College Spotlight: Zeke Swartz comes up ace for Piedmont in conference title game
“To be honest, I was a little nervous when I got the call to start the championship game,” admits Piedmont Lions sophomore southpaw Zeke Swartz. “I threw Thursday and was only on three days’ rest.”
Ready or not, the Union County alum (c/o 2021) came up like an ace for the Lions against rivals Maryville College on May 8 in a 3-2 victory that clinched a Collegiate Conference of the South Tournament Championship – the first conference title for the Lions since 2011. The lefty went 7 complete innings, allowing 2 runs while striking out 7 against 4 hits and 5 walks. He emptied the tank with 106 pitches and the bullpen shut it down from there. While he got it done, there was an early moment when things could have unraveled, but a well-timed message got him in a zone.
Feature Photo by Karl Moore/Piedmont University
“Even though I was nervous, I was extremely excited and determined to bring the win home for Piedmont,” adds Swartz. “During pregame, things were going very smooth and I felt great. Had a shaky start to the game, loading the bases, but my coach came out for a mound visit and reminded me that I was the right guy for this role. He told me to trust my stuff and most importantly, have fun. After the brief talk and deep breath, I was able to settle in for 7 innings. When I came off the field, it was an electric atmosphere and I knew that we were going home champions. It was truly an honor to go out and give it everything I had for my team. This group of guys this year were extremely special and I don’t think there is a more-deserving group.”
This is likely just the beginning for Swartz. Since leaving the Union County Panthers as the ace of the staff for several years, it’s taken some time to adjust and get where he is in the Lions’ rotation.
“Last year was a whole new world to me,” says Swartz. “Transitioning from high school to college really gave me an insight that I wasn’t doing enough. I didn’t start at the beginning of the year, and that kind of put a chip on my shoulder to give it everything I had. Every day I was in the gym trying to get bigger, faster, stronger and on the field I was giving 110%. It didn’t happen overnight, but when you put in the work, people and coaches start to notice. Once I made my way into the rotation at Piedmont, I was very nervous but extremely grateful my work was starting to pay off. It was a slow start until our final season series at Maryville where I really settled in and was able to show my team what I could do. Even though I am in our rotation now, it is not an excuse to stop putting in work. I still give it everything I have in practice and in the weight room. There will always be room to improve.”
In that 2022 season, Swartz went 2-1 with a 5.82 ERA, striking out 19 batters across 17 innings. It wasn’t bad – but not where he wanted to be. Fast forward, he went 6-1 on the 2023 season with a 4.71 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 70.2 innings. While many struggle with the adjustments from high school to college, Swartz’s biggest challenge came in the classroom.
“For me the hardest adjustment was the academic side of Piedmont,” he says. “Through high school I was a honors and straight A student, but it came easier to me than some. I didn’t study as much as I probably could’ve, but I still had good grades. When I got to college, it was a different world. I couldn’t get by anymore without studying and really putting a priority on school. College baseball is a commitment and it’s something you have to work on every single day, in the classroom, as well as on the field.”
Framed Print (11×14) – Zeke Swartz
Framed Print (11×14) – Zeke Swartz
Under the tutelage of Piedmont’s long-time coach and alum, Justin Scali, the sky is the limit for Swartz. Scali, who has led Piedmont to a 158-106-1 overall record since 2017, is a pitching guru with an impressive resume as a player and coach.
“Coach Scali has been an outstanding coach ever since I got to Piedmont,” adds Swartz. “He runs a great program and an awesome coaching staff. He has had a major impact on me on and off the field. He makes it a priority to develop relationships with his players. He has helped me not only develop my pitching mechanics, but the mental side of pitching. The culture at Piedmont is very simple. We have a group of guys that play together like it’s their last game ever. When we step on the diamond, it is nothing but 100% effort and determination to come out on top. College baseball can get serious, but Coach Scali and our guys make sure that it is important we are all having fun. After all, it is just a game.”
That attitude and maturity Swartz is experiencing is shaping who he is as a pitcher and as a person. In the short two seasons he’s put together, he has an overall record of 8-2 with a 4.95 ERA and 87 strikeouts. Beyond the numbers and success on the field though, he was wise words for players that were just like him a couple seasons ago.
“To the high school players right now, don’t take anything for granted,” states Swartz. “It goes by way faster than you think, and it’s important to soak in everything. Playing in college is an amazing opportunity that I am very grateful for, but it’s not just going to fall into your lap. You have to go out and work and earn your spot. The best advice I can give you is to put your head down and really invest into yourself and baseball. Make sure to stay in the gym and give 110% effort on the field. Practice is your best friend and should be treated the same as a game. But most importantly, don’t take anything for granted, and be sure to have fun.”
Swartz was a phenomenal talent at Union County, and in his senior year won 6 games with a 2.71 ERA and 109 strikeouts, holding opponents to a ridiculous .177 batting average. He also raked at the plate by hitting .402 with a homer and 33 RBI along with 14 doubles and a triple. In his junior 2020 season (cut short by COVID), he was 2-0 with a save, a 1.00 ERA, and 16 K. His sophomore 2019 campaign saw him go 5-1 with a 0.75 ERA and 71 K, and batting .360 with 16 RBI.