The name Greg Wilker has become synonymous with Lake baseball.
For the last three decades, Coach Wilker has been a constant in Millbury while building the Flyers into one of Ohio's better programs, accomplishing nearly every feat short of winning a state championship.
During his 30-year tenure, Wilker's teams have won seven league titles in three different conferences, five district titles and one regional championship.
Last week, Wilker eclipsed the 500-win threshold in the Flyers' 19-4 defeat of Port Clinton. He currently holds a career record of 502-309 (.619).
Wilker understands just how much help he's received from a multitude of people over the years.
“We've had a lot of great players here over the years,” Wilker said. “I've been very fortunate to have tremendous assistants. I've been lucky enough to be surrounded with good people, too many to name. And I've gotten outstanding support from the school administration and the boosters.”
Lake won conference titles in 1988 and 1990 in the Northern Lakes League while competing against bigger schools like Perrysburg, Anthony Wayne, Springfield and Sylvania Southview, four league titles, including three in a row (2001-03, 2011) in the Suburban Lakes League and the inaugural Northern Buckeye Conference championship in 2012.
Under Wilker, the program has five district titles (1985, '90, 2001, '03, '12) and one regional championship ('01) in a magical season that saw Lake advance to the Division III final four.
“When you win the regional championship, and you realize you're going to the final four, it really sinks in,” Wilker said. “You really enjoy that moment for an hour and then plan for everything you need to do. Afterwards, you're able to reflect on your season.”
The Flyers also set a school record with 24 victories just two years ago in their run to the regional semifinals and have nine 20-win seasons in the last 30 years, including four 23-win campaigns.
Wilker will be the first to admit he's blessed to coach in a place that knows how to cultivate baseball talent.
“The community – Walbridge, the Lake community, they love the game of baseball,” he said. “The parents are involved in the kids' progression. It's what you do with them from ages 5 to 14. Not what I do with them at 14. The parents are spending time nurturing their kids. When they turn 14, they turn them over to me.
“The biggest thing I tell the parents is that I want as many kids playing as long as possible. I want them to have as many teams as possible. Sometimes if you have travel ball, you eliminate some of the kids. That's why we have a freshman team. We have 10 to 11 freshman and 10 to 12 sophomores this year.”
He says it is at the varsity level that players begin to understand the importance of playing together as a team.
“We talk about (working together) from day one,” Wilker said. “This day and age, I tell them, you've got to care more about your teammates more than you care about yourself, and I truly believe that. So much is you working with your teammate. You've got to make your teammates better. The kids care about each other.”
There have been disappointments, even with teams he believed had the potential to win a state title.
“Probably the toughest loss was 1990, in regionals, with Jeff Dominick, our dominant pitcher,” Wilker said. “We had five seniors that were outstanding players and they really enjoyed being around each other. We had two to three really good pitchers. We lost, 2-1, to Ontario in the regional (semifinal).
“We'd had so many great teams. In 2003, I had a freshman pitcher in Brian Conley and we lost to St. Henry (4-2), the eventual state champion, in the regional semifinal,” Wilker said, referring to a club that, in addition to Conley, featured Mike McCluskey, Scott Brown and Wes Blank.
That St. Henry club, which finished 31-3, featured Todd Boeckman, who would later play quarterback at Ohio State, leading the Buckeyes to the 2007 national title game.
This year’s Flyers have the potential to be one of Wilker's best. With a number of fine hitters and a bona fide future baseball prospect at the next level in pitcher Jayce Vancena, a University of Michigan recruit, Lake could be in for another league crown and a deep run in the postseason.
Currently 14-2 and 2-0 in the Northern Buckeye Conference, Lake appears to be in the midst of another great season. The only losses have came to Wauseon in a doubleheader and Perrysburg, the seventh-ranked team in Division I.
The batting order, which consists of center fielder Adam Duncan, second baseman Cody Witt, shortstop Connor Bowen, pitcher and first baseman Jayce Vancena, first baseman/designated hitter Anthony Pratt, catcher Nick Walsh, right fielder Brad Ackerman, third baseman Joel Densic and left fielder Aaron Witt, has scored at least nine runs in nine of their games this season.
And No. 2 pitcher Todd Walters and fourth outfielder Zak Greenlese have provided production when called upon.
The Lake baseball team celebrates Coach Greg Wilker’s 500th career win. Front row (left to right) Joel Densic, Brad Ackerman, Cody Witt, Connor Bowen, and Adam Duncan. Back row: Chris Serra, Zak Greenlese, Aaron Witt, Head Coach-Greg Wilker, Jayce Vancena, Anthony Pratt, Todd Walters, Nick Walsh, Assistant Coach Dory Boggs. (Photo by Tammy Tapley)
The Lake students celebrate Coach Greg Wilker’s 500th career win at a school assembly. (Photo by Tammy Tapley)
Lake coach Greg Wilker in 2009, his 25th year (out of 30, so far) at the helm, coaching third base. (Press file photo)