Matt Engelhardt makes no bones about it.
Engelhardt, Oswego East’s baseball coach, will stack his pitching staff up with any in the state. The Wolves have been strong on the mound in recent years, and this season – if it’s played – shapes up to be their best group yet.
“I’ll match our pitching with any in the state,” Engelhardt said. “Day in and day out, we’ll have a No. 1 on the mound, starting the game and in relief. We’re at least six deep with high-quality starting pitching.”
It has Engelhardt excited about this group, coming off an 18-13 season that saw Oswego East reach a regional final for the second time in three years.
The Wolves’ season – like the rest of the state – is on indefinite hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. The first two weeks, at least, have been canceled, as has practice. Engelhardt has encouraged his players to work out and throw on their own at home, when they can.
“You don’t want to encourage your kids to get together; that’s kind of why we’re out of school,” Engelhardt said. “You’re between a rock and a hard place. How do you maintain what we’re working on and try to help societal needs?”
Leading the Wolves’ pitching staff will be Adam Dowler, last year’s Record/Ledger Player of the Year as a sophomore.
The hard-throwing lefthander, who committed to Louisville in June, went 6-3 with a 2.51 earned run average and 77 strikeouts over 47.1 innings last season. At the plate Dowler, who played first base when he wasn’t pitching, hit .391 with a 1.017 (on-base plus slugging), nine doubles, two homers and 26 runs batted in.
Dowler has challenged himself to continue to grow and gain more consistency mentally.
“I’ve been working out my legs and core a lot lately,” Dowler said, “and I feel that I’m in a better place mentally so I can stay in control which is where I like to be.”
Growing is not a problem for sophomore Noah Schultz, apparently.
The kid brother of former Oswego East softball stars Emily and Ashley Schultz, Schultz has shot up to 6-foot-8 – without shoes, Engelhardt noted. Engelhardt said the Wolves could have used Schultz at the varsity level last year, were it not for its depth on the mound.
Instead Schultz led the Wolves’ sophomore group last season, then committed to SEC power Vanderbilt in November.
“We had tons of projections for him as a freshman, but his recruiting and his physical growth have been meteoric,” Engelhardt said. “By the end of last season he was lights out and dominant with our sophomore squad.”
A third lefty in the mix is Tyler Heidkamp, a Parkland commit in his third varsity season.
“He doesn’t have the projectable build of Adam and Noah, but he can bring it and he locates as well as anybody,” Engelhardt said. “If he can keep his curveball tight, he can be a dominating force for us. He is going to see a ton of innings.”
Engelhardt also expects Connor Gill and junior Cole Collander, a righty with a big frame, to get innings.
“We are going to be great on the mound,” Dowler said. “Connor Gill has tremendous experience and nasty stuff, Tyler Heidkamp is very experienced and has a sick curveball and changeup, Noah Schultz has insane stuff and Cole Collander is also going to help us. He has one of the best work ethics I’ve seen from anyone on the team and I expect huge things from him.”
Gill, a third-year varsity player and Central Michigan recruit, anchors a lineup that’s perhaps overshadowed by Oswego East’s highly-touted pitching. Gill, who plays shortstop when not pitching, hit .370 with 14 RBIs and 23 runs scored at the top of the Wolves’ lineup last year, while also pitching to a 3.38 ERA with 46 strikeouts over 29 innings.
Andrew Petsche, likewise, is back for his third season behind the plate after hitting over .300 as a junior. Loras College commit Alex Kelsch is back in the infield, Alec Kohl at utility and Morehead State recruit Jacob Ferry in the outfield. Outfielder Jackson Lamboley, last year’s sophomore team MVP, is coming off winter shoulder surgery.
“I think our offense is a little bit overlooked,” Engelhardt said. “We have a bunch of guys who have delivered. I really like the experience at the plate.”