Sure, Highland Park right-hander Luke Weber can reach over 90 miles per hour with his fastball.

However, the newcomer from Illinois relies on other pitching principles to be effective.

“There are a lot of guys who are looking for speed to increase their strikeout numbers,” Weber said. “But I throw a little differently. I try to hit the corners, get strikes early and force weak contact. That's the right way to throw, in my opinion.”

At least his success is undeniable.

Weber, the 2024 News Sun Baseball Player of the Year, went 8-1 with a 0.79 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 86 strikeouts and 18 walks in 62 innings in his final season with the Giants (20-14). Weber went undefeated until the playoffs, was named all-conference at Central Suburban and was the only Lake County player on the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A all-state team.

On the way, the 1.85 m tall and 84 kg heavy Weber prepared for his next challenge.

“I've always thrown harder than a lot of kids my age, but when you go to college, you know you're not good enough to strike everyone out,” he said. “So I spent a lot of time this year thinking like a hitter and wondering what pitches I've thrown against hitters before.”

Weber also benefited from his final meeting with Highland Park coach Jason Newburger after the 2023 season, when it was suggested that Weber should really utilize the inner half of the plate against right-handed hitters. He has a three-quarter arm angle and his change-up tilts back against right-handed hitters.

“It's a testament to him that he works year-round and is always looking for new opportunities,” Newburger said. “He's not satisfied with a little bit of success, and that was one of the little things he worked on.”

Highland Park's Luke Weber starts as the leadoff pitcher during the March 12, 2024 baseball game in Highland Park. (Mark Ukena for the Lake County News-Sun)
Highland Park's Luke Weber throws against Stevenson during a game in Highland Park, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Mark Ukena / News-Sun)

Weber, who went 5-2 with a 1.13 ERA as a junior, showed he had put those pieces together earlier this season. During the opener against Stevenson, who reached a supersectional last year, he allowed a home run to the second batter. But in his next 39 innings, he didn't allow an earned run.

“He's not a particularly vocal kid, but he showed a little more fire and competitive spirit than in the past,” Newburger said. “He had that ace mentality from the start.”

Other highlights of the season included Weber's no-hitter on April 9 against rival Deerfield. In fact, Weber went 3-0 against the Warriors for three seasons. That record also includes a 2022 gem in which he was one out short of a perfect game. The only hit came from a dribbler that went under Weber's glove in the seventh inning. On the next pitch, he induced a 1-6-3 double play to secure the shutout.

“As a sophomore, he just calmly went out there and did his job,” said David Finfer, a senior shortstop at Highland Park. “But as he got older, he had everything under control. This year, he had the mindset that if he went into a game and allowed a run, it was a false start. Watching him grow up as a pitcher was one of the coolest things.”

Ben Lichtenfeld, Highland Park's junior third baseman, who also went 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA in 36 1/3 innings on the mound, has learned a lot from Weber.

“I noticed how he threw so many strikes and challenged all the hitters,” Lichtenfeld said. “When I played behind him on defense, there were a lot of fast innings.”

Highland Park pitcher Luke Weber (2) throws during a game against Vernon Hills at Wolters Field in Highland Park on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. (Trent Sprague/for the News-Sun)
Highland Park's Luke Weber throws against Vernon Hills during a Central Suburban North game in Highland Park on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. (Trent Sprague / News-Sun)

One of the final steps in Weber's development as a pitcher is understanding that he can't bring his best to the pitch every time he pitches. That was evident late in the season, first on Senior Night against Maine East when Weber issued a rare four-pitch walk before rain limited him to one inning. Then in his next start against Lake Zurich in the 4A regional semifinals, he threw three shutout innings before the Bears scored eight runs in the fourth inning to win 13-0.

“There was no pain or anything, but my technique against Maine East was just a little bit messed up,” Weber said. “I never expected to have the kind of season I had before the playoffs and I'm not 100% sure what the reason was. It's definitely humbling, but it also helps you get back down to earth. That's what it is like when you're a pitcher.”

Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter.

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