BLADE PHOTO Enlarge
Since they first played baseball on the same youth team (age 13-14 division), St. John's Jesuit seniors Travis Pilewski and Chase Welker nearly always have come as a package deal.
They went 48-12 four years ago playing for the Ohio Hawks, coached by Pilewski's father, John, skipped a year because Travis moved up to the next age bracket, then reunited as St. John's freshmen when the Titans won the City League junior varsity championship.
Two varsity City League titles later and Travis and Chase still reside across the Titan infield from one another as fourth-year St. John's coach Ed Mouch steers his team toward another run at the CL crown.
The two players are also best of friends away from the game.
“They're together a lot,'' Mouch said. “They come to practice together and drive to games together. Chase has a younger brother [sophomore Reed Welker] on the team, and I think Chase hangs out with Travis more than his own brother.''
Whether it's a game of golf with tennis balls or home-run derby in the backyard, the talented tandem has remained “pretty tight,'' as Welker puts it, since they met over four years ago.
“We've been best friends for a while,'' Pilewski said. “I was kind of hoping we were going to the same college, but that didn't work out.''
“I played for his dad's team when I was 13 and we were always together that whole summer,'' Welker said. “We've always been good friends. We always talked about playing in high school and college together, and [until next year] it happened to work out that way.''
The two players, whom Mouch labels “the building blocks that have helped bring our program back,'' each come from good baseball bloodlines.
John Pilewski was a four-year player at the University of Toledo (1971-74) and was inducted into the Rockets' baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, and both of Welker's grandfathers were standout athletes.
Chase's paternal grandfather, Mark Welker, was inducted into the Waite High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982 for his exploits as a football, basketball and baseball player (1938-1941) and later coach (1947-1969) at Waite, and his football and basketball careers at Bowling Green State University. Maternal grandfather Sam Tisci was a star quarterback at UT (1955-57), and also played baseball for the Rockets before playing professionally in the Kansas City A's organization.
But, after their high school careers end, Pilewski and Welker will become rivals.
Pilewski, a two-time All-City pitcher/first baseman, has accepted a baseball scholarship from UT. Welker, an All-City shortstop last year, accepted a baseball scholarship from fellow Mid-American Conference member Central Michigan.
Right now, both players are busy making the most of their final year.
After a 14-1 CL win at Rogers on Wednesday, Pilewski was hitting .444 (12 for 27) with 13 walks, five doubles, two home runs, 14 runs scored and 11 RBIs. Welker is hitting .458 (11 for 24) with 14 walks, six doubles, one home run, 15 runs scored and seven RBIs for the Titans, who are 8-3 overall, 1-0 in the CL.
The two are well aware that after back-to-back CL varsity titles - both won in the title game against their chief rival St. Francis de Sales - they can no longer sneak up on perennial City League baseball powers Start and St. Francis. Consecutive 20-8 seasons have earned the team a new role.
“The target's on our back right now,'' Mouch said. “We've won the past two years and we're getting everyone's best game now.
“Players like Chase and Travis and [third-year varsity outfielder] Matt Keglewitsch know what it takes to get to that level and they're showing the other kids.''
Three other St. John's seniors also returned as starters this season - outfielder/catcher Justin Berry, catcher/DH Zac Pettee, and outfielder/DH Clay Huber.
Pilewski and Welker accept the challenge of being the hunted.
“I don't think we feel any pressure to win,'' said Pilewski, who will join his cousin, Perrysburg graduate Phil Pilewski, on the UT team next year. “We just go out and play our game.''
“Start's always got the reputation as being the best team around here, but I think teams are looking to knock us off, too,'' Welker said.
The senior leaders felt it was time to call a team meeting after the Titans opened with two losses over spring break down in Florida, and the team's response has been an 8-1 record since then heading into last night's game at Defiance.
“Chase is a vocal leader,'' said Mouch, who feels both are among the best players defensively at their positions in the area. “He says the things that need to be said, the things that are better coming from a player than a coach. Travis has become more vocal this year as far as what's going on around the field.''
Both said they are playing with more confidence as third-year varsity veterans, partly because of experience and partly because the distraction of choosing a college is gone.
“As a sophomore I was just a kid wanting to play baseball,'' Pilewski said. “As a senior, I'm more confident.''
“I'm so much more relaxed and confident now,'' Welker said. “I've been in a lot of situations, so nothing's going to come up that I haven't already experienced.''