College Sports

Former Mater Dei pitcher wanted to play in the SEC. Now he’ll get that chance.

Former Mater Dei right-hander Zach Haake, currently pitching for John A. Logan junior college, has given a verbal commitment to sign with the Kentucky Wildcats.
Former Mater Dei right-hander Zach Haake, currently pitching for John A. Logan junior college, has given a verbal commitment to sign with the Kentucky Wildcats.

He may have taken a bit of a longer route to get there, but former Mater Dei High School pitching standout Zach Haake eventually got his scholarship to a Southeastern Conference school.

Haake, who began his college career at Division I Arkansas State and now pitches for John A. Logan Community College in Carterville, recently gave a verbal commitment to the Kentucky Wildcats.

“It’s a dream come true, I’ve wanted to play in the SEC since I was little,” said Haake, a hard-throwing 6-foot-6 right-hander whose fastball has been timed as high as 96 mph. “When I made the transfer move and I told John A. Logan I was coming, I was kind of worried because I was going from Division I to a junior college and didn’t know what to think. For me, this is a good fit and I liked it a lot.”

Haake also considered offers from Missouri, Alabama and Southern Illinois University Carbondale along with Kentucky. He was supposed to visit Arkansas and Oklahoma State as well, but ended his recruiting trips after visiting Kentucky.

It’s a dream come true, I’ve wanted to play in the SEC since I was little. I didn’t see myself going anywhere else but Kentucky.

Former Mater Dei pitcher Zach Haake

“I loved it there and loved the coaching staff,” Haake said. “I didn’t see myself going anywhere else but Kentucky.”

Haake was 2-0 with a 6.57 ERA as a freshman at Arkansas State last spring, with one of those victories coming against SEC heavyweight Ole Miss when he tossed two hitless and scoreless innings on May 17. In 11 games, including two starts, Haake struck out 12 and walked 10 in 12 1/3 innings.

Haake decided to transfer right after his freshman season ended last spring.

“I loved the coaching staff there, they were good people and down to earth guys,” Haake said. “It just wasn’t the right fit for me. I wanted development and it just didn’t feel right, so I made the move to go to John A. Logan and I’m loving it.”

Haake, who played for the St. Louis Gamers travel club, battled an arm injury that kept him off the mound for most of his senior year at Mater Dei.

“In high school I really didn’t pitch much, I was probably throwing 86 to 88 (mph) and last year at Arkansas State I topped out at 92,” said Haake, who added velocity thanks to offseason work he did to improve his mechanics with longtime Highland High School pitching coach Sam Weber.

“I went to him and the big thing was getting my mechanics and timing down,” Haake said. “I feel that’s where my velocity jump came from.”

Haake’s recruiting stock took off after he tried out his new form at a college showcase in Indiana a few weeks ago.

“I went up there and threw three innings and I had six K’s while allowing no hits,” said Haake, whose fastball was consistently in the 91-94 mph range and touched 96 twice. “That’s where everybody came into play from a recruiting standpoint.”

The Major League Draft next June is also a possibility now, given his mid-90 mph fastball.

Weber has helped develop numerous pitcher at Highland, most notably Tampa Bay Rays right-hander and former first-round draft pick Jake Odorizzi.

“When he first started work on things, he felt that he wasn’t quite progressing to the level he thought he could get to,” Weber said. “After I watched him throw a couple times. we felt like he needed a slider and change-up so we worked on some grips there. Mechanically, it was working to get him a little more extended, to try to get him down on the mound.”

Weber said the biggest thing with Haake was taking advantage of his athleticism and locking in his mechanics and timing.

“We just started tweaking some things,” Weber said. “We got him on video and really broke it down, just kind of formed a good relationship. He’s so athletic he grabbed hold of it and took of from there. He’s got a lot of upside. He could be doing this for a while.”

Mater Dei coach Travis Gebke agreed.

“With his frame and his really good arm strength and the training, it really wasn’t a surprise that he ended up getting a Division I chance at Arkansas State,” Gebke said. “I remember him being consistently a mid- to upper-80s guy with us and there were occasions where he probably touched 90.

“For him to get the opportunity to go on to a big-time school like the University of Kentucky is awesome. It’s great for him and it’s good to see one of the Mater Dei guys get that chance.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders