It feels good to be back.
Oswego East baseball returned last Thursday afternoon for opening day of the 2021 season. The Wolves earned a 6-3 victory over the Waubonsie Valley Warriors with pitcher Noah Schultz recording the win.
Schultz, the 6-foot-9 junior and Vanderbilt commit took to the mound for the first time since his freshman year. Schultz finished the game with 10 strikeouts, while only allowing one hit with no walks and no runs scored.
“I just kept the mindset of trying to help our team win in any way possible,” Schultz said. “We began the game pitching to contact but then led it into more off-speed pitches which worked for us.”
Even with its effect on all of high school athletics, the pandemic has been by far the most detrimental towards baseball. Many fall and spring sports were able to have at least modified seasons, but Illinois baseball players did not play a single game on their schedule in 2020.
With players having such a long time off, it was expected for teams to be slightly dysfunctional when playing their first games back on the diamond. However the Wolves seemingly did not miss a beat. The offense acquired 10 hits and the defense played with no errors in the field, resulting in an outstanding performance on both sides of the ball.
“We picked up right where we left off by coming in every morning at 5 a.m. and getting in the weight room to lift, and then going to the batting cages to make up for the reps we lost last year,” junior Noah Dowler said.
Additionally, the Wolves used this preseason work to bond as a team, as this was the first year that the classes of 2021 and 2022 would be playing together.
“We’ve spent a lot of time in the cages and getting some fielding reps [to help] build that team camaraderie and chemistry,” senior Austin Miller said.
Even with the large gap between in-game appearances, Schultz was able to continue where he left off from his freshman campaign and put the Wolves in a great position to win before exiting after four innings.
“Noah was dominant today against Waubonsie. Pitchers generally have the advantage in early spring play but we expect Noah to continue to command the game when he’s on the mound,” head coach Matthew Engelhardt said.
Senior relief pitcher Cole Collander came in for the bottom of the 5th inning. Despite loading the bases with no outs early on, Collander was able to regain composure and manage his way out of the inning with only one run scored.
With the game even at two runs apiece in the top of the 6th, junior second-baseman Carter South stepped up to the plate with bases loaded and delivered with a clutch single to center field. The two runs driven in from South put the Wolves ahead, with senior Camden Ruby driving in another run with a base hit in the next at-bat for Oswego East.
“I was expecting for coach to have me squeeze bunt with it being a close game … but when he said to swing away I just stepped into the box and not a thought was in my mind, I just reacted,” South said.
The Wolves were able to maintain their lead for the final two innings, with Dowler closing the game on the mound. Dowler allowed just one run in the 6th, granting Oswego East their first win of the season in a 6-3 victory.
As for the rest of the season, the Wolves will look to continue their offensive success at the plate and rely on the solid pitching rotation lined up for them.
“Consistency will be the key to our success. If we can find a rhythm and consistently execute on the offensive side of the game, we should have pretty good success,” Engelhardt said.
Oswego East will take on St. Charles North in an away game at 4:30 p.m. this upcoming Wednesday.
“St. Charles North is a very good team so it’ll be a good challenge … Offensively, we’ll have to be good with runners in scoring position and make sure we get them in,” Miller said.
St. Charles North was listed as the number two ranked team in class 4A heading into this season and will prove to be a tough challenge for the varsity squad.
“Our game plan going in is just to trust our guys. We can all trust Schultz to go out there and pitch a good game as we can trust our bats to get us up early,” Dowler said. “We also just want to have fun and to do our best.”
Charles Jaegle is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl