Gibault junior earns News-Democrat Player of the Year honors

News-DemocratJune 19, 2013 

Two plays that helped the Gibault Hawks on their way to the Class 1A state baseball championship had Wes Degener's fingerprints all over them.

In the 9-2 semifinal win over Shawnee at Peoria, Degener scored all the way from first on a wild pickoff throw during a four-run sixth inning.

"That made it 3-1 and that was a huge run for us at the time," Gibault coach Andy Skaer said of Degener, who covers 60 yards in 6.7 seconds and is among the school's top players in baseball, basketball and soccer.

In the fourth inning of the same game, Degener made a wild dash deep into foul territory down the left-field line and hauled in a fly ball for an out.

"That's a play that not a lot of high school kids can make," Skaer said of Degener, who edged out teammate Zach Neff to win 2013 Belleville News-Democrat Small-School Baseball Player of the Year honors in voting by area coaches.

They were the types of plays that Degener has become expected to make for the Hawks.

Degener and Neff were also the only 1A-2A players in the metro-east named to the 2013 Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association All-State Team.

Both play for the St. Louis Pirates summer travel team and are considered potential Division I prospects, with Bradley, Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville showing early interest in Degener.

His father, Tim Degener, was a catcher at SIUE.

Wes Degener hit an even .500 this spring with 10 doubles, four triples, one home run, 26 RBIs, 25 walks and 34 runs scored. He struck out only seven times in 107 plate appearances and rang up a .626 on-base percentage and .763 slugging percentage.

In a 17-0 win over Mount Olive in the sectional championship game, Degener was a triple away from hitting for the cycle.

Degener is proud of what he and his teammates accomplished by winning the first state baseball championship in Gibault history. The school's only other trip to the state tournament was in 1997.

"For us to make it that far and finish what we wanted to is really, really special for our school," Degener said. "It definitely took a couple days to sink in. It didn't really hit home until we got to back to Wal-Mart for the parade and we saw everybody congratulating us.

"There's no better moment than to see people coming out of their houses to wave to us because they heard the sirens."

It was a cause for alarm every time Degener reached base because of his speed and the Hawks' aggressive style.

"It's the whole package of what he can do for the team offensively," Skaer said. "There were times where teams might try to pitch around him and we were never going to complain. Any time that's he's on base he's such a threat to make it a double or even a triple. ... It's just the way he can affect the game without getting a hit."

Degener enjoyed the hard work it took for him and the Hawks to end up with the first-place trophy.

"During the postseason we realized how tough it was to make it to state because you can't have an off game," he said. "To be that team that wins state is unbelievable."

Degener entered the baseball season coming off a finger injury that required surgery and cost him the end of his junior basketball season.

After a 1-for-11 start, he sought advice and help from the two people who know his swing the best -- his father, Tim, and older brother, Jake.

Jake Degener plays baseball at Lindenwood-Belleville.

"I have help anytime I need it, I don't have to go out and find it," Wes Degener said. "We went to the cage for about an hour after a game one night and got some things straightened out.

"My brother gives hitting lessons and we recorded my swing because I was struggling. My dad said something to me and when he said it, my brother said the same thing. My dad can diagnose anything with my swing."

Skaer said Degener quickly regained his confidence and his bat came to life in a hurry after some early rust from the injury.

"Once he started getting more reps in practices and games that he had missed out on, you could definitely see it coming throughout the year," Skaer said. "He kept getting better."

Skaer -- who won News-Democrat Coach of the Year honors -- had only two seniors in the starting lineup and the bulk of his starters return next season. The Hawks will compete in 2A instead of 1A, being moved up a class by the Illinois High School Association because of their state tourney success and 1.65 multiplier on private school enrollments.

Degener is Skaer's first Player of the Year in nine seasons at Gibault.

"The Player of the Year honor is a testament to how good the year was that Wes had," Skaer said. "But it's also recognition for the team, because it's not easy to get a lot of postseason accolades if your team isn't good.

"They're all well-deserved individually, but without the team aspect none of this happens."

Degener credited his coach and his teammates for helping him earn any extra accolades that have come his way.

"Making it to state opened a few doors for me and some of my teammates," Degener said. "Playing with the Pirates this summer there's 10 scouts at every game, so that's been good, too."

Degener plays the infield for Gibault, but his long-range position could turn out to be the outfield.

"We've talked about it with him and his family and with his speed he could be a center fielder," Skaer said. "He enjoys playing outfield. It would be nice if we could get him some time out there next year, but he's so valuable to us as a shortstop."

Asked to name his favorite sports among the three he plays, Degener said "I want to play baseball for sure. I don't mind not having an offseason, I like to be active."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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