Big hits, kicks and jumps
Before Shane Wilhelm started the 2019 high school baseball season already one of the best players in southern Illinois.
But he and the Eagles have soared to another level.
Over his first three seasons, Wilhelm won 10 of 14 decisions on the pitcher’s mound. Entering the title game of the Class 3A Columbia Regional on Saturday against Monroe County rival Waterloo, Wilhelm is 6-1 with a microscopic 0.90 ERA in just under 57 innings.
At times, the University of Missouri baseball recruit has been unhittable.
“It’s been a good year. I think I’ve been more consistent.,’’ Wilhelm said. “”Before i would go with two or three of my pitches. Now I’m confident that I can throw any of my pitches at any time. I’m also a smarter pitcher. Now when I get a hitter out the first time with a fastball, I’m not throwing a change-up the next time because I know he’s looking fastball.
“I’m going to come right at the hitter until he proves he can hit it.’’
The Salem Wildcats certainly couldn’t couldn’t catch up to the Eagles’ ace on May 13. In a 2-1 extra-inning win, Wilhelm struck out a career-high 18 of the 29 batters he faced through 9 2/3 innings. He didn’t walk any.
“It was just one of those games when everything was working,’’’ Wilhelm said. “I had a good fastball and was able to paint the corners with my slider all day.’’
Gifted with a strong arm to go with a high baseball IQ, Wilhelm has spent a lot our hours working on his craft. One person who has seen the hard work his ace has put in is Eagles coach Neal O’Donnell.
“Shane has spent a great deal of time training and in the weight room, and it has shown in his development over the past few years,” he said. “He’s one of the hardest working players I have ever been around, both on the field and in his training. He has always had promising stuff with a fastball that gets a lot of swing and misses.”
Columbia, 24-8, dominated Cahokia in the semifinal of the Class 2A regional, 26-0, to advance to the finals against Waterloo. In May, they’ve lost only to Mascoutah, Central and Belleville West by a total of eighth runs.
Wilhelm, meanwhile, hasn’t surrendered an earned run since April 23, when he defeated Freeburg on a one-hitter. He’s allowed just five hits over the last 25 innings pitched.
“He relied on his fastball heavily early in the year but has done a great job of mixing in his slider and changeup over the past month or so. His ability to change speeds has really lead to his success, especially in his last three or four starts. Most hitters have to gear up for his fastball and that has allowed for him to take advantage of being able to throw the slider down in the zone.’’
A shortstop when he’s not pitching, Wilhelm has also been productive at the plate for the Eagles. Currently hitting. .320 with two home runs and 19 RBI, Wilhelm has been one of several Columbia players who have stepped up with the bats during the 2019 season.
“I have some power, but I don’t try to do much. I just try to take good at bats, put a good swing on the ball and make hard contact each time up,’’ Wilhelm said. “We’ve had a good season. We were very senior-dominated last year, but we’ve had some sophomores and juniors really step up and be a big part of our success this year.”
While Wilhelm and the Eagles will try to extend their season at least a few days with a win over Waterloo on Saturday, his academic and baseball career for the next four years is secure. He verbally committed to Missouri more than a year ago has since signed to play for the Tigers.
Even if he should get selected in the upcoming MLB Amateur draft, he will be a Tiger for at least three years.
“I am firmly committed to the University of Missouri,’’ Wilhelm said. “It’s a great school academically and the baseball program is very strong.’’