Sophomore shortstop Zak Scharnke’s emergence hints at more to come in Lowell: ‘He’s our power’

Lowell sophomore Zak Scharnke has been on the rise.

He’s part of a young and talented core of players during a promising period for the Red Devils, who have a first-year coach, Ben Mahar, and a new turf facility under construction.

“Improvement, that’s really the name of the game, and he’s been doing it,” Mahar said.

Indeed, Scharnke gained valuable experience as the junior varsity team’s second baseman last year, playing behind a pair of seniors in the middle infield at the varsity level. But he has emerged as a mainstay at shortstop this season. He was batting .417 with 12 RBIs, both topping the Red Devils (5-9), through 13 games.

“It’s my approach at the plate,” Scharnke said. “I’ve been doing good early in counts, trying to hit the fastball. My defense is all right too. I’m pretty happy with how things are going right now.”

The 5-foot-11 Scharnke said he “hit the grind” in the offseason, honing his hitting and lifting weights. He said he weighed as much as 195 pounds after winter workouts for football before settling at 180 this spring. That’s still about 15 pounds heavier than he was last season.

“Football helped me tremendously with baseball,” Scharnke said. “I went from hitting line drives with contact to hitting the baseball pretty hard.

“I like the team atmosphere for football. I like the brotherhood aspect of it. You get it in baseball, too, but football is a different sport.”

Scharnke is a tight end and linebacker in football. He made six catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns for the Red Devils last season.

Still, Scharnke considers himself primarily a baseball player, and he has made an impression.

“He’s our power,” Lowell senior pitcher/outfielder Jacob Mish said. “He bats out of the third spot, gets a lot of hits for us. He gets on, and then our four, five, six guys drive him in. He’s huge for our team.”

Mahar, a 2011 graduate of Mundelein in Illinois whose background also includes pitching for Valparaiso University and coaching at Lake Station, has seen Scharnke make significant strides in a short amount of time.

“He’s improved a lot over the course of the season,” Mahar said. “He’s matured a lot. He’s a young kid still, just a sophomore. His approach at the plate has improved. Everything has gotten better over the course of the year. He’s playing a really, really efficient shortstop for us.”

The Red Devils, who received a bye to the semifinals of the Class 4A Crown Point Sectional against Portage, have room for improvement as a whole. Their record is deceptive against a challenging schedule, including a 1-6 mark in the Northwest Crossroads Conference. They picked up several noteworthy wins and have had near-misses against other top teams.

“We’ve played competitive baseball against really good teams,” Scharnke said. “Even though we’ve lost, we’ve learned. I’d rather play someone that we lose to and learn from than beating someone by 20 runs. We can actually learn from the good teams that are going to state.”

Mahar said it’s just a matter of figuring out “how to win those close games.” Scharnke figures to be part of that growing process.

“I’ve become a leader, just with drills and communicating with the guys,” he said. “I feel like even the older guys are starting to look up to me. As a younger guy, I’m trying to be a leader, so once I’m a senior, it’s an automatic leadership thing.”