FAYETTEVILLE -- Trevor Stephan came close to not joining the Arkansas Razorbacks this season.
"I was kind of on the fence about coming here," Stephan said. "It wasn't a sure thing."
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville didn't have to beat another college baseball program to get Stephan.
The Razorbacks had to beat the Red Sox.
Boston made Stephan an 18th-round draft pick last season after he went 8-1 with 5 saves and a 2.88 ERA for Hill (Texas) Junior College.
"I was close to signing with the Red Sox," Stephan said. "But I'm certainly glad I didn't.
"This year at Arkansas has been awesome."
It's been good for Stephan and the Razorbacks.
With Stephan moving into the starting rotation, Arkansas is back in NCAA Tournament after last season's absence and he has raised his draft stock considerably.
Stephan (5-3, 3.12 ERA) will start for the Razorbacks (42-17) when they open against Oral Roberts (42-14) at 7 tonight at Baum Stadium in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional.
"Some of his best outings he's fed off the crowd," Arkansas pitching coach Wes Johnson said. "It energizes him.
"He ain't scared of the bright lights. I've got 100 percent confidence in starting him."
Stephan, a junior right-hander from Magnolia, Texas, has been on a roll after being knocked around by Auburn and experiencing a tough first inning against Ole Miss in back-to-back starts.
Since allowing 3 earned runs and 5 hits in 1 1/3 innings at Auburn and 3 earned runs and 4 hits in the first inning against Ole Miss, Stephan has a 1.90 ERA over 33 2/3 innings.
That includes pitching five scoreless innings against the Rebels to start a dominant stretch in which he has held opponents to 7 earned runs and 23 hits with 37 strikeouts and 5 walks.
So what happened after Stephan looked like he might not last long against Ole Miss?
"After that first inning, I just had to turn the page," Stephan said. "I had to get back out there and get back to my ways."
As badly as Stephan struggled, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn didn't consider pulling him early because it was the first game of a doubleheader.
"So we just figured, 'Hey, we're going to let him figure it out and we're going to climb our way back in," Van Horn said. "We ended up losing 4-1 and we had plenty of chances to win that game.
"He just kind of turned the corner there and ever since then he's been pretty good.
"Now he feels that he's the guy."
Stephan, 6-5 and 225 pounds, has 108 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings this season.
"Just attacking early and getting ahead in the count," Stephan said of piling up the strikeouts. "Then staying ahead."
Stephan throws a fastball that has hit 97 miles per hour at times, Johnson said, and is consistently between 92 and 94.
"He's got a real special fastball," Johnson said.
Stephan, who also has a slider, said re-establishing his fastball command has been a key to his success.
"It's my best pitch," Stephan said. "When that's on, it's going to be a fun day."
Arkansas catcher Grant Koch said what makes Stephan's fastball especially effective is his ability to locate it on both sides of the plate with movement.
"I think it's the angle it comes in, and he throws it hard and it has good spin on it," Koch said. "It's one of those fastballs that rises a little bit through the zone. It's just got extra life on it."
Razorbacks shortstop Jax Biggers said Stephan pitches with a quiet confidence.
"He doesn't really show much emotion on the mound," Biggers said. "It's like when he strikes somebody out, he expects it.
"He just goes out there and competes every day. You don't necessarily see it in him, but you know it's there."
Johnson said Stephan "figured out a few things" during the Ole Miss game, but he didn't want to be specific.
"I'm not going to go into all that and give away our scouting report, but we'd been talking about making some adjustments," Johnson said. "When he did that against Ole Miss, his confidence was 100 percent back.
"Man, he's just been fun to watch ever since."
Johnson said Stephan is one of the hardest-working pitchers he's coached and benefits from having a consistent routine between starts.
"Trevor is really routine-oriented and I think that helped him push through a couple bad outings," Johnson said. "He really studies the hitters and studies the game and you pile all that info a funnel with hard work and this is what you get."
Learning how to pitch in the SEC, Johnson said, also has advanced in Stephan's growth.
"Everyone wants to talk about his fastball, but to me the bigger growth for Trevor has been mental," Johnson said. "He's said a couple of times, 'Man, you can't take a pitch off in the SEC.' No, brother, you can't.
"Trevor has been understanding that every pitch matters and how to lock in for seven full innings."
Stephan said Johnson's hiring at Arkansas -- after he'd been Mississippi State's pitching coach the previous two seasons -- influenced his decision to turn down Boston's offer.
"When Coach Johnson got the job that was huge for me," Stephan said. "I wanted to come work with him."
Johnson said he called Stephan as soon as was hired at Arkansas.
"I knew he was really close to signing with the Red Sox," Johnson said. "I talked to him about what I've seen over my career of guys coming back to college and improving their draft stock and making more money.
"For him to roll the dice, so to speak, and come here showed the trust that he has in us."
Sports on 06/02/2017
Trevor Stephan at a glance
POSITION Right-handed pitcher
HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-5, 225 pounds
HOMETOWN Magnolia, Texas
HIGH SCHOOL/JUNIOR COLLEGE West Magnolia High School/Hill (Texas) Junior College
NOTEWORTHY Record of 5-3 with 3.12 ERA in 15 games — all starts — this season. … Has team-high 108 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings. … Was an 18th-round draft choice by the Boston Red Sox after his sophomore year at Hill Junior College.
No. 1 Arkansas vs. No. 4 Oral Roberts
WHAT Fayetteville Regional of the NCAA Division I baseball tournament
WHEN 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE Baum Stadium, Fayetteville
RECORDS Arkansas 42-17; Oral Roberts 42-14
WHO ELSE IS IN THE REGIONAL No. 3 Oklahoma State (30-25) and No. 2 seed Missouri State (40-17) will play at 2 p.m.
Print Headline: Lessons learned