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Many young boys dream of playing college or professional baseball when they grow up.
Lake senior Jayce Vancena has had that dream since he was 12 years old, and he also had a plan on how to get there. Along with his father, Joe, he has been working the last six years to execute that plan.
Last spring, Vancena had already committed to a scholarship offer from the University of Michigan. In November, he signed a letter of intent with the Wolverines.
By June, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound pitcher/first baseman may have another option to consider if he is selected in the Major League Baseball draft.
Judging by some guests Monday at Lake for the Flyers’ 9-0 win over Rossford, the latter portion of Vancena’s dream may also be taking shape.
As he was busy pitching a 12-strikeout, one-hitter against the Bulldogs, scouts from the Tigers, Indians, White Sox, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Rays, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Astros, Rangers, and Giants were perched behind the backstop with radar guns, stopwatches, and notebooks.
“I don’t really pay attention to who’s coming,” Vancena said. “That’s my dad’s job. I just go out there and pitch. I step on the mound and try to do my thing.
“If they’re there, I know they already like me so I don’t feel like I have to be someone I’m not. I don’t have to overdo it. I just go out there and try to be myself.”
The game is as fun now as it ever been.
“I started playing competitively when I was 7,” Vancena said. “I kept on growing, and when I was about 12 years old I figured that I wanted to make this my career.
“I loved baseball from the time I started, and my dad was on the same page with me, and I loved that. We’ve done this whole thing together, and he’s been by my side pushing me the whole way through.”
His father has always tried to put Jayce around baseball people who could offer valuable tips. He recognized his son’s talent early on, but said he didn’t realize he had college and professional potential until last year.
“He’s always had a desire to play baseball, and he’s always worked hard and played with a passion,” said Joe Vancena, who played at Northwood. “It’s been easy to be around that with the way he approaches the game.
“He loves his teammates and just loves playing the game. Ever since he was young he always wanted to play catch. You never had to ask him if he wanted to go throw or go hit. He’s was always saying, ‘Dad, let’s go do something.’ He hasn’t always been the best, but his effort has always been off the charts. He works hard, and he wants to get better.”
Vancena is hoping to lead the Flyers to a Northern Buckeye Conference championship and a deep run in the Division III tournament.
On April 16 he tossed a 16-strikeout no-hitter at Elmwood with only one walk separating him from a perfect game.
“He throws a fastball consistently in the low 90s [mph], he has nice curveball, and a very good changeup for a high school pitcher,” 30th-year Lake coach Greg Wilker said. “The big thing is his demeanor on the mound. He doesn’t get rattled out there.”
On the season, he has worked 28 innings, allowing just seven hits, two runs (one earned), and four walks while posting a 4-0 record with 53 strikeouts and an 0.25 ERA.
“He’s a true power pitcher,” Wilker said. “When I look at all-league or all-state voting, if the pitcher has a 2-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to innings pitched, that’s pretty dominant, and that’s almost where Jayce is at right now. Your fielders don’t have to make a whole lot of plays when he’s on the mound.”
Vancena’s fastball has been clocked up to 94 mph and routinely between 90-92. His calm demeanor accentuates his overall presence on the mound. And then there is the commitment.
After choosing Michigan last spring, Vancena, who carries a 3.7 grade-point average, had another decision to make, one that ultimately called for a personal sacrifice.
He deliberated last summer before advising Flyers basketball coach Ryan Bowen that he would not be playing that sport. As a junior, Vancena was Lake’s major inside presence, averaging more than 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.
From late November through March, as the basketball Flyers rolled to an all-time best 21-2 record and an NBC title, Vancena watched from the bleachers. He cheered on his friends while wishing he were on the court.
“It was definitely eating me away the whole summer,” Vancena said of his decision. “I had been with those guys since I was 7 or 8 years old, playing on travel basketball teams.
“I was there to support them the whole way. Just because I wasn’t playing didn’t mean I couldn’t go support my buddies.”
It was the second time he gave up a sport to ensure his baseball growth. He stopped playing football following his freshman year.
But getting injured or limiting his baseball workouts were not parts of the plan.
“I didn’t want to risk injury, plus I wanted to get into baseball shape earlier,” Vancena said. “Last year I couldn’t get into baseball shape [early] because of basketball. I wasn’t at my full potential at the start of the season, and I needed that this spring.”
When Vancena is not pitching, he plays first base and bats cleanup (.369, 14 RBIs) for the Flyers, who are 10-2 overall and 2-0 in the NBC. He is hitting .389 with 14 RBIs.
During the winter he received pitching training from former University of Toledo and Detroit Tigers pitcher A.J. Sager, along with some tips from New York Mets pitcher Jon Niese of Defiance.
He also sought advice from minor league pitchers A.J. Achter (Clay, Michigan State, Twins), who currently is with Triple-A Rochester, and Chris Bassitt (Genoa, Akron, White Sox), who is with now with Double-A Birmingham.
He may need more advice from them come June.
“Right now I’m planning on going to Michigan, and I’m very excited about it,” Vancena said. “If a draft opportunity happens, then I’m going to take full advantage of it."
Wilker believes Vancena has a chance at reaching his dream.
“He has the God-given ability, and the scouts see the frame, the 90-plus fastball, and they know he’s going to continue to grow,” Wilker said. “He could very easily put 15-20 pounds on that frame and throw even harder in the next three or four years.”