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Despite skepticism, rookie starter's belief in self never wavered

All News 17:14 November 10, 2020

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 10 (Yonhap) -- At the tender age of 19, KT Wiz right-hander So Hyeong-jun pitched a game of his young life in his postseason debut on Monday.

Offering his own assessment, So said Tuesday he didn't really feel any pressure, and instead embraced the moment and the stage as the starter in his club's first-ever postseason game.

So Hyeong-jun of the KT Wiz takes off his cap as he leaves the mound during the top of the seventh inning of Game 1 of the Korea Baseball Organization second-round postseason series against the Doosan Bears at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 9, 2020. (Yonhap)

The rookie threw 6 2/3 shutout innings against the Doosan Bears in Game 1 of the second round in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason. The Wiz lost 3-2, but So, who didn't factor into a decision, was the star of the game. Both managers offered high praise for the teenager afterward, saying they've just seen the birth of a new ace.

"I don't know about the ace title. I think I need a few more years of experience," So said Tuesday in an interview before Game 2 of the series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.

So had a fine regular season, and his 13-6 record with a 3.86 ERA should be good enough to make him the Rookie of the Year. But when the Wiz handed So the daunting assignment of starting the opening game of a postseason series, it raised a few eyebrows.

Could the kid handle the pressure?

"I knew a lot of people thought I would struggle on the mound because I didn't have experience, but I was pretty confident in myself," So said. "I wanted to prove those people wrong, and I was pretty determined out there."

So said this wasn't even the most nervous he'd been in a game and said he was far more anxious and jittery when he faced Japan during the U-18 Baseball World Cup last year.

So Hyeong-jun of the KT Wiz speaks to reporters before Game 2 of the Korea Baseball Organization second-round postseason series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 10, 2020. (Yonhap)

"Last night, I was just trying to pitch the same way that I did during the regular season," So said. "The hitters were the same. The distance between the mound and the home plate was the same."

So said being the Game 1 starter didn't put any extra burden on his shoulders; instead, he enjoyed having that responsibility.

"The team gave me a great opportunity, and I thought I had to live up to it," So said. "I tried to focus extra hard and compete with more confidence. And physically, I felt even better than usual."

Asked if there is any lingering disappointment about his own performance, So said, "I don't have any regret from that game."

So said he'd love to represent the country at the senior level, and the Tokyo Olympic Games, scheduled for next July after getting postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, are already on his mind.

"It'd be great if I can get to the Olympics next year," he said. "I should set it as my goal this winter and start preparing for that."

So Hyeong-jun of the KT Wiz pitches against the Doosan Bears in the top of the first inning of Game 1 of the Korea Baseball Organization second-round postseason series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 9, 2020. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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