Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CIRCLEVILLE — Tanner Popp is quickly becoming a known name around the River States Conference.
Popp, a Southeastern alum and a current pitcher at Ohio Christian University, seems to have figured something out over the offseason.
After a freshman year where he posted a 2-7 record on the hill with an 8.31 ERA, Popp has drastically bettered those numbers in just six games this season. In five starts, the 6-foot sophomore has tossed 40 innings of work, going 3-3 with a 4.73 ERA alongside 27 strikeouts.
“I would have to say I have improved on locating my pitches and keeping hitters off-balance,” Popp said. “In high school, I was able to get away with a lot of pitches and I was able to overpower a lot of guys. Since I’ve made it to college, I’ve had to learn to locate my pitches very well and keep batters off-balance.”
It’s one thing to learn the lesson. It’s another to apply it and fix your mistakes.
However, if you know Tanner, you know he’s always working to perfect his craft.
“I feel my best qualities as a pitcher are my work ethic and my bulldog mentality,” Popp said. “I always try to be the first one to practice and I am always the last one to leave. It never matters what the situation is. I always want the ball.”
Popp’s best outing this year came back on Feb. 28, against IU Kokomo — a team that Popp believes will finish first or second in the RSC, along with a Top 25 ranking. That day, he threw eight innings, scattering just three hits and whiffing eight batters.
This past Saturday, against Brescia (Ky.), he tallied six frames while allowing just four hits and striking out four.
Those types of outings — which are becoming more and more frequent — wouldn’t be possible without the time Popp puts in outside the lines.
“I learned that if you want to be one of the best players on the team, you have to put in ten times the amount of work,” Popp said. “The time commitment is so much greater. You have practice but you also need to go lift on your own time. I’ve also learned that there is always somebody better than yourself. “
Ohio Christian, as a team, certainly knows it’s not the best in the RSC. The Trailblazers currently sit at 5-14 overall with a 1-6 mark in the conference. But that just means there’s room to grow.
Make no mistake about it, OCU still has its goals set and believes in reaching them.
“We haven’t really got rolling yet as far as a team. We haven’t put it all together yet but we are a very young team. Young is an understatement,” Popp said. “But our team expectations are to make the conference tournament and break the school record for wins in a season, which is 18.”
Popp says he has individual goals of posting a sub-five ERA and reaching five wins this year. But he also says he won’t be able to do either without the help of his teammates behind him.
OCU’s chances of winning rise significantly with the ball in No. 33’s hands. He’s taken a simple approach all year long. If he can execute his plan on a game-by-game basis, his stock will continue to rise.
So far, so good.
“The way I approach a hitter is I like to get a first pitch strike because I want to make the hitter be behind in the count. Then I keep attacking the strike zone and keeping the hitters off-balance,” he said. “I try to make them hit my pitch, whatever the count is. The more I get them to guess, and swing and miss, the longer I get to stay in the game and help my team.”