When senior Tyler Denu steps onto the pitcher's mound for the Mount Horeb Vikings, the air gets electric.
With an average fastball that hovers in the mid-80-mph range, sometimes brushing as high as 87 mph, Denu's opponents have roughly less than half a second to decide to swing before his pitch travels 60½ feet and over home plate.
As a child, Denu came to learn the game of baseball by playing in local recreation leagues. He stuck with it, and by the time he was a freshman at Mount Horeb, Denu already was on the radar of baseball coach Ryan Finley.
“Our team was pretty young that year,” Finley recalled. “We knew Denu was going to be a really good player for us, but we we didn't have too many new players on the team and we were mostly building for the next season.”
Denu used that year to improve his skills and bond with his teammates. As his sophomore year rolled around, the Vikings already had a cast of seniors returning, and the coaches were not exactly sure of Denu's place on the team.
“We knew he would do a great job for us, but we had two senior pitchers coming back and we weren't sure what role he'd fit in,” Finley said.
The pitching staff decided to give their young player a chance to throw the ball — a wise decision, as it turned out. The Vikings went 20-7 that season, their first positive finish since an 18-6 record in 2013.
Denu started on the mound in 49 consecutive innings that year and was a crucial part of his team's success. He even notched his first perfect game, throwing a no-hitter against conference foe Portage.
It was during this performance that Denu's coaches knew they had a special player that could combine power with reliability.
“He just hopped right in there,” Finley said. “Before you knew it, he was setting down the other teams.”
In his junior year, Denu wasted little time picking up where he left off, throwing his second perfect game in the 2018 non-conference season opener against Lodi.
Now in his final year of high school, Denu has already verbally committed to pitching for the University of Evansville (Indiana), after scouts were impressed during a summer showcase hosted by Prep Baseball Report.
“The invite showcase was the first time I hit 87 mph,” Denu said. “After that, (the recruiters) started talking to me and watched me play through the summer on my travel team.”
In February, Denu was “really excited” to take an official visit to Evansville, where he became familiar with the coaches and met with other recruits. According to the university's website, Evansville's 2019 recruitment class also includes three right-handed pitchers, another left-handed pitcher, four infielders, an outfielder and a catcher.
"Tyler is a bulldog competitor on the mound (and) will compete for innings right away as a freshman,” said University of Evansville's pitching coach, A.J. Gaura. “He is a live left-handed arm who fills up the zone. We're excited to see Tyler's growth as a pitcher when he takes to playing only baseball year-round."
For now, though, Denu is completely focused on building a strong season for the Vikings and perhaps leading Mount Horeb to its first state tournament appearance since 1987. So far, the Vikings are off to a 3-1 start and have given up only six runs — five in a loss against DeForest in which Denu did not pitch.
“I'm working to get my speed up more, working on new pitches, even just my command on the plate,” Denu said. “What I enjoy most (about baseball) is getting to know everyone and having fun with my team.