Every time Gig Harbor High School junior pitcher Owen Wild has taken the mound this season, the Tides’ players have felt pretty confident about their chances.
And that’s probably underselling it, a bit.
“We know we’re going to win when he’s on the mound,” said sophomore third baseman Zach Toglia. “Everyone is on their toes on defense and ready to help him out. We know he’s most likely going to throw a complete game and shut the other team down.”
That high praise has been warranted this season for the right-hander, who owns a 5-1 record with a 0.74 earned run average. In 38.1 innings, Wild has struck out 47 batters, walked 13 and only allowed four earned runs. In league play in the Class 3A South Sound Conference, Wild owns a 5-0 record with a 0.42 ERA.
He’s been the ace for first-place Gig Harbor (12-4 overall, 9-1 SSC).
“He’s been dominating with his fastball,” said Gig Harbor coach Pete Jansen. “He’s had so much success with that pitch. He can spot it. He’s just throwing the ball by a lot of people. He’s got a lot of strikeouts. … He just wants the ball. He’s a hard worker.”
The fastball has been Wild’s biggest reason for success this year. As a sophomore, he was throwing in the low 80-mph range. This season, that velocity has increased about 5 mph, and sometimes pushing into the upper 80s.
“My velocity has really picked up,” Wild said. “Last year, I’d throw a fastball to a guy and they could hit it. The number starts picking up a little bit and now I can miss a spot on a fastball and it’ll still go by a guy.”
While there’s probably something to be said about the physical maturation process that happens between the sophomore and junior season for high school athletes, Wild credits his uptick in velocity primarily to his offseason weight training.
“I really talked with some guys and got a plan going for squats, deadlifts, just a lot of different things to improve my velocity,” Wild said. “Getting bigger and stronger has helped the ball just come out of my hand faster.”
Wild also throws a changeup, a 12-6 curveball and most recently, a slider that he’s worked to develop this season. That arsenal has been difficult for opponents to match, and even for his teammates in practice, too.
“I faced him twice at the beginning of the season in practice,” Toglia said. “I struck out two times. I think I made contact once. He’s a really good pitcher and he’s really hard to hit. He’s got a firm fastball that he can blow right by you, and a looping 12-6 curveball that’s hard to read.”
Wild said he’s worked on his mindset this year, too. Rather than trying to protect a Gig Harbor lead, he has focused on dominating the game from start to finish.
Jansen said Wild’s presence reminds him of Gig Harbor great Matt Gardner, who led Gig Harbor to the Class 2A title in 1997 and went on to pitch at the University of Washington.
“When (Gardner) took the mound, the whole team just expected to win,” Jansen said. “When Owen goes to the mound, they expect to win. They know the other team is probably not going to score a lot of runs, so if we score some runs, we have a great chance to win, when he’s pitching.”
Wild said the increase in his fastball velocity has benefited his other pitches, as well.
“If you’re throwing low 80s, they can just sit on that curveball,” Wild said. “When you’re throwing faster, they have to be early on that fastball, so they’ll load early. So bringing out that breaking ball will get them off balance and they’ll be out in front.”
The most crucial pitch for Wild might be the one he’s added most recently in the slider, because of one simple reason.
“You can see the curveball out of the hand, most of the time,” Wild said. “But with the slider, it really looks like a fastball until the last minute. The velocity is higher and they’re out in front on the slider and they swing through it.”
Wild and Gig Harbor will look to keep the wins rolling at home against Central Kitsap at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 26 at Sehmel Homestead Park.