In the 2014 WIAA Division 2 state baseball title game, Heath Renz cut down a runner trying to score with a perfect throw from right field, helping Jefferson win the school’s first championship.
A day before, Renz struck out 10 and threw a one-hit shutout in the state semifinals.
“He was the anchor on the mound, a four-year starter for us,” Jefferson coach Greg Fetherston said. “He went out and did his job and did it well. Complete composure, complete control on the mound.”
Now, three years later, Renz is after more championship hardware: The NCAA Division III championship.
Renz, who on Tuesday was named the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year, is having a big year for UW-Whitewater, which will host the eight-team NCAA Midwest regional that begins today.
The Warhawks (35-7) earned the No. 1 seed after winning the WIAC by six games.
Renz has been at the forefront of a dominant pitching staff. He’s 8-0 and has compiled a 1.94 ERA in 65 innings, while holding opponents to a .214 batting average.
Tom Klawitter, Whitewater’s pitching coach and former Janesville Parker girls’ basketball coach, has high praise for the junior.
“First of all, his consistency is probably way above average. He’s able to command most of his pitches,” said Klawitter, who pitched in seven games for the Minnesota Twins in 1985. “He’s got a great demeanor on the mound. Nothing seems to get to him, he’s pretty even-keeled. Those are the kinds of things that make him pretty successful.”
Renz’s attitude on the hill hasn’t changed much since he was a freshman in high school, but he’s now throwing between 89 and 92 mph.
And he’s attracted the attention of big league scouts.
Renz said it’s possible that he will be selected in the Major League amateur draft next month, which would make him the second Jefferson player to be selected — along with Brady Endl, who also played at Whitewater. Klawitter believes Renz can find success at the next level.
“Once you get there, once you get that foot in the door, things can take off from there. We’re hoping that he gets that opportunity,” Klawitter said. “Of course, I’d like to see it maybe one year later, but for him that’s awesome. He deserves it.”
For now, Renz is focused on bringing a national title back to Whitewater, which won championships in 2005 and 2014. The Warhawks made it to the Division III World Series last season, but lost their first two games and were eliminated.
“Last year when we made the World Series, it was kind of a shock,” Renz said. “We knew we were good, but we didn’t think we were that good. But now we all know what it takes to get there. Now we just have to put it all together.”
Despite the potential distraction of being drafted — along with fellow ace Austin Jones, who was drafted last year by the Chicago Cubs and has a 1.75 ERA this season — the two are locked in at the task at hand.
“We’ve had these talks about going out with Austin, and they’ve done a great job of putting that on the back burner and really concentrating on what needs to be done right now,” Klawitter said.
Renz is expected to get the ball today for the opening game against No. 8-seeded St. Norbert.
There’s a good chance Renz’s former coach will be in attendance, as Fetherston tries to make it down to see him play as much as possible.
And if Renz eventually makes the big leagues, Fetherston will probably still be following along.
“It’s neat to see (former players) having success as they become young men,” Fetherston said. “(Renz) does it the right way. He’s created his path and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.”