Loew providing the pop for Hornets’ offense

Shenandoah University senior Jake Loew has reprised his role as the Hornets' top power threat and run producer this spring. Rich Cooley/Daily

There’s a certain level of expectation on the baseball diamond that comes with the All-American label, a status Shenandoah University designated hitter Jake Loew earned last season when he emerged as the Hornets’ primary run producer.

Loew’s 2016 performance left SU head coach Kevin Anderson with little to ponder this preseason when crafting the heart of his 2017 lineup. Loew, who hit six home runs and drove in 55 runs last spring, would start the year in the cleanup spot, Anderson said a few days before the Hornets’ opened their season last month, and the senior will remain there all season long with the expectation that Loew will reprise his role as Shenandoah’s premier power threat.

Anderson added, with certainty in his voice, that Loew will “have a big year for us in the power productivity department.”

A month into the season Loew, who leads the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in home runs and slugging percentage, has rewarded his head coach’s faith.

“Some players do better as role guys and they’re not your main producers. That’s the opposite with Jake,” Anderson said Tuesday. “He’s a presence in the middle of our lineup. He wants to come up with men on base.

“We’re gonna go as Jake goes. And again, some guys don’t like that and they shy away, but not in Jake’s case.”

Loew’s 2017 production so far has been exactly as Anderson envisioned it. Through the Hornets’ first 13 games the senior is batting .400 (18-for-45) with five home runs and 18 RBIs, SU’s best marks.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound lefty also owns at least a share of the team lead in runs scored (18), doubles (four), walks (eight) and on-base percentage (.550). His slugging percentage (.822) was 168 points higher than anyone else in the ODAC through Monday. His walk rate is up and he’s striking out less frequently. He’s already been named the conference’s Player of the Week twice this spring.

Loew, who said he has traditionally been a slow starter at the plate in years past, found a solution in his approach to offseason training this winter.

“I didn’t try to jump into it too fast,” said Loew, who has helped power SU to a 12-1 start and top 10 rankings in the D3baseball.com (third) and ABCA (sixth) polls. “I sort of took it like step by step and made sure I had my swing down and by the time we got to school we were lucky enough to have the (good) weather, and the outdoor practices that we had got us plenty of live at-bats. I sort of got those rough first at-bats out of the way so when we finally got to face that live pitching from the other teams everything just sort of clicked for me.”

Loew, who was named a D3baseball.com second team All-American last season and became the sixth Hornet to garner preseason All-American honors in January, opened his senior season with an 11-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 12 of Shenandoah’s 13 games. The Binghamton, New York native has six multi-hit games in that span.

Loew is also on pace to hit 16 home runs in Shenandoah’s 42-game regular season, which would plant him atop the school’s record book for homers in a single season. (The SU record is 15, set by Jeremy Schutt in 2000.)

The friendly confines of Bridgeforth Field – where the wind regularly blows from left to right, providing a boost for left-handed hitters – certainly help with Loew’s power production (the Hornets have played just one road game and all five of Loew’s homers in 2017 have come at home). But he’s also put in the work to generate the extra pop.

Loew said the baseball-specific workouts designed by SU strength and conditioning coach Brett Sabol have helped to fuel that rise in power. So too has Loew’s penchant for not chasing home runs – instead he focuses on staying tall in the box and trying to hit to the middle of the field, an approach that has allowed Loew to be a reliable situational hitter as well as a long-ball threat, Anderson said.

As Loew’s gotten stronger, the home runs have come naturally.

“Jake has totally transformed his body,” Anderson said. “He’s always had a good swing but now he’s a physical presence. He’s very strong. His bat speed has improved. He used to be a little bit of a glider and jumper at the plate and oftentimes he would get himself out. He’s worked countless hours on his swing with Coach (Bruce) Cameron and by himself. He understands hitting and he’s made the adjustments necessary for him to be one of the best hitters in Division III baseball.”

That Anderson can now refer to Loew as such is quite remarkable given that Loew spent his first two college seasons as a reserve for the Hornets. During his freshman and sophomore seasons Loew saw just 45 at-bats and had one double among his 11 career hits in 20 games played.

Loew, it turns out, was simply biding his time, using the opportunity to soak up all the advice from former Shenandoah power hitters like Michael Paul, Dan Powers and Nolan Overby. He got his chance to put that knowledge to use last season.

“When I got a shot last year I kind of just told myself you’re getting your chance and if I did well then I’d hopefully be able to stay in the lineup,” Loew said. “And I was able to do that. Just from there on out I just tried to have fun and lead by example and the rest kind of took over.”

Loew has embraced his role as a leader as well as he’s accepted his responsibilities as a run producer for the Hornets. He learned the benefit of dedicating himself to the weight room and to eating healthy in his early college years, saw the results it could produce on the field, and is feeding that first-hand knowledge to his teammates.

“What I tried to do is try to sort of pass that down and get the younger guys into it too. It’s a really cool thing when you go into the gym and there’s 20 other baseball players already there,” Loew said. “It’s just a lot of fun. It’s kind of like a hobby we have outside of the field that keeps our team so close.”

Anderson, who saw three Hornets move on to play professional baseball last summer, said he hopes to see Loew’s playing career continue after his graduation as well.

“I hope somebody gives him a chance to play professional baseball,” said Anderson, who added that Loew, like many other SU baseball players, is on the dean’s list. “You know, that’s out of my hands. The only thing I can do is continue to tell pro scouts as I do. But he’ll have his degree (in business administration) in his back pocket. … He’s going to be in the sports field in the management capacity when his career’s over, and he’ll be really successful.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com