Tough times are when true leaders emerge.
Jack Landwehr and Matt Brancato exhibited what leadership is all about under different circumstances this spring.
For Landwehr, last year’s Cook County Daily Herald All-Area Baseball Team honorary captain, it was guiding a young and inexperienced Prospect team coming off a third-place finish in the Class 4A state tournament.
For Brancato, it was propelling a Schaumburg team that was struggling into early May on a run that didn’t end until Monday night’s 4A supersectional in Rockford.
And for what they did spiritually as well as statistically, Landwehr and Brancato are the Cook County honorary co-captains of the 2012 Daily Herald All-Area Baseball Team.
Brancato had hoped to accomplish what Landwehr did last year and make it to Joliet for the state finals. But Brancato did everything he could on the mound at 6-2, at the plate by hitting .463 with 32 RBI or in the field at third base.
“What a leader what a year he had for us,” said retiring Schaumburg coach Paul Groot. “He’s one of the better competitors I’ve had. He hates to lose.”
And Brancato helped fuel the Saxons’ resurgence from a 13-12 record in early May to losing only twice in their final 14 games.
“I tried to lead by example and make sure everybody was there working together,” said Brancato, who will play baseball at North Central College. “One thing I learned about this team is if we got the core group of guys to really work hard and focus and believe everyone would follow that.
“We would run a mile after practice and if I ran as hard as I could everybody would run as hard as they could. Once I got a grasp of that, my mindset was that I need to go 110 percent and everyone stuck with it.”
The Illinois State-bound Landwehr came into this season as a center of attention after winning 14 games to lead the Knights to a third-place state tourney finish. The spotlight became even brighter as more and more pro scouts congregated around backstops when Landwehr pitched.
Although Landwehr won only half as many games this season, he only had one bad outing as two of his losses were 1-0 on unearned runs and his ERA of 0.59 was nearly two runs less than last year. He finished his three-year varsity career as the Knights’ all-time leader in victories with a 26-5 record and strikeouts with 240 while issuing only 33 walks.
“Jack is going to go out and compete no matter what the circumstances are,” said Prospect coach Ross Giusti. “I thought he handled himself like a pro and did everything we asked.
“He never gave anyone a sense that he was better than anyone else on the team. He always tried to work his way through adversity and set an example to go out on the field and do your best.”
A big part of that was continuing to pitch to opposing hitters and not radar guns.
“I think I became much smarter than last year,” Landwehr said of having more trust in using his changeup. “It’s all about location and how you mix up your pitches.
“Obviously I know they (scouts) are there so you have to stay within yourself. You have to try not to throw the ball 96 miles per hour and still play within yourself.”
That was something Brancato also learned after his junior year. He was more concerned with the present than his playing future.
He attributed his success to his offseason work, which included the goal he achieved of maintaining the same exit velocity of the ball off the less-livelier BBCOR bats which were required for use this season. And all the work paid off in the Saxons’ spectacular stretch run.
“It was the most fun month or two I’ve had playing the game,” said Brancato, who wants to become a doctor, finished with a 3.8 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale said scored 27 on the ACT. “I have to attribute that to my teammates and coaches. Everyone was playing free and easy, everyone was focused and everyone wanted to be there, which was different from other years.”
Landwehr knows the feeling of a fun run similar to that from a year ago. He believes going to pitch in college could be a big benefit for his future and is excited about the possibility of being a closer at Illinois State.
And the uniform No. 18 worn by Landwehr and Brancato will no longer be just a random number at Prospect and Schaumburg.
“I hope the next person who takes that number represents it well,” Landwehr said.
Landwehr and Brancato certainly did every time they took the field.
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