When a spot in the rotation opened up, Loyola head coach Nick Bridich turned to senior Ben Wagner.

Expected to come out of the bullpen for the second consecutive season, the right-handed Wagner has been sensational in two starts for the Ramblers (5-1, 2-0 Catholic Blue). In 9 2/3 innings, he owns a 0.00 ERA and a WHIP of 0.62. He’s struck out 11 and walked none.

“It was the right to time for him, and he’s been great,” Bridich said. “He’s the epitome of what we preach. He’s unbelievably prepared and will put the team on his shoulders and go and compete.”

Wagner didn’t have to wait long. He started the team’s second game — the first of his varsity career — striking out four in five innings to earn the win in a 13-1 victory over Niles North on March 19 at home. He allowed two hits and one unearned run.

His line was even better in his second start, a 3-0 win over De La Salle on Tuesday at home. Wagner went 4 2/3 shutout innings, striking out seven and allowing four hits.

The addition of Wagner gives the Ramblers four dependable arms in the rotation. Senior Henry Haracz, senior PJ McKermitt and junior Joe McKermitt all have at least one start and have a collective ERA of 0.25.

“I like being a starter because I believe I get better as the game goes on,” said Wagner, who lives in Chicago and attended St. Mary of the Woods. “I feel like the second time around I can expose a hitter’s weakness.”

At 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, Wagner isn’t overpowering on the mound. Instead, he relies on movement and location.

“He throws quality pitches and has a wipeout changeup,” Bridich said.

Perhaps Wagner’s biggest strength, according to Bridich, is his mental toughness. As a junior, he was one of the first pitchers out of the bullpen, often coming into games under challenging circumstances.

“I like the big moment,” said Wagner, a team captain. “I like to have control of the game, and I don’t feel too much pressure.”

Added Bridich, “Nobody wants the ball more than Wags. He deserves to be in this position.”

Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola