Sports

Saugus native Harper adjusting to closer role in Cape Cod League

COTUIT – Southern Connecticut State University does not exactly roll off the tongue when discussing college baseball powers, but Jason Harper has done quite well fitting in with the best of the best this summer.
Serving as a late-game option for much of the season, the Saugus native has made the most of his temporary contract with the Cape Cod League?s Orleans Firebirds. The 6-feet-1, 200-pound right-hander earned opportunities to pitch in key spots before signing a full-season contract as the calendar turned to July. The opportunity to prove himself is one that Harper has not taken for granted.
?I enjoy it a lot,” said Harper, whose Firebirds clinched a postseason berth with the league?s best record. “I know this is the best talent around in the country. I love being here, being able to compete with these guys and showing that I belong here.”
He quickly proved he belonged. The Firebirds won each of the first eight games in which Harper appeared through July 4, earning four saves during that span. In 16 overall appearances, spanning 16.0 innings, he has allowed eight runs on eight hits and 10 walks with 14 strikeouts.
Harper was a very versatile arm this spring for the SCSU Owls, making five starts and five more appearances from the bullpen. He went 3-3 with a 2.66 ERA, recording23 strikeouts with 13 walks in 40.2 innings, while holding opponents to a .240 average. Harper, who will be a senior after transferring from Franklin Pierce University last year, graduated from Northeast Metro Tech High School in Wakefield, where he also played basketball and football.
The closer?s role is not new to him, but he enjoys having such a place on the pitching staff against an advanced level of competition.
?I?ve been a starter my whole life, basically, and I started at school, but I?m used to the bullpen though because I?ve been thrown in the mix,” Harper said. “I like coming in the fire with these guys. I can just go out, throw everything I have and not worry about it. I can just pound the zone.”
Last summer, Harper spent a brief time with the Wareham Gatemen before landing a roster spot with the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs of the Futures Collegiate League. Upon his move, it didn?t take very long to realize just how good the Cape League is.
?It?s obviously nothing like the competition here,” Harper said, comparing the two summer leagues. “(The FCBL) was just kind of laid back, somewhere to just play baseball honestly and just throw.”
No matter what Harper?s mindset is on any particular day, it is clear Firebirds manager Kelly Nicholson — a former pitching coach at Loyola Marymount University — has liked what he has seen.
?Early on, he got us four saves and he threw the ball really well,” Nicholson said. “He was huge in that role for us.”
Harper notices himself working harder to fine-tune his presence on the mound and how he goes about his outings this summer. While he spent much of last summer “just throwing,” he is working at improving smaller details in his game.
There is no better way to test himself than against some of the most talented and polished hitters in college baseball.
?I think I?m working a lot harder here to work on my mechanics, getting them as fine as they can be,” Harper said. “I?m working on all my pitches and just every time I go out there getting guys out, not just going there to throw.”
Nicholson has had his fair share of success stories over his 15-year career on the Orleans coaching staff, but Harper is just another example of the fact that anyone can compete on Cape Cod.
?I think it?s really good for him,” Nicholson said. “It doesn?t matter if you?re (Division I) or D3 or wherever you?re from. If you?re good, you?re good, and he?s proven that this summer.”
Joshua Kummins can be reached [email protected]

More Stories In Sports