SKOKIE — The Niles West baseball team may be young, but a deep pitching staff is helping the Wolves make up for a lack of experience.
Niles West has relied on its arms on the way to a 3-1 start.
“The pitching staff has kept us in games so far this season,” junior pitcher and infielder Blake Kons said. “Our offense has started to pull through late in games, but the pitching staff has been heavily relied upon so far.”
It started in the season-opener against Lane Tech on March 31. In his team’s 6-0 shutout victory, senior righty Cody Pazik struck out 12 through five innings. Kons fanned three over the final two innings. The pair allowed just two combined hits.
In the second game, the Wolves gave up just a single run to St. Joseph on the way to a 8-1 victory on April 1.
“We came right back and beat a pretty good St. Joe’s club,” Niles West coach Gary Gustafson said. “We got pretty good pitching out of [Matthew] De La Vega and Tyler Stegich.”
Then Chad Thompson, Niles West’s lone left-handed pitcher, led the team to a 6-3 victory over Rolling Meadows on April 2.
“Cody Pazik, our senior captain, had a really strong outing in our first game, and our other 2 senior starting pitchers, Matt De La Vega and Chad Thompson both had strong outings in the next two games,” Kons said. “The other juniors, including myself, have been learning a lot from those three.”
Gustafson believes that it will be key to continue getting some of the younger players innings if the team will be successful as the season continues.
“We’ve gotten great pitching out of our staff, but we’ve got a very young team, and these guys have to get their feet wet playing varsity baseball,” he said. “And they will, and they’ll get better every day, and that’s what it’s all about.”
A big boost for the entire staff, especially the younger guys, is having De La Vega behind the plate when he’s not on the mound himself. Gustafson believes he’s “one of the top catchers in the area.”
“All our guys can throw strikes, we pace ourselves very well,” said Stegich, a junior. “And Matt De La Vega calls a great game behind the plate.”
With all of the talented arms and a catcher who knows how to manage games, the Wolves have a lot of confidence regardless of who is on the mound.
“The key for our pitching staff is getting ahead of the hitter by starting off with a first-pitch strike for most of the batters,” Stegich said. “There isn’t one guy who does great, our whole pitching staff does great, and I have confidence in all of the pitchers on our team to throw strikes and get the win.”
It’s a formula that the Wolves hope will continue to work once conference play begins.
“Hopefully our pitching will carry us throughout the CSL,” Gustafson said. “That’s what has really carried us up to this point.”