Nathan Ocker knows all about pressure.

Ocker was the starting quarterback at Middletown High School where the world revolved around Friday night football.

A bad performance for the Blue Raiders on Friday night meant that there was nowhere for Ocker to hide the rest of the weekend in the small town of Middletown, Penn., population 8,901.

It’s that pressure to win that has made the College of Charleston pitcher one of the fiercest competitors for the Cougars over the past three seasons.

“Being the quarterback in a small town isn’t easy sometimes, especially after a loss,” Ocker said. “The whole town comes out to watch you play on Friday nights, so one bad game, one bad performance, and everyone is looking to you for answers and they want to see how you respond.”

A year ago, Ocker was brilliant as the Cougars' closer, finishing with a 2.03 earned run average with 10 saves and 56 strikeouts in 44 innings (0.72 whip). But it’s not the 10 saves that Ocker remembers, it’s the two losses – against Hofstra and UNC Wilmington – that still linger with him.

“Nathan wants to win as bad as anyone I’ve ever coached,” said College of Charleston coach Chad Holbrook. “When you have a tough loss, a heartbreaking loss, as a coach you want to see how the players react and who takes the losses the hardest. As bad as I feel after a tough loss, Nathan is right there with me. To me, that’s strange for a player to react like he does because they normally brush it off pretty quickly. Coaches have a tough time doing that and Nathan’s just like that.”

With the Cougars leading Hofstra, 4-1, going into the ninth inning last April, Ocker gave up four runs as the Pride rallied for a 5-4 victory. A month later against UNCW, Ocker gave up the game-winning hit in the ninth inning in a 6-5 loss.

“After each game, Nathan came up to me and wanted the ball the next day,” Holbrook said. “Both of those losses were heartbreakers, but he wanted the ball and that’s what you want from your closer. They’ve got to have a short memory and they’ve got to want to respond.”

The day after losing to UNCW, Ocker entered the game in the ninth with Charleston clinging to a one-run lead and got the final two outs in a 6-5 victory for his 16th career save.

“The mentality I have is I don’t like the person 60 feet, six inches away from me,” Ocker said. “Honestly, that’s it. We base our pitching program around that. That’s my mound when I’m out there and you do not like that person at the plate, even though you might have known them your whole life. You might have played summer ball with them or even in high school, but you don’t like them in that moment.”

Ocker will end his career as one of the top closers in College of Charleston history. He is tied for fifth on the school’s all-time saves list and needs 14 to break the record. Brett Harker (2003-05) holds the school record with 30 saves.

“He doesn’t let many guys get on base,” Holbrook said of Ocker. “He has a swing-and-miss breaking ball and you know when you put Nathan out there, the other team just has to beat him. He’s not going to beat himself. He’s not going to put runners on base, he’s going to throw the ball where he wants to throw it and challenge the hitters to hit it. He doesn’t make mistakes and he’s a fierce, fierce competitor.”

Ocker could have gone pro last year, but wanted to come back for his senior season. There's still business left to be done, he said.

“There is an opportunity to do something special this year that hasn’t been done in a while,” Ocker said. “I think we have the team to go to an NCAA Regional and even go back to a Super Regional. The seniors coming back have been together for four years. I think we’ve got the depth and our team chemistry is really good. There’s a tight bond between all the guys.”

The Cougars return a veteran group led by second baseman Dupree Hart (.326, 2 HR, 21 RBI), outfielder Logan McRae (.284, 7 HR, 37 RBI) and catcher Danny Wondrack (.253, 12 HR, 43 RBI).

“We’ve got a number of kids that have been around the block, we’ve got some experience,” Holbrook said. “We had some great games, some great wins and some great performances, but I want us to be a little more consistent so we can have a great season. I don’t think the players are satisfied. They want a great 56-game season.”

College of Charleston

2018 RECORD: 39-16 (15-8 in CAA).

COACH: Chad Holbrook, 39-16 at CofC; 239-122 in six seasons overall.

TOP PLAYERS: 2B Dupree Hart (.326, 2 HR, 21 RBI); OF/DH Logan McRae (.284, 7 HR, 37 RBI); C Danny Wondrack (.253, 12 HR, 43 RBI); RHP Nathan Ocker (2-4, 2.03 ERA, 56 Ks).

TOP NEWCOMERS: RHP Blake Robinson; INF/OF Harrison Hawkins; 3B/OF Chaz Davey.

College of Charleston Schedule

February

15 – UNC Asheville, 4 p.m.; 16 – UNC Asheville, noon; 17 – UNC Asheville, 1 p.m.; 20 – Charleston Southern, 4 p.m.; 22 – UConn, 4 p.m.; 23 – UConn, 2 p.m.; 24 – UConn, 1 p.m.; 26 – Georgia Southern, 4 p.m.; 27 – Coastal Carolina, 4 p.m.

March

1 – N.C. A&T, 4 p.m.; 2 – N.C. A&T, noon; 3 – N.C. A&T, 1 p.m.; 8 – at Arizona, 4 p.m.; 9 – at Arizona, 2 p.m.; 10 – at Arizona, 1 p.m.; 13 – at Charleston Southern, 4 p.m.; 15 – Furman, 6 p.m.; 16 – Furman, 2 p.m.; 17 – Furman, 1 p.m.; 19 – at Clemson, 6 p.m.; 20 – at Clemson (Columbia), 6 p.m.; 22 – Elon, 6 p.m.; 23 – Elon, 2 p.m.; 24 – Elon, 1 p.m.; 26 – The Citadel, 6 p.m.; 27 – Charleston Southern, 6 p.m.; 29 – Hofstra, 6 p.m.; 30 – Hofstra, 2 p.m.; 31 – Hofstra – 1 p.m.

April

3 – at Georgia Southern, 6 p.m.; 5 – at James Madison, 6 p.m.; 6 – at James Madison, 2 p.m.; 7 – at James Madison, 1 p.m.; 9 – at The Citadel, noon; 12 – Dallas Baptist, 6 p.m.; 13 – Dallas Baptist, 2 p.m.; 14 – Dallas Baptist, 2 p.m.; 16 – at Coastal Carolina, 2 p.m.; 19 – at Northeastern, 2 p.m.; 20 – at Northeastern, 2 p.m.; 21 – at Northeastern, 2 p.m.; 24 – at Georgia Southern, 6 p.m.; 26 – at UNC Wilmington, 6 p.m.; 27 – at UNC Wilmington, 2 p.m.; 28 -- at UNC Wilmington, 1 p.m.

May

3 – at William & Mary, 2 p.m.; 4 – at William & Mary, 2 p.m.; 5 – at William & Mary, 2 p.m.; 7 – at Charleston Southern, 2 p.m.; 10 – Towson, 6 p.m.; 11 – Towson, 2 p.m.; 12 – Towson, 1 p.m.; 14 – The Citadel, 2 p.m.; 16 – at Delaware, 6 p.m.; 17 – at Delaware, 1 p.m.; 18 – at Delaware, 1 p.m.; 22-26 – CAA Tournament at James Madison.

Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC