Baseball: Echols' mindset changes the game

May 7—When Taylor Echols wants to put himself in the right mindset before a start, the right-handed ace takes what some would call, an unusual approach.

He follows up a good night's sleep by channeling what he likes to call his "inner Kellen Klosterman" right before game time.

Now, who's Kellen Klosterman you might ask? He was Echols' teammate when the two played Bo Jackson Baseball together. Currently, Klosterman is also pitching in his senior season at Cincinnati Moeller and next year he's headed to Notre Dame to continue his baseball career.

"He's a great dude," Echols said of his former teammate. "He really has the 'Me against You' mentality that he's going to show up no matter who the team or the opponent is. That's something I strive for."

On Monday night, Echols exuded Klosterman's mentality to the fullest extent when he tossed a two-hit shutout against Defiance, bringing Wapakoneta within a half-game of the Bulldogs in the conference standings.

It was a full-circle moment for the Miami (OH) University commit. As a junior, Echols threw an eight-inning no-hitter against Defiance, and it was the difference in an outright WBL title for the Redskins in 2023.

After a dominant finish to last season, Wapakoneta coach Jason Brandt said he's seen the same dominant stuff from Echols, but a different approach each day.

"Last year he had more of an intense type of focus," Brandt said. "He's still really focused this year, but he's taken a little more of a loose approach at times. You'll still see him having a good time in the dugout, but he's still one of the fiercest competitors that there is.

"I can see it in his eyes when he has it going and when he does, he's mowing guys down and you don't want to even look at him, because all you want him to do is go out there and keep doing exactly what he's doing."

Sometimes Brandt and the rest of the staff's approach is simple. Give Echols the ball and get out of the way.

"They let me do my thing," Echols said of his coaches. "I get amped up a lot and they know to let me go when I'm throwing the ball like I did against Defiance."

The 5-8, 135-pound senior primarily sticks to a combination of fastball, changeup and slider on the mound.

On Monday night against Defiance, Echols' first pitch of the night was a 92-mile-per-hour fastball in for a strike, setting the tone for the evening. He used his slider as a wipeout pitch, leading to several of his 14 strikeouts.

"I thought I had my best stuff throughout the whole game," he said. "My slider was definitely my go-to pitch. I've been working on it a lot. It gets guys out and that's all I can ask for."

In 40 innings on the mound this season, Echols has allowed just 18 hits and five earned runs. He owns a record of 5-1 with 61 strikeouts compared to 13 walks and has thrown three straight complete games, all against WBL opponents.

In the absence of the reigning WBL Player of the Year Grant Jolly who's been out the past eight games, Echols has been the go-to guy in conference games for the Redskins.

He said he loves the stress of pitching in big games and he credits the coaching staff with keeping the team ready for those situations.

"Coach Brandt gets on us a little bit, but we need that," he said. "(Marshall) Gerlach also calls great pitches. We're always on the same page with all the pitchers and (Douglas) Whitmore, he helps us pick up the opposing pitcher and the signs. It's really a group effort trying to win here and it's a great culture.

"Even after the loss against Bath, the guys were still up in the dugout. They were excited to come to Defiance and win a game. The guys just want to win. That's what we look forward to and we still have Van Wert and Shawnee in front of us. We're going to look to compete there to get a share of the title."

When he's not on the mound, he's the starting shortstop, and in all of Wapakoneta's 16 games, he's batted out of the leadoff spot. At the plate, Echols is hitting .416 with 13 runs scored and 10 runs batted in.

"We live and die with him right now," Brandt said. "He's playing this year with a chip on his shoulder because he wants to repeat in the WBL and make a tournament run. Those are things that you want out of your senior leader.

"Taylor's our guy. If we can go to battle with him, then that's exactly who we want."

Reach Chris Howell at 567-242-0468 or on Twitter at @Lima_Howell