From backup to no-hit pitcher, Jacob Blank continues to amaze
Junior pitcher Jacob Blank wasn’t always the breakout star he is today. He appeared in 12 games as a freshmen starting, two. His sophomore year wasn’t much different, making 10 appearances and with three starts.
It wasn’t until this year that head coach Tim Huber decided to give him a chance.
“We had some starting pitchers that we liked,” Huber said. Jacob just had a really good start to the year for us in relief, and we kind of expected to use him the same as the last couple of years. [He would have been] really good in relief on the weekends and then a mid-week starter when we got to conference play. But because he had done well, and a couple of other guys weren’t performing, we said ‘what the heck, let’s just see what happens.”’
What happened was Blank didn’t yield an earned run until his 12th appearance. He is 9-0 and was named National Pitcher of the Week April 21 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).
He earned the recognition on the strength of his April 15 no-hitter in a 2-0 win over Minnesota-Duluth. It was the eighth no-hitter in Augustana history.
“Games like that are the goal of every pitcher who enters the program with a serious competitive nature,” Blank said. “If you do not show up to the park with the mindset that you are going to dominate the opposing team, you’ve already lost. That being said, it feels amazing to be able to achieve such a high honor, especially at home and against such a quality team like Duluth.”
This wasn’t always going to be the athletic experience for Blank. Originally, coach Huber was on the fence about recruiting him.
“He’s a small town guy in Nebraska,” Huber said. “He kind of grew on us the more we saw him…He wasn’t throwing that hard in high school but had okay stuff, so we liked his potential I guess is the biggest thing. He was a guy we liked. He’s a perfect Augie guy, really high-end student and good kid, but we didn’t think he would be a top guy for us. We just thought maybe he could eventually turn into a guy that could help us with back-up stuff.”
With low expectations, did anyone think he had this in him?
“Honestly, I think a lot of people would say no to this question,” friend and fellow pitcher Jonas Lovin said. “He struggled a little at the beginning of freshman year, [but] I believed he could. He probably had the best consistent location with his fastball out of the freshman, he just didn’t throw very hard. His breaking ball wasn’t great, but I knew if he could get his velocity up and build on his naturally given frame he could be pretty good. I don’t think anyone can say they expected this, though.”
Blank himself didn’t really think of playing baseball past high school, but even if he got the chance he wanted to focus on academics as much as his sport.
“Everyone dreams of playing beyond high school while growing up,” Blank said. “So it was definitely a goal of mine. However, I did not seriously consider it until I started to have success in high school. Augie was in my top two [choices], alongside the University of Nebraska. I chose to come here because of the combination of academic excellence and competitive athletics unique to Augie.”
Blank is pursuing a political science major. Balancing academics and athletics is not easy, but he’s found a way to get the best of both. So far, the highlight of his career is his no-hitter against Duluth,—a moment he hopes to recreate.
“The thing that I give him a lot of credit for is that he’s a great student,” Huber said. “School is always going to come first for him. But he’s a passionate baseball player, very competitive and wants to do well. I always think of him as—well a nerd playing baseball? No, he’s a baseball player that happens to be really good student.”