ACTON — Noah Zavolas pitched like he had a bus to catch. He worked quickly, but not out of control, and with purpose. There was a rhythm to his handiwork on the mound — the high leg kick, the shoulder tilt, the release, the pop of the catcher’s mitt receiving a mid-80s fastball — and it was steady.
About 90 minutes after the Acton-Boxborough Regional senior’s first pitch to Boston Latin last week, the game was over. Zavolas shut out the Wolfpack, 4-0, allowing one hit and striking out 14. All it took was 84 pitches.
“He was dynamite,” Latin coach Rene Gauthier said. “I don’t have the words for you.”
And Zavolas was first in line to shake hands after the final out was recorded.
“It’s not that I want to be done by 5:30 or that I have somewhere else to go,” the team captain said after the game. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be but on a baseball field. But a lot of my games do tend to be pretty fast.”
The 5-foot-10 righty has used a dominating command of the strike zone and control over four pitches to make quick work of opposing hitters for the Colonials (4-1).
Last season, his first as a full-time varsity pitcher, he went 5-1 with a 0.29 ERA and 66 strikeouts (against 12 walks) in 48 innings.
Then after a handful of impressive summer workouts, Zavolas was offered a spot on the Harvard University baseball team this fall.
That, too, was done in a blink.
“I went to their camp, and the day after I got a phone call,” said Zavolas, an honors student at Acton-Boxborough. “It was very quick and it worked out really well . . . Harvard was the one offer I got, and it was the only one I needed.”
His rise to be considered among the top pitchers in the state was anything but snappy, though.
After his sophomore season, during which he pitched one inning for the varsity, Zavolas said, he considered himself a “skinny rake.” At 140 pounds, he knew he needed to pack on some muscle if he was going to become an impact player.
Zavolas increased his workouts at Cressey Performance in Hudson to four times a week and began eating ravenously to refuel.
“All my teachers are always complaining that I’m eating during class,” he said. “I’m not counting calories. I eat whatever my mom makes. I make sure to eat my vegetables, fruits, and stay away from anything processed.”
Since the summer following his sophomore year, Zavolas has added about 40 pounds to his frame and 10 miles per hour to his fastball.
It did not take long into last season for coach Patrick Grucela to determine who was the staff ace. With wins over Lowell and Lincoln-Sudbury Regional, it was clear Zavolas was ready for that responsibility as a junior.
“I’ve coached some hard throwers, and it’s one thing to throw hard, but if you can’t locate it, it’s pointless,” Grucela said. “Noah could locate his fastball and his off-speed pitches as well. The leap he made that season, besides his velocity, was that he could locate.”
Zavolas called on that control in the sixth inning against Latin last week. He allowed a lead-off single that, combined with an error, put a Wolfpack runner on third with no outs. Zavolas stranded him there by retiring the side on his next 12 pitches.
It is those kinds of moments that impress senior pitcher, and Zavolas’s workout partner, Davis Fallon the most.
“He’s one of the most calm pitchers I’ve ever seen on the mound,” Fallon said. “He always has his head in the right place. If I get frustrated, I just think back and think about what he would do on the mound, and it helps me keep my cool.”
Playing shortstop or second base on the days he does not pitch, Zavolas is one of four returners from last year’s team that made it to the Division 1 North quarterfinals.
As quickly and efficiently as he likes to plow through his starts, Zavolas plans on savoring the rest of his senior season. Even the Ivy League college commitment he has in hand will not distract him. He is too focused on his next game, his next start, his next pitch.
Besides, given his climb from varsity afterthought to ace, Harvard still seems like a distant fantasy, he said.
“It won’t become real until I’m wearing the jersey.”
Assabet Valley gets tested
After capturing its second consecutive Division 3 Central title and its first state championship last spring, the Assabet Valley Regional Tech softball program wanted to see how it stacked up against some of the area’s best teams.
Senior captain Jen Casavant , junior captain Jocelyn Orangio, and junior Kayla Baker went to coach Mike O’Brien to see what kinds of opponents they could add to their nonleague schedule.
“The girls have always wanted to see where they stand,” said O’Brien, who has six starters back from last year’s championship club. “They want to see how good they are. I said, ‘All right, I’ll go out and get a schedule that mimics one of the toughest in Division 3.’ ”
The Aztecs (4-2) added Division 1 programs Holy Name, Algonquin Regional, and Doherty Memorial to their schedule this season. They also lined up games with Tahanto Regional, Clinton, and West Boylston.
They have taken their lumps, falling to Holy Name, 12-0, and Tahanto, 15-10. But O’Brien said he knows the added competition will help when Assabet gets to the postseason tournament.
Junior captain and pitcher Madison Parmeter has stayed out of the circle due to a shoulder injury, and is projected to return early next month. In the meantime, freshman pitcher Morgan Foster has stepped up and, with the help of 5-foot-10 senior catcher Deanna Hnilica, kept the Aztecs in games.
Offensively, the team has not missed a beat since a year ago. The first four hitters in the order — Orangio, Baker, Parmeter, and Casavant — have combined for a batting average above .600.
Once the team gets fully healthy, and gets through its daunting nonleague schedule, O’Brien said, he hopes it will be back to where it was last spring. After Parmeter returns, “even if she’s only 80 or 90 percent, I think we’re one of the top three teams in Division 3.”
Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.