The Press Newspaper
Greg Wilker will be the first to tell you that this isn't nearly the best defensive team he's had in 25 years as Lake High School's baseball coach.
He doesn't have a hulking, overpowering pitcher, either.
What Wilker and the Flyers do have, however, are three of the best hurlers in the Suburban Lakes League in juniors Ryan Hotmer and Brandon Maze and sophomore Casey Witt.
Hotmer, who was 3-2 with a 1.63 ERA last season, is considered the staff ace.
"He's a bigger kid, so he throws the hardest out of the group and he has the best breaking ball," Wilker said. "He's been nicked up all year because of injuries. He's thrown in our toughest games."
Hotmer was scheduled to start Lake's Division III district semifinal game against eighth-ranked Fairview on Thursday.
"I have struggled a little bit, hitting and pitching," he said. "Lately I'm stepping up and pitching better. I wasn't hitting my spots as good, and now I'm hitting my spots better. I've been throwing my change-up for strikes and keeping the ball low and getting the outs."
Hotmer said he has been impressed with Witt and Maze, who have two of the top earned run averages in the SLL.
"They've both stepped up and pitched really well," said the 6-2, 210-pound Hotmer, who is 4-4 with 3.57 ERA. "They've been outstanding this year. I'm not surprised. I knew they had it in them. I just didn't know how they were going to react, coming from jayvee to varsity, but they've both stepped up and taken the challenge."
Actually, Witt is the one who was on the jayvee team last season, but he's proven he belongs on the varsity squad.
Witt, who is 5-7, 145 pounds, has a 5-1 record with a 1.77 ERA in 35 2/3 innings. He has given up 26 hits and 19 runs (nine earned), with 19 strikeouts.
"I'm happy with the way I've pitched," said Witt, who also plays shortstop. "I've had a lot of confidence this year because I had a good defense behind me and an offense that, if we can squeeze out a couple runs, I'll be fine.
"Last year I pitched one game on the varsity. I gave up one run in seven innings and I kind of came into this year thinking 'I can do this.' The confidence is just kind of there."
Last year the 6-3, 150-pound Maze, who also plays third base, was 2-2 with a 1.94 ERA. He is 3-3 with one save and a 1.27 ERA in 38 2/3 innings this season. Maze has given up 24 hits and 15 runs (seven earned), with 22 strikeouts.
"I think I've done pretty good," Maze said. "When Ryan got hurt for a game against Perrysburg last year and I pitched and we only lost 3-2, that was a real big confidence booster. That was our first game and I went six innings. It helped me mentally."
"We knew they had the potential to throw well," the coach said. "If they pound the zone and throw strikes and we field the ball, that's going to help quite a bit. Brandon and Casey have very good location. We need to throw strikes, and both of them do. They keep people off balance well enough."
Witker added that Lake's pitching staff owes a lot to catcher and team captain Taylor Barteck, the Flyers' lone senior.
"Taylor does great job with the staff, keeping them even-keel and working with their pitch location," Witker said.
The pitchers agree.
"We've played some good teams around the area, and he's one of the best catchers in Northwest Ohio," Witt said. "He's like a wall and you can throw whatever you want and he will stop it. You have the confidence to throw anything. He's saved our butts numerous times this year."
Maze added, "He has confidence in me behind the plate, like maybe throwing a curveball in the dirt on an 0-2 count. He's been fantastic and a great deal of help."
Hotmer played a big role in determining the fate of Lake's season when he took the mound against Fairview in the district semifinals. The winner faces either Tinora or Liberty-Benton for the district title on Saturday in Defiance.
"I'm excited and nervous," Hotmer said. "It's just like any other game. I will go out there and give it my best. You've got to want it. I'm going to go out and try to win it with my team."