Softball: Antioch's Schuler takes her game to new level
Any high school softball team that has an elite ace in the pitching circle more times than not can write its own ticket to success.
Antioch has that and then some in the form of sophomore standout pitcher Jacey Schuler.
The 10th-grader with the 60-plus-mile-per-hour fastball has followed up a spectacular freshman season with an even better sophomore one -- so good that she is the easy pick as the Captain of the 2022 Daily Herald All-Area Softball Team for Lake County.
"As a coach, she is one of those players that can carry a program to new levels, which she has done for us since last year," said Sequoits coach Anthony Rocco, whose team finished 31-4 and took third at last weekend's Class 3A state tournament. "As a teammate, she looks out for everyone and helps them be successful."
Schuler was 20-2 with 1 save after the 9-0 Class 3A supersectional win over Kaneland on June 7 in Maple Park -- a game in which she allowed 3 hits and fanned 13.
Through the sectional championship game against Wauconda, Schuler had a near-invisible 0.695 ERA. Opponents were hitting a poverty .133 against her thanks to 253 strikeouts in only 131 innings pitched. That comes on the heels of a freshman campaign where she went 23-5 with a 2.11 ERA and had 236 Ks in 149 2/3 innings on an Antioch team that reached a Class 3A supersectional. Opponents hit .177 off her last year. Schuler reduced her walks this season to 31 (down from 42 last year).
She has struck out 14 or more batters eight times this season, including 18 against Johnsburg and a pair of 17 efforts against Woodstock North and Carmel, to go with 16s against Hinsdale South and Grayslake Central.
"My movement is a lot better. Movement pitches are working very well this season," noted Schuler, who throws a rise ball, drop curve and changeup in addition to her heater. "I would also say my pitch location has gotten better. I have been working on spots more."
And some good old-fashioned elbow grease helped get her into the 60s with her fastball this season.
"I gained a lot of velocity this season," she said. "Last year, I was throwing 58 or 59. I really worked hard to get my velocity up. I worked on my legs a lot. Before, I was using a lot of my upper body. I fixed a lot of the mechanic parts of my pitching."
Rocco marvels at not only Schuler's drive to get better, but per poise and command of the game as a 10th grader. Case in point, her relationship with sophomore catcher Grace Green.
"They call their own games," the coach revealed. "We provide them with a scouting report and they make it happen. A lot of coaches are astonished by this considering both are sophomores.
"What makes Jacey dominant pitching-wise is an elite fastball, good movement and she doesn't rely on certain pitches of sequences. Besides being an elite athlete, she is driven, mentally tough and hardworking. She never takes a day off and pushes herself as well as her teammates."
She's also no slacker when it comes to the stick. Hitting third in Antioch's loaded lineup, Schuler was batting .486 with 8 doubles, 4 triples, 1 homer and 29 RBI (through the sectional final). She hit .492 with 15 doubles, 2 triples, 14 homers and 64 RBI last year.
Let's not forget her fielding, either. Schuler hasn't made an error this season between the circle and center field and left field.
Rocco pointed out Schuler has been front and center this season against some of the state's elite teams.
In a game against Barrington, Schuler, a catcher up until her 12U travel year and now part of the Illinois Chill 16U Gold travel team out of Northbrook, protected a 1-run lead with runners on second and third with 2 outs in the bottom of the seventh by ending the game with a strikeout. In a matchup of elite pitchers, Schuler outdueled Huntley standout Jori Heard with a 12-strikeout effort. Schuler also struck out nine in a loss to Class 4A power Chicago Marist.
"Playing a key position and batting third all season, her mental toughness for a sophomore is astonishing," Rocco said. "She never lets bad calls or errors affect her in the box or in the circle."
Schuler said she thrives in pressure situations -- being a high school softball pitcher qualifies as just that.
"I like the pressure pitching brings on the mound," she said. "I like the feeling of getting outs. I think it brings a lot of energy to me."
University of Illinois-bound senior Gabby Debevec marvels at all things Schuler.
"Jacey is a good player because she works hard and wants to be the best," she said. "The way she is able to be dominant in both her offensive and defensive game is what stands out to me. Her pitching, specifically the amount of strikeouts she is able to produce, has improved from last year. That helps our team a lot. I am impressed with her talent because of how young she is. She's been a family friend for a long time. I'm very proud of her."
And this from teammate Eden Echevarria, who is committed to the University of Wisconsin: "Jacey is an elite player, and despite her being younger, she is always been able to compete at a high level. She's a great pitcher, but not only that, she's also an amazing hitter. She has improved in all aspects of her game. You can tell she has worked on her pitching as well as hitting because in both areas she has been dominant this season."
Echevarria has played with Schuler from quite some time and has had a front-row seat in her development.
"What impresses me is how she has developed and matured as a player," she said. "Her being as good as she is, she's had to learn how to be reliable and has been able to push through high-pressure moments with ease."
Schuler said the Sequiots' continued success is not just about her antics in the circle and at the plate.
"I would say me and my catcher (Green) are a really good battery and we have a really good defense," she said. "Our offense is doing great and the team has a really good bond together. That has helped us throughout the season."
So how good can Schuler be?
"The sky's the limit for Jacey in terms of talent and ability," Rocco said. "As a coach, she is one of those players who can carry a program to new levels, which she has done for us since last year. As a teammate, she looks out for everyone and helps them be successful."
Debevec added: "I know she is going to be able to compete at the college level one day."