Lake’s pitching could be the difference in league title chase
Despite his team’s hot start, Lake baseball coach Greg Wilker isn’t ready to proclaim the Flyers as the best team in the Northern Buckeye Conference just yet.
The Flyers improved to 10-2 and 2-0 in the NBC on Monday with a 9-0 victory over Rossford behind a one-hit, 12-strikeout performance by senior right-hander Jayce Vancena.
“We’ve played some young teams, so we will find out more the next couple weeks,” Wilker said. “We have Genoa, Eastwood (coming up) and teams with some older kids that are going to be tough to beat. I told the kids (Tuesday) we had a good practice and let’s try to work hard every day to keep improving. There are only five or six weeks left in the season. Each week try and get yourself in position where the games are important. That’s our goal.”
|Lake baseball coach Greg Wilker, currently in his 30th year, got his 500th career victory in a 19-4 blowout over Port Clinton Redskins Thursday.|
|Lake senior baseball players-Back-Anthony Pratt, Jayce Vancena, Joel Densic. Front-Brad Ackerman, Cody Witt, Nick Walsh. (Photos courtesy of Innovations Portrait Studio/InnovationsVisualImpact.com)|
Wilker, now in his 30th year, was going for his 500th career win Thursday night at Port Clinton. His team finished tied for second place in the NBC behind Otsego last year, but this season’s Flyers aren’t far removed from their 2012 conference championship season. Eight starters return from last year’s team, including six seniors.
“They like being around each other,” Wilker said. “The camaraderie is very good. They enjoy practicing with each other and they pull for each other, and that’s a good sign. I’m not surprised so far. I have six seniors and they’re all starters, and a couple who have been with me for three or four years and they know what it takes to win. You can’t replace that experience.”
The Flyers, who won 15 games last season, have the offense, defense and pitching staff to make a lot of noise this postseason. Lake lost to Genoa, 3-2, in last year’s sectional finals.
Vancena is the team’s clear No. 1 on the mound. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound University of Michigan recruit, who throws a curveball and change-up to complement his 90-plus-mph fastball, is 4-0 with a 0.25 ERA.
“He’s been pretty dominant, especially his last two outings,” Wilker said.
In 28 innings Vancena has 53 strikeouts and has allowed just seven hits and four walks. He threw a no-hitter in Lake’s 9-0 NBC win over Elmwood, striking out 16.
Lake’s No. 2-3 pitchers are junior Todd Walters and senior left-hander Brad Ackerman. Walters is 3-0 with a 0.47 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 15 innings. Ackerman is 2-1 with a 3.41 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 14.1 innings.
“Todd is a great competitor and just keeps us in ballgames,” Wilker said. “He’s not overpowering like Jayce. He’s only a junior and he’s learning how to pitch. Brad is quite capable, he’s just inconsistent right now. He is capable of throwing some outstanding ballgames.”
Senior Cody Witt, junior Connor Bowen and Ackerman can all pitch in relief.
Senior catcher Nick Walsh, a two-year starter, has been solid behind the plate.
“His improvement handling pitchers, blocking balls, has been a big plus for us this year,” Wilker said. “He’s a big reason for our success. He has a very good arm and our pitchers have done a nice job keeping runners close. We’ve done a nice job shutting down other teams’ running game.”
Through 12 games, cleanup hitter Vancena leads the Flyers with a .389 average, with three doubles, two triples, nine runs and 14 RBI. Vancena plays first base and designated hitter when he’s not pitching.
Witt, who starts at second base, is hitting .366 from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He has eight runs and is second on the team with 12 RBI.
“Cody is a tough out at the plate,” Wilker said. “He’s what I like to call a grinder. He’s going to give you a quality at-bat. He puts the bat on the ball and is willing to take a couple pitches to allow our leadoff hitter (Adam Duncan) to steal some bases. And, he’s an excellent defensive second baseman. With him and Connor Bowen at shortstop, we’re pretty strong up the middle.”
Senior first baseman Anthony Pratt (.361) has two home runs “and has been very good defensively,” Wilker said, adding that senior Joel Densic (.361) has played “an outstanding defensive third base.”
“Our defense has been pretty good,” the coach said. “I’m pretty pleased with where we’re at there.”
Lake’s outfield consists of sophomore Aaron Witt (.318) in left, Duncan in center and Ackerman (.275) in right. Duncan is hitting just .286 but has scored 19 runs with eight steals and a .490 on-base percentage.
Wilker said he has high hopes for a strong run to end the regular season and into the tournament.
“I do every year,” he said. “I’m pretty optimistic. This year, with six senior (starters) and kids who have played a lot and who want to be good, I have high expectations for this team.”