---- — TEUTOPOLIS — Teutopolis' Jared Waldhoff left many teams scratching their heads this spring, almost as if he was inexplicably in their dugout.
How else could he always seem one step ahead, dialing up an unexpected pitch for a strikeout or lining a double into the right center gap to start off an inning?
Waldhoff finished his senior season with a 9-0 record on the mound, striking out 64 batters in 56.2 innings pitched for a remarkable 0.71 ERA. At the plate, Waldhoff hit .441 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs in the leadoff spot, and is the Effingham Daily News Player of the Year.
"I don't think anybody can see something like that coming," Waldhoff said of his unblemished record and solid senior season. "Hard work pays off."
But that sort of precision, that ability to deliver in the clutch time and again, doesn't happen by accident or sheer luck. It's a byproduct of his approach to baseball, to take it one out at a time, never without a plan.
"It starts whenever you're little," Waldhoff said. "Obviously family has a lot to do with that, coaches play a big part. Growing up, I had coaches that push you every day, that don't let you slack off."
Waldhoff also had the good fortune of learning under back-to-back state title teams in 2010 and '11 when he reached high school. Having already been schooled on how to approach the game within the game, watching those teams pushed him even further.
"Whenever you have upperclassmen that put together seasons like those guys did, you tried to do what they were doing," he said. "It was working for them, you try to just follow their lead, work as hard as you can based on what they were doing and just kind of hope that you continue to have success in the future."
Given his shot to extend the Teutopolis baseball tradition, Waldhoff took full advantage. In his last two spring seasons, Waldhoff accumulated a record on 13-0-1 on the hill.
With fall baseball added to the mix, that number becomes 18-0-1.
Eighteen wins, one save, and not a single loss in two years of steady varsity action. It may seem difficult to believe, much like it probably did to the nine poor victims that faced Waldhoff this season, that he can put together so many strong outings without a blip. Then again, they probably aren't aware of his added focus, of his already-established gameplan.
"It's not, 'Oh, I can't give up any runs,'" Waldhoff said. "I just try to execute every inning and let our defense work. They did a great job of that this year."
Waldhoff pitched nearly double the innings from his junior season, but his ERA still shrank from 1.24 to an astounding 0.71. That, according to Wooden Shoes coach Justin Fleener, came from developing more than just a fastball.
"He probably could have said, 'I'm going to get by on my fastball,' and probably still had a successful year when you're throwing it up there at the speed he's throwing it," Fleener said. "You're going to be successful when you're throwing that hard against most high school teams. But to be able to continue to move along against good teams in the postseason, you better have a plan of attack."
To no surprise, Waldhoff was well-prepared. Adding a changeup and slider to his arsenal, he formed a one-two pitching nightmare along with Kyle Pruemer. The duo helped Teutopolis steamroll through the better part of the playoffs, as the Wooden Shoes reached the state finals in Peoria by outscoring opponents 35-4 in the first five postseason games.
"Our seniors knew this year that we had some potential with some juniors, some sophomores," Waldhoff said. "That's always our goal every year, try to make it into that last weekend."
The berth was even more special after Teutopolis' 5-2 win over Carlyle in the Sauget Super-Sectional, the same place the Wooden Shoes fell one year earlier. In that game, Waldhoff picked up his eighth victory on the mound and got it done at the plate. He hit an RBI single in the first inning, and led off the deciding, three-run fifth with a triple to right field.
His timely hitting at GCS Ballpark was representative of a standout year in the batter's box. Waldhoff led the team in home runs, batting average, slugging percentage (.780) and runs scored (43).
"I think everybody, every batter, needs a plan when they go up there," Waldhoff said. "Every time I went up, I was judging the pitcher, trying to figure out what he might want to do."
With the power Teutopolis possessed throughout its lineup, he also finished second on the team with 30 RBIs.
"The plan that he talked about, it's the game within the game," Fleener said. "Going up there and being able to take what the pitcher is giving him, not trying to do too much. We all get caught up in that, but he goes up being prepared for that specific plate appearance."
Waldhoff was game ready once again for the start of the state semifinal battle against Lisle, when he sent the second pitch over the left-field wall for the Wooden Shoes' only run in a narrow 2-1 defeat.
Rather than sulk at an opportunity lost, Waldhoff pitched Teutopolis to a 7-0 win over Eureka the following afternoon to cap off a 30-4 season with a third-place trophy.
"We had a goal at the beginning of the year to get to that state championship," Waldhoff said. "But if there was something we wanted to do even more than that, we wanted to go out on a win."
Winning seems to have followed Waldhoff and his meticulous approach throughout his career. The Wooden Shoes were 126-18 during his four years in high school, and fans of Kaskaskia College have to be anxiously awaiting his arrival.
The pitcher enters college ball with a perfect record, but there's no sense of cockiness or entitlement when speaking about his future.
"I'll put in as many hours as I can," Waldhoff said. "Between going to class, doing homework and trying to find time to get into their indoor facility to put in work on hitting. Whether it be pitching or hitting, just trying to improve on all aspects."
His natural athletic ability and uncanny knack for leadership made a solid impression on his high school coach. Fleener said the possibility for a pro career is there, but no matter what Waldhoff chooses, he's sure he'll have a plan for success.
"It would be great having him as a professional baseball player," Fleener said. "But at the same time, here's another person that I think any community would love to have. He's a good young man. You want to surround yourself with good people, and Jared Waldhoff is one of those people."
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org