VALPARAISO | Cole Webb was looking for a school and Valparaiso was looking for a pitcher. Once the pair found each other, it became a perfect match in more ways than one.
Losing Kevin Wild and Tyler Deetjen from a pitching staff that helped lead the Crusaders to their first NCAA tournament appearance was going to be difficult to overcome regardless of who signed with Valparaiso last summer.
Webb arrived from Coffeyville Community College reminding some of Wild, the reigning Horizon League Pitcher of the Year.
While sharing similar characteristics on the mound, Webb and Wild also share an unfortunate bond: losing a brother too soon.
“My brother (Casey) was a big motorcycle guy, and he and some friends were pulling out of a parking lot when someone put their bike down,” Webb said. “He was helping his friend up when a drunk driver drove through a blockade, killing five people, including my brother.”
The tragedy occurred more than five years ago when Webb was 16 and time has made it easier to talk about. Teammates approach the topic cautiously, with many still having lingering pain from when Wild’s brother was stabbed to death in a bar last season.
“I’ve told a few guys on the team and I’m really open to talk about it,” Webb said. “I’ve heard a lot of about Wild’s situation and the guys here knew him. The guys have been great.”
Webb steps on the mound wearing the same No. 9 that his brother used as a race-car driver. The junior hurler feels his brother when he is on the field and he and his other brother Chase, a former Creighton pitcher, have shared talks about playing for Casey.
“I know he is watching over me when I’m out there,” Webb said. “Casey would always come to our games when we were younger and we know that he is still there now.”
Webb has gotten off to a hot start in his Valparaiso career, having a 1.70 ERA through his first five starts. The Tulsa native leads the Crusaders with 22 strikeouts and a .154 opposing batting average.
“We knew that Cole had a bit of bulldog in him when we signed him,” Valparaiso coach Tracy Woodson said. “He is a guy that wants the ball and someone that is going to go out there and give you his best.”
The Crusaders finished their spring trip with an 8-11 record, the best that Valparaiso has had in the early season since Woodson took over the program in 2007. Woodson hopes for another trip to the NCAA tournament, but the seventh-year coach is worried that his squad is still stuck in last season at times.
“Some of our guys are still in awe about last year,” Woodson said. “It’s gone to some of their heads. I feel pressure because I want to win. That’s why I’m here. I want to win games and get back to the NCAA tournament.”