Trib HSSN Baseball Player of the Week for April 5, 2021: West Mifflin’s Jake Walker

Monday, April 5, 2021 | 10:49 PM

Without a 2020 season and with offseason workouts sporadic due to the ongoing pandemic, few people knew what to expect at the start of the 2021 high school baseball season.

Batting .846 five games and 10 days into the much-anticipated campaign is something not even the most optimistic hitter could expect.

West Mifflin junior Jake Walker is off to such a mind-numbing start. His accomplishments early on would be staggering if all things were normal.

“This past year has been tough for many athletes to prepare,” West Mifflin coach Jeff Kuzma said as he begins his second stint as manager of the Titans. “Jake took that as a challenge to get stronger faster and more athletic. Jake understands that to be better than your competition, there is no easy road. Work harder than they do and success will follow.”

After the Titans split their first two games March 26-27 in which Walker was a combined 5 for 6, he continued his red-hot stick in three games last week.

Walker was 2 for 3 with two runs scored in a loss to South Fayette.

Then in back-to-back games against Laurel Highlands that the Titans and Mustangs split, Walker was a combined 4 for 4 with two triples, two home runs, six runs scored and two RBIs.

“What Jake has learned that he did not have a year ago is that it takes more than just being a good athlete to be great, and in the game of baseball, you need to have mental toughness to deal with all the failures that come with it,” Kuzma said. “Jake is one of the best athletes I’ve seen in a while, and when you combine that with his confidence and mental toughness, he’s tough to beat.

“So on the diamond, the game is slowing down for him, and in most cases in the game of baseball, when that happens, it helps a person level up much quicker. Now understand he is only a junior and did not have his sophomore high school season.”

Walker has also seen some limited time early this season on the mound for West Mifflin. He has pitched a total of four innings of relief in three games. He has no decisions, four strikeouts and a 3.50 ERA.

“What drives Jake is that he wants to be the absolute best at every aspect of this game,” Kuzma said. “He is a solid defender at the shortstop position. When he is on the mound, he is learning how to change gears and have a pitcher’s mentality. A plus-80 mph fastball and great command are some of his strengths on the mound.”

On defense, Walker has eight putouts and three assists with no errors in 11 total chances in the first five games.

Walker has been instant offense for West Mifflin thus far this season. In 17 plate appearances, he has reached base 15 times with 11 hits and four walks. He has then come around to score 12 times.

The Titans may need that kind of heroic effort every game playing in the tough Section 3-4A.

“We are young and only start one senior,” Kuzma said. “I feel like we have a good team that can complete in the section. Losing our season last year, most of my team is still figuring out how challenging it is to compete at the varsity level in high school baseball. Our mentality is to win the next game, and let’s see where we end up at the end of the season.”


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