Put a circle around April 9.
That’s the date for a pitching showdown at Wapakoneta between two of the best pitchers in Ohio.
The right-hander is Shawnee’s 6-foot-4 Cory Wilder. Wilder is the “late bloomer” of the two.
But when he threw 92-94 mph at the Super 60 Showcase in Chicago in February, he suddenly jumped onto the front page of every professional scout’s notebook.
The senior Wilder is already signed with North Carolina State, but he could bypass college if he’s selected in the top 10 rounds of the June Major League Baseball draft.
Wilder is ranked the No. 1 senior in Ohio by Prep Baseball Report.
The left-hander is Wapakoneta senior Johnny Crawford, who consistently threw his fastball around 84-86 mph last year and topped out at 87 in the Division II state semifinals. Crawford doesn’t throw in the 90s yet, but has command of several pitches. The senior Crawford is signed with Bowling Green State University.
Crawford’s No. 1 goal is getting the Redskins back to the state tournament. Last year they lost in the championship game to Columbus St. Francis DeSales, 3-2.
“After you deal with the loss and you deal with the disappointment, you’re sad for a while, then it fires you up for this year, knowing we’re all going to be back,” Crawford said. “It’s (reaching the state title game) always in your mind and it’s always your goal.”
Crawford finished 10-0 last year with a 0.44 ERA. In 63 innings, he struck out 78 and walked 23. He gave up only four earned runs and 34 hits.
There are similarities between Wilder and Crawford. Wilder plays soccer and Crawford played football, but both say baseball is their favorite sport.
“My dad was always the coach for us in travel ball and he played at Kent State,” Crawford said. “He always installed baseball in my head. I was always a big football guy, but the chill factor of baseball and the relationships you make with the players over a long period of time is something that’s indescribable. I think I’ve always been more of a baseball guy.”
Wilder said, “My dad was a huge baseball guy, so I’ve always been pretty much a baseball guy.”
Crawford has a number of pitches (fastball, change-up, curve, forkball) that he can pull from his pocket at any given time.
“I’d like to think my best pitch is my splitter or my forkball,” he said. “It’s so different and it kind of has a knuckleball look and drops right at the end.”
Added Wapakoneta coach Jason Brandt, “Johnny has a slew of pitches. If one of those pitches aren’t on that day, he can come with another one. We always know he’s going to have a second and third pitch throughout the game.
Wilder threw between 86 and 91 last year when he went 5-3 with a sub-2.00 ERA. That’s after he threw only four innings as a sophomore.
Then came the Chicago showcase when he hit 92-94 mph.
“I threw about 20 pitches,” Wilder said. “I didn’t expect to see that (94). … After that, I was contacted by most of the (major league) teams through email. Playing professional baseball has always been a dream of mind.”
Now that he owns a low 90s fastball, the key for Wilder is his command of his fastball and control of his breaking ball. He can also mix in a change-up.
“I’m watching the glove the whole time now instead of looking away and that’s helped a lot with my control,” he said. “I’ve worked a lot with my breaking ball and it’s gotten better.”
Shawnee coach Scott Newman said pitching coach Todd Hall has worked a lot with the entire staff on command.
“Repeatability for Cory is the major challenge this year, but he’s come along way in doing that,” Hall said. “To get repeatable, you’re more consistent in the zone and through that you’re more consistent with your breaking pitches and change-up. He’s come a long way. He’s done well.”
Hall also said Wilder has gained strength over the last year, including 25-to-30 pounds since his freshman year.
This year in the WBL, there’s not only Wilder and Crawford, but also Defiance’s Robert Zeigler, who is headed to Kentucky and also throws 92 mph. He’s ranked No. 5 in Ohio among seniors by Prep Baseball Report.
Brandt said his team going against pitchers like Zeigler and Wilder is a great way to prepare for the tournament.
“In my opinion, those two guys were better than any of the pitchers we saw in the state tournament last year,” Brandt said.
Added Crawford, “Growing up, Cory Wilder has always been a stud and always been one guy we’ve wanted to go at because Shawnee is so close to us, and they’ve been a big rival for us in baseball. To go against him now is interesting because how much better both him and Zeigler have gotten.
“I’ve known them for so long, it makes me want to get better. I don’t want to be the same type of pitcher as them, but I want to reach toward what kind of things they do and I respect both of them a lot.”
Wilder said, “Johnny’s probably still mad at me from last year. He had a no-hitter going until the bottom of the seventh with two outs and I got a base hit.”
Crawford wasn’t too upset. He walked away with a 4-0 one-hitter over Shawnee.
The rematch is set for April 9.