By David Hughes
TERRE HAUTE — Last Friday, I decided I would write my next column on Rose-Hulman senior Sam Deters, who’s become one of the top relief pitchers in all of NCAA Division III baseball.
Little did I know that between Friday and now, two Rose-Hulman athletes — swimmer Nicholas Lee and football player Brandon Couch — would die in separate traffic accidents.
That’s made concentrating on athletics almost impossible for all Rose spring teams, including baseball.
“I think it’s really hit home a lot with all of the tragedies that have happened here,” said Deters, who mentioned that he sat next to swimmer Adam Effinger, injured in the accident that killed Lee on Saturday, in one of his classes.
“I don’t see how it couldn’t, with this being such a small community here at Rose. Everybody knows everybody. It’s hit home.”
Deters and his teammates will try to focus on a three-game series this weekend against Mount St. Joseph at Art Nehf Field, starting with a doubleheader at 5 p.m. today.
The Engineers are 18-8 overall and 5-3 in the logjammed Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. While Rose-Hulman is listed sixth in the HCAC standings, Mount St. Joseph (12-12 overall) is tied for the lead at 6-2.
“The team chemistry here is great,” Deters said. “We’re having a lot of fun together. When you’re winning, as a team, you’re having a lot of fun.”
One of the main reasons Rose wins often is Deters, a 6-foot-7, 195-pound right-hander who has notched five saves and allowed only one earned run in 15 innings. His earned-run average is 0.60.
“He really has command [of his pitches] this year,” Rose coach Jeff Jenkins said. “He’s got a bunch of strikeouts  and very few walks [five]. It’s almost if he does give up a baserunner, everybody is kinda looking around in shock. He gives you a boost because you know if you get through seven innings and you’ve got a lead, there’s a very good chance that he’s going to get two innings or at least one inning of outs and get you a win.”
Although Deters was good in 2007, becoming the institute’s all-time saves leader before the end of his junior season, he’s taken his pitching to an even higher level in 2008.
“I think it’s his command of the strike zone and his curveball has been just unbelievable,” Jenkins explained. “It has gotten better. It really freezes people. It’s rare that a batter swings at his curveball. He gets a lot of strike calls on it because he freezes them. He throws it at him and he breaks it over the plate and there’s really nothing the hitter can do. The hitter will lock out his front leg and he’s done.”
“My fastball’s been moving a lot and my curveball’s been working really well,” Deters acknowledged. “I worked on my curveball a lot last summer, trying different arm slots. I found one I really liked and made it move a lot more. It’s working a lot better this year.”
Keenan Long, a sophomore catcher who transferred to Rose-Hulman from Northwestern of the Big Ten Conference last year, usually gets the closest look at Deters’ offerings.
“Sammy’s devastating curveball would probably be the reason why he’s doing so well,” Long said. “Also, his fastball really catches people off guard after they see the nasty hook.
“His delivery is definitely different than anything I’ve ever seen and his curveball comes in at a different angle than any other curveball I’ve seen at Northwestern or anywhere else.”
Despite Deters’ growing reputation in the HCAC, Jenkins said he is unlikely to garner national awards.
“[Voters] always look at pitchers who have the big won-loss record with the big innings pitched and a lot of strikeouts,” the Engineers’ veteran coach said. “We’re fortunate that we haven’t had a lot of save opportunities this year because we’ve had leads.
“I think every save opportunity we’ve had, Sam’s been out there and saved it. But he only has five of them… His innings-pitched number is small . Appearances is what I wish people would look at. He’s almost two strikeouts per innings pitched and that’s outstanding at any level.”
Whether Deters ends up receiving national recognition or he doesn’t, it won’t affect the way he pitches.
“It’d be nice, but I don’t think it would really bother me much,” he said.
But it might bother Jenkins, who insists Deters is worthy of such recognition.
“Oh, I don’t think there’s any question about it,” he said. “Unfortunately, I doubt that he gets it because he won’t have a big won-loss record. He’ll have a great ERA. He’ll have a lot of appearances. But they look at innings pitched, they look at strikeouts and they look at won-loss records, unfortunately.
“A guy like that just won’t get his just desserts.”
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.