After a one week hiatus to prepare for my newest endeavor at KQWC I return to my humble hobby of typing away the fleeting thoughts of a sports fanatic. And because I’m pretty shameless when it comes to self-promotion, I’ll also take this opportunity to say that if you didn’t get a chance earlier this week, be sure to tune into KQWC 95.7FM on Monday at 11AM to catch the Any Given Monday Show. This newest project pits me against one hour of radio clock in a race to get as many hot sports takes over the airwaves as possible.
Well, now that I’ve gotten through all the legal mumbo jumbo, let’s jump into a topic that has me almost as excited as talking Kentucky Derby. It’s close. And yes I’ll have a short recap of the Run for the Roses in my next post Friday.
Being that this is the final full week before the summer sports season kicks off in the state of Iowa Monday, what better topic to broach for the first time then the sport I’ve spent more of my lifetime engaged in be it squatting behind the plate, shagging fly balls, or just announcing both ends of a doubleheader? This week’s diatribe will be to the magical sport of baseball.
I should mention that baseball was without a doubt the first sport I ever took part in, playing both T-ball and backyard pickup games before I even realized what a football or hockey puck was. My father was an avid baseball fan who played catcher right up to the point of walking on for a season at the University of Minnesota and I’m pretty sure the first book he ever bought me was The Science of Hitting by his lifelong idol Ted Williams. My father was the kind of even-keeled, old school ball coach who had passion but never drove me or anyone else he coached away from the game. Although, I will say he believed there was a right and wrong way to play the game that was non-negotiable. I’ll sum up his philosophy with one word, fundamentals.
I don’t know if there is a game in which the fundamentals are more important or rudimentary. I have yet to see a team that commits errors and runs themselves out of innings on the basepath win championships.
This brings me to the team I am now tasked with sizing up after just 5+ months of mostly winter spent in Webster City. It didn’t take long to figure out that the Lynx Baseball team is a program on the rise. The local nine enter Monday’s home opener against South Hamilton coming off of a 19 and 5 campaign in 2017 that saw them overtake the top of the North Central Conference standings.
Returning 6 of their top 10 bats from a team that hit .317 last year means this team should put up some runs. Losing seniors Corey Wagner, Riley Mishler, Brian Ferrel, and Ty Schnathorst to graduation means that some of the pop from last year’s upstart team will need to be replaced as that quartet accounted for just over half of the teams extra base hits (18/35) led primarily by Mishler who crushed opposing pitching to the tune of 13 extra base hits and a mind-number .739 Slugging Percentage. The good news is that after watching a handful of Head Coach Addison Kehoe’s practices, seldom used hitters from the 2017 team like Cam Moen, Austin Lampmann, Max Hackbarth, and Caleb Olson are sitting on breakout years after putting a lot of time in over the offseason at Diamond in the Rough’s indoor facility in Webster City.
As for the pitching, well it all goes back to the age-old mantra of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. The Lynx had a cumulative team ERA of 1.95 in 2017 while holding opposing hitters to a .183 batting average but striking those same batters out a whopping 218 times. While losing the senior leadership of last year’s #2 arm Brian Ferrel would hurt most teams, the Lynx simply have too many guns to believe there will be any dropoff this season. That is due in large part to the fact that all-state caliber southpaw Max Hackbarth returns to the Lynx lineup much to the dread of batters around the NCC. Hackbarth’s primary numbers are just staggering from last year: 0.52 ERA, 7-0 record, 103 strikeouts, and an opponent batting average of .126 in 54 innings thrown. Opposing pitchers that look across the diamond to see Max warming up face the ridiculous pressure of knowing that if they give up 2 runs their chances of winning are infinitesimal. Mix in fellow starters Cam Moen and Dylan Steen as well as flame-throwing closer Caleb Olson, all of whom posted opponent batting averages of .222 or less in 2017 and I just don’t see where the runs are going to come from for Lynx foes.
Essentially, this team is going to win games, quite a lot of games. So the question becomes what is the next step to propel a 19 win team from a year ago into a 2018 Iowa State Tournament bid?
In my opinion, it will come down to defense. The Lynx are no slouches at fielding the ball but that is as close as you’ll find to a weakness on this team. Grading defense in high school baseball can be tough as home coaches aren’t always the quickest to mark an error on a questionable play but digging into the 2017 numbers, you can see some area for improvement. The Lynx committed 38 errors in 24 games, good for an above-average .942 fielding percentage. But according to Coach Kehoe, some of those iniquities showed up at inopportune times, “Late in the distract playoff game against Gilbert, we had one out with a runner on with Cam pitching. He got a tailormade double play ground ball that should have gotten us off the hook but we ended up with no outs on the play and Gilbert hung a 6 spot on us that inning.” Webster City would go on to watch its magical season go down the drain by a score of 9 to 4 in a game they led 3 to 1 after 3 innings. A loaded team that was brought down by that annoying aspect of sport, fundamentals.
One thing I can tell you is that the enthusiasm is there for this team. There’s a buzz. Addison Kehoe treats these kids like men at every practice. He gets as fired up as anyone when they make plays but he has no problem chewing the proverbial rear-end on the rarest occasions when he doesn’t think the focus is there. Luckily for him, through three weeks of practice this onlooker has seldom heard the former division 1 caliber catcher raise his voice for anything other then adoration and the occasional, joking smack talk. And that is because this year’s Lynx roster has high expectations that are right in line with those of their field general.
One thing is for certain, it should be a fun summer on the diamond for anyone wearing purple and gold.