Phil Friend, Lansing State Journal
When Wyatt Rush stepped on the Lansing Community College campus to pitch in the fall of 2017, his fastball was topping out at 83 miles per hour.
But almost a year later, the Grand Ledge graduate's velocity has improved to 91 mph. With a number like that, Division I and II college programs were sure to come calling.
And Rush has answered that call to one university: Michigan State.
Rush gave his verbal commitment to coach Jake Boss Jr. and the Spartans on Thursday. He'll complete his sophomore season at LCC in the spring before making the move to East Lansing in the fall.
"It's been a dream of mine since I was 5 years old to play for Michigan State," Rush said. "Being a hometown kid growing up right down road, I've been going to Michigan State football and basketball games my whole life. The baseball program's great, the coaching staff's great and I felt like everything about it was a perfect situation."
The 6-foot-3 sophomore was electric in his inaugural campaign with LCC, setting program records for wins (10) and ERA (2.09). He also struck out 86 batters in 77 2/3 innings, good for a 9.96 strikeouts-per-9-innings ratio in helping the Stars (40-12) reach the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region XII District 1 quarterfinals and being named a second-team All-American.
"He really put himself on the map and proved he's one of the best junior college pitchers in the nation," LCC baseball coach Drew Huard said.
Rush chose MSU over Central Michigan and Davenport, and also had interest from Michigan, Xavier and Murray State.
Huard said colleges were attracted to Rush's ability to throw four pitches consistently for strikes: fastball, curveball, slider and changeup.
"First and foremost, he's a winner. Everywhere he's played, he's won at every level," Huard said. "He competes at a very high level, that's his strongest attribute."
Rush came into LCC weighing around 175 pounds and has bulked up to 200, which has helped with the improved velocity. The most positive change in his delivery came from getting more power from his legs.
"Once I actually learned to get into my backside and started driving down the mountain, the velocity really started to jump up," Rush said. "Coming out of high school, I didn't really have all the tools necessary to be a Division 1 baseball player. The two years (at LCC) ended up being the perfect opportunity that I needed. I went from a middle-of-the-road player to being good enough to play for coach Boss."
Where Rush fits in at MSU, whether as a starter, middle reliever or closer, time will tell.
"I'm going to come in this fall and give coach Boss everything I've got in the tank and go from there," Rush said. "Look to impress somebody every single day."
Rush was no stranger to pitching success in high school at Grand Ledge. In the 2017 season, he finished the regular season with a 9-0 record, 0.65 ERA and 56 strikeouts. He wasn't too shabby at the plate, either, with a .440 batting average, 2 home runs and 40 RBIs in being named to the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Dream Team and earning first-team all-state honors in Division 1.
Rush is the fifth LCC player to commit to a Division I or II program this year, joining Tyler Hall (Ball State), Grant Jebbia (Louisiana Lafayette), Michael Stygles (Oakland) and Michael Barno (Grand Valley State).
Huard said he expects five or six others on this year's team to also make the jump.
Through a combination of factors — including playing at venues such as U-M, CMU and Eastern Michigan, along with the help of development from the coaching staff and strength and conditioning coach Nate Schafer — Huard says the LCC baseball program has become a destination for coaches looking for top-end talent in the junior college ranks.
"A lot of it comes down to perception," Huard said. "It's changed to where I was calling Division I schools and begging them to come to our facility, and now it's the opposite. They're showing up to our (batting practice) sessions, Division 1 teams are asking us to play them in the fall, showing up to our games.
"Now we're looked at as one of the best junior college programs in the state of Michigan and the kids have built that foundation."