Long journey to the mound

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Dan Zurowski
Dan Zurowski closed out both games in Misericordia's sweep of Babson to clinch a trip to Appleton.
Middle Atlantic Conference photo

By John McGraw
for D3sports.com

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. – Misericordia is making its first appearance at the Division III World Series in Appleton, Wisconsin. And it could be said that the reason the Cougars are here is because of relief pitcher Dan Zurowski.

The Cougars had to fight their way through the losers’ bracket at the Mid-Atlantic Regional and defeat Babson twice on the final day to advance. And Zurowski, a senior relief pitcher, threw three scoreless innings in each of those games, earning a save in each of them to secure the Cougars first-ever regional crown.

Dan Zurowski gets congratulations
Dan Zurowski entered the Division III World Series having thrown 17-1/3 innings, more than one-third of them on the final day of the Mid-Atlantic Regional.
Middle Atlantic Conference photo 

Zurowski’s appearances at Peoples Bank Park in York, Pennsylvania, capped off a four-year odyssey that began just seven days into his freshman season and was something, as he says, he never could have imagined.

The Cougars were going through an offseason workout in the fall of 2015 when Zurowski noticed he wasn’t feeling well. “I just wasn’t feeling well. We were working out with the team. My chest started to get a little tight and stuff like that. It went throughout the day, I wasn’t feeling any better. I ended up having to go to the hospital.”

While at the hospital, joined by his brand-new head coach of just one week, Pete Egbert, Zurowski was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. He underwent a procedure that evening to get his heart beating normally again however the problem would persist the remainder of his freshman year.

“You put baseball aside and you hope that Dan’s OK as a human being and you hope that he’s gonna make it through” said Egbert.

A three-day stay in the hospital in the spring, part of a stretch of six to seven hospital visits overall that season, kept him off the field completely while his teammates were putting together a 31-win season that would lead to a MAC Freedom championship and an NCAA regional berth. However, those same teammates were with Zurowski every step of the way.

“And every time, every night I was there, the guys, and I’m a freshman, and there’s juniors and seniors in there that’ve known me for a week and they’re there in there next to me when I was laying in the bed. The support that they gave me was incredible and without them I don’t think I would have made it through my four years.”

“They were so supportive from day one. They did whatever they could to make it happen for him” added Egbert.

In the summer before his sophomore year, Zurowski underwent his first heart surgery in the hope of returning to the field in the spring. Unfortunately for the rising sophomore, the same issues he had experienced as a freshman returned in the fall. Though in the spring, Zurowski recovered enough to make his collegiate debut. He pitched in a limited relief role and made four appearances, each no longer than one inning.

Zurowski underwent a second surgery after his sophomore campaign, again in hopes of being able to become a full-time regular for the Cougars. The second heart surgery took 12 hours and as Zurowski tells it, it took a toll on him.

The effect of the health issues and surgeries took their toll and both Egbert and Zurowski agreed that the tall left-handed pitcher would take off his junior season.

“My body had taken a lot and it didn’t seem like it was in my best interest to play. Coach always had my back and he wanted to keep me around the team. He knows what it means to be with the team.”

With only four appearances through three seasons and two heart surgeries behind him, Zurowski still had the desire to get back onto the field. “I’ve always been determined to get back out there. But I’ve definitely had my fair share of doubts ... Definitely freshmen year when it all started I didn’t know how I was going to feel after the first surgery, after the second surgery that one took a toll on me a little bit. And then junior year, we had to take a step back and look at it. Like look, you just gotta stop but coach kept me around the team. He kept me working with them, do whatever I needed to do from a personal standpoint and it all worked out.”

This spring, Zurowski’s determination paid off. He returned to the mound in March, pitching two scoreless innings against Immaculata on March 4 after a layoff of nearly two years. The southpaw went on to compile eight appearances prior to the regionals, allowing an earned one run just one of them.

“It was an incredible feeling. I really didn’t think I was going to find myself back out there in a Misericordia uniform but I put all that aside and there was still a job to get done and it’s an incredible feeling to get out there and there’s still a job to get done and you can’t just live in that moment of where you were.

Fast forward to last weekend’s regional championship round against Babson in Pennsylvania. The Cougars, having been beaten by Babson in the winners’ bracket final, were playing their fifth game of the tournament with a potential sixth game on tap with a victory. Misericordia led, 9-2, in the seventh, with Zurowski in the bullpen ready to come in if need be.

However the Beavers struck quickly and before Zurowski made it to the mound, Babson had scored five runs and trimmed the Cougars lead to 9-7. If Misercordia lost, the season, and Zurowski’s collegiate career, would be over. The 6-foot-7 hurler entered the game and mowed through the first three batters he faced. In the top of the eighth, Misericordia added three runs to create some breathing room. That was all Zurowski needed. He set down six of the next eight batters he faced to send Misericordia in the winner-take-all final.

“He pitched three in the first game and looked absolutely outstanding and they couldn’t touch him,” said Egbert.

Mere hours after shutting down Babson in the first game of the championship round, Zurowski returned to the hill in the seventh inning of the championship final, needing nine outs send Misericordia to its first World Series. The senior again mowed through the Beaver lineup retiring nine of the ten men he faced to secure Misericordia’s trip to Appleton.

After having not pitched more than three innings in a game all season, Zurowski finished the Mid-Atlantic championship round with six scoreless innings, two nine-out saves and four strikeouts.  

“Unbelievable. When he was on the mound in the regional championships, for him to have accomplished what he has accomplished and have the ball on the mound to celebrate a regional championship and our first trip to Appleton, nobody deserves it more than he does,” said Egbert.