Stephen Schoch grew up dreaming of playing Virginia baseball.
“I remember my prized possession growing up was this UVa hat I got at Five Below for $5,” Schoch said. “I was really stoked [about] it, actually. I just kind of always dreamed of coming here and playing for Coach Oak and everybody that’s here.”
One of Schoch’s earliest memories of loving UVa came at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Schoch’s family took a photo in Cooperstown, and many of his family members wore the uniform of his travel team.
Schoch wore UVa gear.
“I think that’s the first time I remember a tangible thing of how much I really wanted to come here,” Schoch said of the photo.
His dream to become a Virginia Cavalier drew closer after a stellar high school career. In his senior season at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Maryland, Schoch earned Washington Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors. He finished the season with a 0.00 ERA across 53 1/3 innings.
He pitched the equivalent of nearly six full nine-inning baseball games without allowing an earned run. He struck out 45 batters and walked just three. Schoch dominated.
It wasn’t enough.
Virginia, fresh off a national championship in 2015, didn’t come calling for Schoch, who started his career at Appalachian State.
“This kid grew up wanting to come here, and he couldn’t out of high school because we didn’t think enough of him,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said, softly.
The sidearm pitcher spent 2016 at Appalachian State before transferring to UMBC. Schoch spent 2017 sitting out due to transfer rules.
In the summer of 2017, Schoch joined the Cal Ripken League. The hard-throwing right-handed pitcher tossed 26 1/3 innings without allowing a run. He fanned 33 batters without walking anyone.
He carried that momentum into UMBC’s next season, setting a single-season school record with 10 saves in 2018. He posted a 1.72 ERA with 72 strikeouts across 57 2/3 innings.
Schoch earned Cape Cod League All-Star honors during the summer of 2018, as he performed well in one of the best collegiate summer leagues in the nation. He posted a 0.94 ERA over 19 innings and struck out 21 batters.
Regardless of the competition, Schoch proved his worth. Whether it was American East batters or the best collegiate players in the nation, the pitcher knew how to record outs.
The 2019 season brought more of the same success. While the saves total dipped to three, Schoch struck out 64 batters in 52 2/3 innings. He ended his UMBC career with a program-record 13 career saves.
Through his collegiate career, Schoch excelled. With four years of college completed but one year of eligibility remaining, Schoch opted to become a graduate transfer.
Finally, Virginia wanted him. The Cavaliers added Schoch as a graduate transfer.
In the season-opening series against Oklahoma, Schoch finished off a victory on opening day by securing four outs in the ninth inning.
One Sooner reached on a passed ball on a strikeout, but Schoch retired all four batters he faced that inning, striking out three.
The kid who grew up dreaming of being a Virginia Cavalier closed the door to help UVa secure win No. 1 of the 2020 season.
“It’s been really awesome,” Schoch said. “While the dream was to come here and play here, the bigger part of the dream was to come here and win. Just the fact that I can be part of the system that helps this team win is something I’m really grateful for, and I’m grateful the coaches trust me to do so.”
Wednesday’s 4-3 win over VMI marked Schoch’s first official appearance at Disharoon Park. With the Cavaliers clinging to a one-run lead entering the top of the ninth inning, O’Connor went to Schoch for three outs.
He got them by striking out all three batters he faced.
“It was a rocky path, but I’m really happy I got here,” Schoch said, smiling. “I had been told no a bunch of times by a bunch of people, and some of those people were coaches here.”
Schoch laughed sheepishly as he talked about his current coaches not wanting him a few years prior.
His laughter stopped as he delivered the next statement, thinking back on his journey to the University of Virginia – one that’s been in the making since he was a kid.
“That’s just kind of been my whole life, just relentlessly working until all those no’s turned into yes’s,” Schoch said. “I just want to work hard enough to get to the point where I can’t be told no.”