Adidas’ four-word mantra, “Work Hard, Stay Humble,” fits 6-foot-4, 220 pound University of Michigan-bound Lake hurler Jayce Vancena.
“Jayce has lost some tough games this year, 2-1 and 3-2 to league-leading Otsego, and 3-1 to Eastwood,” said veteran Lake coach Greg Wilker. “But he works extremely hard to prepare himself on a daily basis. Often times, Jayce can be seen out running foul poles long after all of the other players have left. Because of his work ethic and natural ability, Jayce will be a success at the next level, as well.”
Vancena brought to Lake a youth baseball resume that includes starring for the NWO Indians travel team, with whom he won United States Specialty Sports Association state baseball championships in 2005 and ’06 and a World Series title in ’05 at the ages of 9-10, to a pilgrimage to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, where he helped lead the Teays Valley Vikings 12-and-Under All-Stars out of Columbus to a 10-0 tournament run and another national championship as a 12-year-old pitching prospect.
“Baseball has just always been my passion,” shares the 17-year-old right-hander.
Vancena first fell in love with America’s favorite pastime when he held his first baseball somewhere around the age of 4.
“The game is very humbling,” he meditates, “because one game, you can go out there, and have an outstanding game, and then maybe the very next game you won’t do so well. But, you can always go back, and keep working to become the best you can possibly be. I wouldn’t say I was a ‘natural.’ But I was always told, that if I give my best effort every time I go out there, everything else will take care of itself.
“Pitching has always been my favorite thing about baseball, and pitching is difficult. But ever since my freshman season at Lake, I have been able to increase over four miles per hour on my fastball each year,” offers Vancena. “Now, my fastball has been clocked at 91 miles per hour and I’d definitely say it’s my favorite pitch because I have the most control with it. I can place it wherever I need it. I also throw a curveball, a changeup, and a slider, and I have the ability to throw all of those pitches for strikes. But it’s because I’m always working to get better.
“After every outing, I continue to work on my mechanics with my dad (Joe, a 1983 Northwood graduate and former All-Ohio player), who is my mentor, and who has always been there to help me out with everything about my pitching,” Jayce says, “I’m always working on my mental approach to the game, which has definitely improved since I’ve been at Lake. That approach is that whenever I step onto the mound, I try not to let anything bother me. I try not to let anything get to me, and I just work hard to focus on the job at hand, which is pitching. I try to just win every pitch. I try to control the game with each pitch. Those are really the only things I’m capable of controlling out there.”
Vancena’s stat line this year includes 67 strikeouts in 38.2 innings pitched with an ERA of 0.90 and a record of 2-3.
At the casual glance, he would seem to have had a more dominant sophomore campaign in 2012, after which he finished the season 3-0 with a 0.88 ERA and 10 saves in 19 games while leading his Flyers to a 24-6 record. Lake was bounced from the Division III regional semifinals, 15-6, by Bloom-Carroll.
Jayce’s success started in 2010 when he helped the NWO Outlaws win a state championship at 14.
In his freshman year at Lake, he celebrated the last-ever Suburban Lakes League baseball championship with the rest of his Flyer teammates, as well as a sectional championship, with limited playing time. He still collected varsity letters as a freshman and a sophomore, and is well on his way to his third as a junior.
Jayce notched second team all-NBC accolades and a preseason nod for all-region player after tossing a perfect game in 2012.
At this point, in his first full season as a starter, Vancena still has that losing record to work on. One of his longest-running rivals has been against Otsego senior hurler Ryan Smoyer, who will play baseball at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind.
Vancena was nearly as brilliant as Smoyer in a pitchers’ duel, but Otsego won 2-1. Vancena threw six strikeouts in an 87-pitch game with two nifty pick-offs, compared to Smoyer’s nine strikeouts on 92 pitches and two pick-offs. Last year, Vancena and Lake defeated Smoyer and Otsego three times on their way to winning the NBC title.
Perhaps the most-telling testimony regarding Vancena Is the scouting report from the All-Prospects Fall League that the hurler played in Cleveland, which reads: “Big, strong body that projects out to the pro level. Fastball sat at 86-88 mph, and touched 89-90 several times. Showed late breaking curveball at 73-74 mph, and changeup had arm side run and good arm speed. When he worked ahead in the count with his fastball, he was dominant.”
Vancena is on the fast track of realizing his next goal…becoming an NCAA D-I pitcher for a team that actually wears jerseys made by Adidas, the University of Michigan Wolverines.
“After September 1 of last year, I was in contact with multiple schools including Cincinnati, Louisville, Duke, Boston College, Kentucky, Virginia, Stanford, Toledo, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan,” reveals Vancena.
Currently a 3.7 GPA student-athlete at Lake, Vancena has designs on perhaps studying kinesiology/sports therapy at UM.
He says Michigan is a perfect marriage of sorts in the form of his summer team coach, Todd Winston of the 17U Midwest Pelicans, being a UM alum. There was almost-constant dialogue going on between Winston, fellow Pelicans’ coach Neal French, and the Wolverines regarding Vancena’s talents that finally led him to verbally commit last November.
“After watching me pitch a couple of times in Cleveland, Michigan wanted to come down and watch me pitch in Fort Myers, Florida in a big tournament (the Perfect Game USA Underclass, an all-wood bat tourney),” he says, “and that’s where I pitched against the East Cobb (Ga.) Astros, who are a national powerhouse team, and did very well. A few weeks later, Michigan offered me a scholarship.”
“Michigan was always my No. 1 the whole time, and once they did that, I knew I didn’t want to wait, I knew I wanted to be a Michigan Wolverine,” continues Jayce. “I’ve been up to Ann Arbor a couple of times now to meet the coaches and players, and they’ve been awesome. The baseball field is just beautiful up there, the locker room is awesome, and they have an academic hall that has tutors in every subject…just for the athletes. That is what is so great about it. It’s all academics first, and baseball second.
“Out of all the players I’ve met, the one that stands out the most is fifth-year senior Ben Ballentine,” offers Vancena. “He’s just another one of those guys who loves the game of baseball and just plays it with so much heart and passion. That’s the way I try to be. I’m still the same guy who goes out to the mound every game, and plays with all of my heart and passion. I work hard to give my best effort every time I’m out there. I haven’t changed at all.
“I’ve been a Michigan fan my whole life, I’ve bled maize and blue since the day I was born, and that day Michigan offered me a scholarship…it showed me that all of my hard work over the years had really paid off to help me achieve my lifelong dream of playing college baseball,” he concludes. “But, I’ve also had a lot of fun playing with our Lake team this year, and I think when it’s time for us to focus, this team knows how to do that. We started off kind of slow this spring, but now I think we are coming together, and becoming a great team. We are focused.”