Jake Scott’s mantra isn’t just words. Few could ‘capture the moment’ like the Illiana Christian junior has.

Jake Scott’s mantra isn’t just words. Few could ‘capture the moment’ like the Illiana Christian junior has.

A catcher by trade, Illiana Christian junior Jake Scott entered this season with a sum total of one varsity at-bat and zero innings pitched.

All Scott has done is lock down first base and lead the two-time Class 2A state champion Vikings in innings pitched.

“As soon as I saw I was in the starting lineup Game 1, I was like, ‘Well, I’m not giving up this starting spot because I earned it,’” he said.

“My whole mentality this year has just been ‘capture it.’ Always be ready to hit, always be ready to go on the mound, always be able to throw strikes. Just basically compete every pitch no matter what and just capture the moment.”

As the Vikings (18-9) prepare to play Greater South Shore Conference opponent Wheeler (13-12) in a regional at the Steel Yard on Saturday, Scott is hitting .338 with 23 RBIs and nine stolen bases.

“I’ve changed my whole batting approach,” he said. “I’ve been hitting fastballs early in counts and definitely just loading up early and trying to hit the ball hard. If it’s an off-speed pitch, just sit back and punch it to right field.

“In the past, I would just be really worried about what the pitcher was throwing, his pitches. Now I’m just going up there hitting my pitch early in the count, ready to hit whatever.”

Indeed, Scott is behind only star senior shortstop Isaac VanderWoude, a Virginia recruit, in RBIs.

“He’s definitely exceeded my expectations, him coming into his first year,” Isaac VanderWoude said. “He’s been a key factor in our lineup and on the mound. He’s worked his butt off, and it’s paid off.

“He’s done really well adjusting. He’s been a great teammate all year, keeping the energy up even in our low moments.”

Illiana Christian’s Jake Scott pauses during an at-bat in a game at Crown Point on Saturday, May 4, 2024. (Andy Lavalley / Post-Tribune)

Scott also has a 2.10 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 16 walks in a team-high 33 ⅓ innings. Illiana Christian coach Jeff VanderWoude described Scott’s “one snag” when he pitched out of the bullpen at Hobart. It was Scott’s only outing with more than two runs allowed.

“I went out there because he was losing it, and I told him, ‘Hey, fight through it. See what you can do. Finish the game,’” Jeff VanderWoude said. “And he finished the game. He got out of it. He didn’t put his head down. He battled and worked through it. That was a big sign to me. I love to see that.”

Even last season, VanderWoude kept an eye on Scott, who said he “grew up playing catcher” and has “caught almost my whole life.” Given that first baseman Cody DeJong graduated last year and Aaron Gouwens is entrenched behind the plate as a four-year starter, VanderWoude envisioned this scenario as an option for Scott.

“I talked to Cody a lot last year,” Scott said. “He’s a good buddy of mine. He would always talk about passing on the torch, trusting the next guy, trusting your teammates. He was always there if I had questions about first. Even this year, I’ve been able to text him and get tips on first base, and I’ve hit the gym with him.”

Scott caught and pitched on the junior varsity team last season, with some games at first base “to rest,” he said. He has embraced first base this season.

“It’s a lot easier on the body,” Scott said. “It’s helped me really just focus on hitting because my legs aren’t as tired when I go up to the plate. It’s been nice.”

Scott was quick to credit a number of people for helping him develop in his new and expanded role. He mentioned Isaac VanderWoude, senior second baseman Tyler Balkema and assistant Dale Meyer, who Scott said “has stuck with me” as he learned the finer points of playing first.

“They’ve all been nice and encouraging, giving me tips,” Scott said.

He also praised Gouwens.

“Aaron has been a really big help on the mound,” Scott said. “I’m really competitive, so sometimes I get mad at myself if I’m not finding the zone right away, and Aaron’s always there calming me down, telling me to stay on my back hip longer. It’s great. Especially when we’re throwing a ’pen, he’s really encouraging and sees what I’m doing wrong.”

Scott has become even more important for the Vikings since standout junior Gavin Meyer was sidelined with an elbow injury. The Ohio State commit essentially has missed the month of May and has been preparing to undergo Tommy John surgery.

“With Gavin hurt, Jake has stepped up — him, Tanner (Post) and Spencer (Bandstra), (Gabe) Soto, all of our pitchers had to step up, and we have,” Jeff VanderWoude said. “And hitting-wise, Jake went from hitting down in the middle to bottom of the order to hitting three.

“He’s done awesome this year. He’s come up from JV and filled his role and then some. I expected him to be a starter, or at least compete for a starting spot. Not only did he take the first base job, he worked his way into the starting rotation for our pitching. He’s pitched great this year too.”

Scott, who also averaged 6.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 steals as Illiana Christian’s point guard during basketball season, figures to experience a couple of full-circle moments in the regional against Wheeler.

In his one varsity at-bat last season, Scott delivered a two-run single to left field in the Vikings’ regional win against Hebron, and the first varsity start of his career came in this season’s opener against the Bearcats.

“I’m just excited to play for a regional championship and hopefully get a trophy,” Scott said. “Especially playing at RailCats stadium, that’s exciting.

“Everybody’s selfless. We trust that the next guy is going to do their job if you don’t. Everybody plays for one another.”