Collin Witzke has put the work in.
Witzke, an Oswego East senior, has always had huge upside as a pitcher. He started a regional final as a sophomore, and topped the rotation last spring. The hard-throwing right-hander committed to 12-time MAC champion Kent State in the fall, and has hardly rested on those laurels.
"I think I've improved a lot," Witzke said. "I've worked on my location, hitting my spots, being in control with my motion. I've hit the weight room more, working on getting that velocity."
Indeed, Witzke has set the bar for what should be a strong, deep Wolves' pitching staff. Oswego East brings back four pitchers, and seven players who started at some point for last season's 12-16 team.
It starts with Witzke.
The hard-throwing right-hander went 4-3 with a 2.07 earned run average and 83 strikeouts in 47.1 innings. He also hit .329 with six doubles, 14 RBIs and 16 runs scored.
"He has a world of ability and he showcased it the last couple years," Oswego East coach Matt Engelhardt said. "He set the bar high for the rest of the pitching staff which has challenged the younger guys coming in. We know that when he is on he will be lights out for us. We're counting on him to anchor the staff."
Witzke did baseball-specific workouts in the offseason at CrossFit in Oswego, and worked with his pitching coach at Elite Sports Performance. His fastball was sitting at 87 in his first start this season. He's also hit the weight room at the high school with his teammates.
"Me and the other guys talked to coach, and we felt it would be beneficial to team chemistry," Witzke said. "I think that will be a big part of our team's success."
Witzke raves about an "unbelievable" staff behind him.
Senior Jake Dirksen, who will play collegiately at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, juniors Connor Gill and lefty Tyler Heidkamp, Eddie Borwick and sophomores Adam Dowler, another lefty, and Cole Collander back up Witzke on a staff that logged 126 strikeouts in 85 innings last spring.
Dowler and Gill were throwing mid 80s over the weekend in Edwardsville, and Heidkamp struck out eight and didn't allow a baserunner over four innings.
The Wolves went 2-1 downstate, with wins over Normal West and Galesburg and a loss to Lockport.
"We will be able to pitch a lot of games by committee. Higher volume of pitches, more strikeouts, we probably will not see a lot of complete games because of our depth," Engelhardt said. "We're confident in every single guy throwing out there."
The missing piece at times last year was the Wolves' hitting, but a solid outfield core is back. Returning junior centerfielder Gill anchors that group. Jalen Avery, who will play collegiately at Oakton Community College, and Liam Geoffroy split starts last season at the corners and come off solid summers. Juniors Jake Ferry and Heidkamp bolster that group.
Cam Knauss moves across the diamond to anchor the defense at shortstop, with junior Andrew Petsche back behind the plate.
"We're hoping to compete offensively; it will be a challenge in our tough conference," Engelhardt said. "Consistency is key. We know we'll get great pitching, it's can the other aspects that we're inexperienced in come together. We should be in every game."