Westlake’s Ethan Koonce started the 2021 high school baseball season at third base for Westlake, but soon became one of the Rams’ top arms and led them to their first 20-win season in more than a decade.
“I have been playing baseball my whole life,” Koonce said. “I like the competitive nature of it.
“When you are up to bat, it is just you against the pitcher. When you are pitching, it is you against the batter. But you are also playing as a team. You have to rely on your teammates along with relying on yourself.”
On the mound, Koonce went 4-4 with a 2.66 earned run average with 51 strikeouts and 22 walks in 551/3 innings.
“You have to be out there and have the bulldog mind-set to compete every single pitch,” Koonce said. “My fastball has a little inward run to it, so I get a lot of people off guard. I am really unorthodox in how my fastball moves.”
Rams head coach Blake Reed quickly realized Koonce was one of the his top arms. Koonce made four relief appearances to start the season with no earned runs in 52/3 innings. He got his first start against Class 2A No. 2 Anacoco. He went 42/3 innings in that game and didn’t allow a run, and the Rams scored three runs in the final two innings to pull out a 3-1 win.
“We didn’t know on the mound how good he was going to be for us early in the season,” Reed said. “He made it to where we had to throw him.
“He wanted the ball and he dominated. Even when he didn’t have his best stuff, he competed. At the beginning of the year we used him in relief and he looked good. He started a couple of JV games, and he is a guy that we had to get on the mound as much as possible.”
Koonce cemented himself as one of the top sophomore pitchers in the area when he threw 13 strikeouts nine innings in a 2-1 win over Vinton on March 20.
Koonce said he has been working on turning up the heat on his fastball and improve his breaking pitch while adding a changeup.
“I want to get my fastball a couple of miles per hour faster and throw my breaker for strikes, getting that break a little bit sharper.
“I feel like I can do better. There is definitely room to improve. (The changeup) is working so far, but I am trying to get comfortable throwing it for strikes.”
He said he plans on hitting the showcase circuit hard this summer playing for the Yard Dogs of Longville, hoping to realize his dream of playing college baseball.
“I am trying to get out there and play as much as I can,” Koonce said. “I would love to play college ball. I think everybody would like to play college at some point. I am sticking mostly to the travel ball circuit. We play at a lot of colleges.”
Koonce sees a bright season ahead for the Rams.
“We are going to be a young team, but I still have some high expectations,” he said. “We have some talent, a lot of young talent. I feel like we are going to do pretty good.”