Zucker enjoys pitching for U.S. in Israel

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Staff photo Beloit College's Jen Zucker played with a U.S. all-star team in Israel.

When her friends get around to chatting about their summer vacations they’re going to have a difficult time topping Jen Zucker’s experience.

The sophomore-to-be from Beloit College recently spent three weeks in Israel, going 3-0 in the pitcher’s circle for Team USA at the Maccabiah Games. When she wasn’t baffling the batters on Team Israel or Team Canada she had a decent amount of time for just being a tourist.

“The first week was all sightseeing,” she said. “It was incredible. It was like everything I’ve read about my whole life. I really loved being able to connect with my Jewish heritage and see all the things I learned about in Hebrew school.

“I think it definitely helped me reconnect with my faith.”

Zucker, who set the Beloit College season mark for strikeouts in 2013, pitched 15 innings in Israel as her team won all three of her starts by the 10-run mercy rule. She allowed 10 hits and a single run for the 7-0 USA squad, which captured the title in the tournament. She did not walk a batter and fanned 16, posting a microscopic 0.47 earned run average.

“I was really happy with my performance,” said Zucker, who went to high school at Glenbrook South and lives in Glenview, Ill. “I’m not going to say the competition was incredible, but I think we had an incredible team. We had Jewish players from all over the country and all different colleges. We had a girl from UCLA who had just played in the College World Series. We had two girls from Penn who had won the Ivy League title.”

Many of the players came from a tryout Zucker had attended in Chicago. While the team was assembled in the U.S., the players didn’t meet each other until they arrived in Israel.

“Surprisingly it didn’t take very long for us to bond as a team,” Zucker said. “There wasn’t any drama the whole time we were there. We got along really well.”

Meeting people, whether on her own team or other countries, was one of the features of the trip Zucker appreciated most.

“I love meeting new people and I met people from all over the world — Brazil, South Africa, really all over, and everyone shared their experiences,” she said. “It was something I won’t ever forget.”

Zucker faced Israel in her first game July 22 and was a 13-1 winner, allowing only four hits and one run in five innings. Her next two starts were both shutouts of Team Canada. She won July 24, 9-0, allowing two hits in five innings with four strikeouts. The following day she beat them again, 8-0, this time allowing four hits, but striking out seven.

“Jen pitched very well,” Beloit head coach Kim Zarling said. “I tried to follow the tournament as best I could on the Internet. She was very consistent with her control. She got a lot of run support, too, and that’s something we need to do a better job of next season.”

The Buccaneers often struggled at the plate when Zucker was in the pitcher’s circle. They hit only .190 as a team and were shut out 10 times and scored one run eight times.

The lack of support explains why Zucker — despite posting a fine 2.84 earned run average overall —was just 7-13. Beloit’s other pitchers went a collective 0-16 as the team finished 7-29.

Beloit fared much better in the Midwest Conference, where Zucker posted a winning mark at 5-4 and the Bucs were 5-9 as a team. Zucker posted a 1.43 earned run average in conference play, earning All-MWC South Division First Team honors. She set a new standard for Buccaneer pitchers with her 167 overall strikeouts, more than any other pitcher in the league.

The right-hander led the MWC in innings pitched and was second in appearances. She pitched just the fourth no-hitter in Beloit softball history April 14 against Grinnell College at the MWC Classic in East Peoria, Ill., an 8-0 victory.

Zucker’s 167 strikeouts ranked her 22nd in NCAA Division III. She was also one of the most accurate pitchers around, allowing just 17 walks in 153 innings. She had a single wild pitch all season and hit only four batters.

Following the season, Zucker earned Honorable Mention honors on the 2013 Jewish Sports Review All-American Softball Team.

Jennifer Zucker, a sophomore at Beloit College, earned a gold medal playing for Team USA in the Maccabiah Tournament in Israel.

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