All-District Baseball: Turlock's Wheeland is Player of the Year

TURLOCK — There's not a pitcher in the Stanislaus District who can control his stuff the way Vince Wheeland can.

That's why it was so surprising to see Turlock High's ace struggling in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 championship series with St. Mary's.

The Rams were getting men on base in every inning — hit batters, walks, hits — but the section's most potent offense was unable to do much to move them along.

"I haven't taken a trip to the mound to talk to Vince all season, and I didn't want to take the first one today," Turlock coach Mark de la Motte said after Wheeland beat the Rams 7-3.

"Vince is a pitcher, not a thrower," added de la Motte, noting Wheeland's fastball is capable of hitting 90. "He has great location. Every pitch that comes out of his hand appears the same to the batter. If something is wrong out there, he's smart enough to make the right adjustment."

There weren't many adjustments he had to make this season, going 13-0 with a 0.74 ERA and two saves. He was just as dangerous with a bat, hitting .375 with 27 RBIs and 12 doubles.

Wheeland's ability to dominate any foe — whether pitching or hitting — made him an obvious choice to be The Bee's Baseball Player of the Year.

While Wheeland wasn't considered a star prior to this season, there were those who realized he had the tools: Oklahoma State offered a scholarship before the season began.

Wheeland signed and, rather than resting with his scholarship in hand, went about becoming one of the state's best. His 13-0 record was the best in California -- four others also won 13 games, but none went without a loss.

It wasn't just a blazing fastball or wicked curve that kept Wheeland ahead of hitters, it was his ability to throw four pitches and put them on the corner of the plate if needed.

He could also bring some heat with his high fastball — knowing hitters would be unable to catch up to it.

"We've had some great power pitchers here," said de la Motte, referring to professionals Dan Reichert and Steve Soderstrom. "Vince is a different pitcher, but he's every bit as good as those two."

Wheeland began to convert skeptics in is second start, beating hot-hitting Lincoln 2-1 on a six-hitter. More impressive than his 13 strikeouts that day was the fact he didn't walk a batter.

He went 3-0 in the playoffs, striking out 27 in 19 innings to beat Lodi, Lincoln and St. Mary's. He allowed just three earned runs in those wins.

By the time Wheeland had thrown the final pitch of his prep career, he had secured membership in Turlock's unofficial baseball hall of fame.

He had 147 strikeouts and 18 walks — an 8-to-1 ratio — in 85 innings. He had 13 wins in his 13 starts, and Turlock's offense allowed Wheeland to get out of some of those games early.

"We knew we'd be needing Vince for the playoffs, so we watched his innings early in season," de la Motte said. "He was key for us. As a coach, I can't imagine a better kid."

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