankfully for Bahr and the UCF Baseball program, he became a Knight again last fall with the help of first-year head coach Greg Lovelady, first-year pitching coach Justin Parker and assistant coach Ryan Klosterman, who was a member of Rooney's staff and recommended Bahr to the new regime.
The lanky, laid-back 6-foot-5 hurler has done more than enough to prove he belongs at this level. He has recorded a 2.68 ERA this season with 84 strikeouts in 53.2 innings. His first four appearances came in a starting role, but Bahr's main value to the Knights has come via what he's accomplished as a setup man to closer Bryce Tucker. As a reliever, Bahr carries a 1.87 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP through 33.2 innings. Never one to brag about himself, Bahr credits his results to the most fundamental of pitching tasks: Throwing strikes.
"That makes it a lot harder to hit and it's a lot easier to get strikeouts, obviously," he told the Black and Gold Banneret. "If you're ahead (in the count), you can throw pretty much whatever you want. It gives you a major advantage."
Bahr has been pounding the strike zone and piling up the Ks this spring. His 14.09 strikeouts-per-nine average would rank second in Division I, however, Bahr fell just 2.1 innings short of qualifying. That average ticks up to 14.97 when he comes out of the 'pen. Lovelady thinks Bahr's calm, California-style personality is perfect for when he has to perform in those pressure-packed late innings.
"He shows up in a tank top and board shorts and flip flops and ... nothing is going to bother him," the head coach said. "I could yell at him and he'll just smile at me."
Of course, no innings carried more pressure than the two Bahr was asked to navigate through on Saturday. And with Tucker having allowed five runs and 11 baserunners in his previous 4.2 frames, it was Bahr who was now the closer.
No problem: Two innings of one-hit ball with a couple of Ks thrown in for good measure. At this point, you could say that Bahr's journey reached a new low: The bottom of a celebratory dogpile.
"He did so many great things and he's a huge reason why we're here," Lovelady said after the AAC championship victory.
"If there was one person on the mound that I really wanted at the end of the game, it was Jason Bahr."
UCF Baseball needed him more than it ever knew.
"It's been very rewarding," Bahr said of his performance this season. "A year ago, I didn't think I would be here, doing this well or even on the team. The success that both I've had and we've had as a team feels really good."