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New season, ‘completely different’ pitcher. Cincinnati commit Josh Flores joins Lake Central’s heralded staff.

Michael Osipoff/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Junior right-hander Josh Flores has climbed the ladder in Lake Central’s loaded program.

Now the Cincinnati commit is on the verge of ascending to the top rungs.

Flores figures prominently on the Indians’ star-studded staff. In his first full varsity season, he joins a group that includes senior right-hander Griffin Tobias, an Indiana recruit who was the Duneland Athletic Conference most valuable pitcher last year, and senior right-hander Blake Sivak, a Maryville recruit.

“Our pitching could take us where we want to go,” Flores said. “We talk about everything, even in the dugout and the bullpen. We stayed together in Tennessee. We talked about the game plan, what we’re going to do and how to execute. We’re all really close.”

Indeed, the 6-foot-1 Flores made an impressive season debut on Lake Central’s trip to an event in Tennessee during spring break. He pitched four hitless innings with eight strikeouts and two walks against Bartlett, Illinois, on Thursday.

“They couldn’t really touch me,” Flores said. “I was just going out there, just being me, being confident, throwing strikes. That was the main thing.

“I just like to go out and try to execute. I’m trying to gain velocity. I’m probably sitting 92, 93 (mph). As the season goes on, just gain velocity, keep throwing strikes and keep getting batters out.”

Lake Central coach Mike Swartzentruber liked Flores’ opening start.

“If his first outing of the year is any indication of what type of year he’ll have, then we’re going to witness a big year from him,” Swartzentruber said. “He was dominant in his four innings. His fastball was in the 90s, and his breaking ball was sharp. As he gets more confidence and keeps working on his command, the sky is the limit.”

Flores said he’s eager to start, relieve or even close — “whatever coach needs me to do” this season.

“It’s really cool,” he said of beginning a season on the varsity roster for the first time. “Obviously going out and competing at the varsity level, freshman team was good, JV was good, but varsity is a different level of competition. I’m just excited to go out there and do my part.”

Swartzentruber has watched Flores become more than a hard-throwing pitcher.

“Josh has made great strides in a lot of areas since coming to us as a freshman,” Swartzentruber said. “The biggest area has been his attention to details, which has in turn allowed him to really focus on the craft of pitching. When he came to us, he always had a live throwing arm. But as time has moved on, he’s become really focused on trying to be a better pitcher. He’s made a huge jump over the last year in terms of his overall stuff and his command of his pitches.”

Flores posted a 6.22 ERA in three late-season appearances covering nine innings for the Indians in 2023, allowing nine hits with five strikeouts and five walks. He also went 2-for-4 with three runs scored in five games. Also a middle infielder in the past, Flores doesn’t expect to bat this season.

“I was kind of yipped up last year,” he said. “I wasn’t throwing super good for those games.”

Flores wasn’t in uniform for Lake Central’s postseason run to the Class 4A semistate semifinals, where the Indians dropped a 7-6 decision to eventual state champion Penn, but he was there in support.

Tobias has seen a dramatically improved version of Flores this season.

“He’s a really solid kid,” Tobias said. “He pitched for us last year a little bit, but this year he’s a completely different guy. He’s in the low 90s. He has a great little arsenal to him. He’s going to be a great addition.

“Our staff’s going to be really good. We’re going to be able to hold guys to minimal runs with the way we pitch, especially adding Josh into the rotation. That’s going to enhance our staff even more.”

Flores, who decided on Cincinnati in September, is looking forward to helping the Indians put together another postseason push.

“We have a really good team,” he said. “We bond well together. We just have to get all of the jitters out and just be ready to play the game, and we’ll be good.

“I’m just super excited for the season. We have a good shot to go far this year. I’m just excited to get going and win some games.”