For most of Jackson Kowar’s baseball career he admits he considered himself “an average player.”
But over the last two years, the Charlotte Christian senior has proved he is anything but average as he ascended from the No. 6 hitter and third baseman on the Knights’ junior varsity team to the varsity closer to the No. 1 starter on the three-time, defending NCISAA 3A state championship teams.
“Jackson would always tell me how he could pitch, but when he did (in practice) it wasn’t that good,” said Charlotte Christian baseball coach Greg Simmons, who has guided the Knights to 12 state championships in 22 years as the Knights’ head coach. “Then, he threw (in the offseason) in our eight-man session in November of his sophomore year and he looked like a completely different pitcher and made the varsity as our closer.
“ Going into junior year, he had never started a game for us. Then, he just exploded last year into our No. 1 (pitcher). To see him evolve into the player he has today in the last few years has been exciting to watch.”
Kowar’s game has grown both literally and figuratively.
Kowar, 18, grew nearly a foot between the start of his freshman year and end of his sophomore season and is still growing, according to Simmons.
The now 6-foot-4, 170-pound pitcher also went from a player who was on the fringe of making the Christian varsity team as a sophomore to a player who earned All-American (Perfect Game/National Christian High School Association), all-state, all-Observer and all-conference honors as a junior.
Kowar, who signed with Clemson in November (he committed to the Tigers in July 2013), garnered all of his accolades after one of the best seasons in school history on the mound, going 10-1 with an 0.79 earned-run average and a school-record 131 strikeouts.
“When I became a starter last year, I didn’t really know what I was doing at first; all I knew was throw as hard as you can,” said Kowar, who can throw a 93-mph fastball with a change-up and slider also in his arsenal. “My first couple starts felt a little rocky, and it wasn’t until the Jack Sink tournament (at Myers Park) that I settled in. But I am always confident in myself, maybe more confident than I should have been.”
Kowar had one of his best performances in his April 17 start at the Jack Sink tournament in a 1-0 win over nationally ranked Providence, where he threw a four-hit shutout, striking out nine batters.
He was dominant the rest of the way, firmly establishing himself as the No. 1 pitcher, while helping lead the Knights (32-4) to their third straight NCISAA 3A state championship.
Kowar hasn’t missed a beat this summer and winter, as he not only starred for the Showcase Baseball Academy Canes, but also worked as hard as ever in Christian’s offseason workouts.
Kowar also has had good guidance from his father, Frank, who starred as the closer for the Charlotte 49ers (1987-90) before playing in the minors in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization.
“Jackson is very motivated to keep getting better because he hasn’t ever really been “the guy,” on his team, so this is all new to him,” Simmons said. “His winter workouts have been as good as guy I’ve had in 25 years (23 as head coach, two as a Christian assistant). Expectations are high, but you’ve got to learn to play with expectations here (Charlotte Christian).”
Kowar will have a lot of help in a lineup that boasts six more college baseball signees in the seniors, including: all-state and All-American center fielder Reece Hampton (Charlotte 49ers), right fielder Bailey Lewis (Catholic University), left fielder Josh Hall (Charleston Southern), first baseman Dillon Carpenter (Anderson University), closer Heather Hawkins (Furman), and No. 2 starting pitcher, Ross Kemp (Spartanburg Methodist).
While everyone will be play a key role in the Knights’ pursuit of a fourth straight title, Simmons says Kowar has a chance to etch his name in Charlotte Christian lore.
“We’ve been fortunate to have some great arms over the years and Jackson’s stuff is up there with anyone we’ve had,” said Simmons, noting he compares with former Charlotte Christian standouts like brothers Jonathan, Jared and Luke Bard, as well Bailey Ober. “He has a chance to have another special season.”
Kowar says his focus is on keeping the Charlotte Christian championship tradition going.
“We expect to win every time we take the field and the idea that we won’t four-peat hasn’t even crossed our minds,” Kowar said. “We expect to win the state championship. For our class, winning four in a row is a big deal. We want to be that class of 2015 that everyone remembers and players in the future look up to.”