Hesston College baseball has finally taken the diamond.
The team opened up their season in Texas against Richland College (Dallas), playing a two-day, four-game series that ended 1-3. On Friday, they won their first game 16-14 after going into extra innings and lost their second game 7-2. The next day they lost both games ending 7-3 in the first and 8-3 in the second before heading home.
Despite the overall outcome, players say the time spent in Texas was more productive than the numbers suggest.
“The weekend didn’t go as planned, but now that jitters are out of the way, we’re going to grow from our mistakes,” said Isaiah Martinez, a sophomore outfielder. “It wasn’t as bad of a weekend as the record shows, it was a productive weekend, it was a learning experience for everybody, and we’re going to build off of it and keep going forward.”
For head coach Kyle Howell, the adjustments needed are mechanical: cutting down on strikeouts offensively and limiting free bases from the pitching and the defensive end. Assistant coach Courtney Spitz says it’s more about mental endurance, which was missing against Richland.
With two freshman in the outfield, a full staff of pitchers that are mostly freshman, and sophomores coming back that didn’t get a lot of playing time last year due to injuries, the Larks team is relatively pretty young. Sometimes with a young group of college students, keeping mental focus can be a challenge. But Spitz believes it’s possible.
“I think they get how important it is to keep that focus, but you got to keep in mind that we’re dealing with 18-year-old kids,” he said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into their day, not just a baseball game.”
This freshman class is the first class Spitz and Howell exclusively recruited.
“The kids we brought in understand the big picture, our grind, and our process in order to be the team we want to be,” said Spitz. “I would say the biggest difference we’ll see this year is our energy is going to be at a higher level throughout the entire season.”
Included in this years freshman class, is pitcher Jacob Harris (El Paso, Texas). His coaches and teammates have high expectations for him on the mound this season. Headed into his first collegiate game of the season, he had expectations of his own.
“It’s not what I expected, I wish I would’ve performed better,” said Harris. “I was missing my location but the fielders made good plays. It was a good feeling having my first collegiate start and getting it out of the way.”
Martinez felt that the series was overall a good start for the team.
“We’re in a good spot right now,” said Martinez. “I think we’re off to a really good start hitting wise, and it’s just little things here and there that need to be cleaned up with the pitchers and defensive things.”
Both Harris and Martinez felt the energy fade away after their first game and would have to agree that it’s something they need to work on.
“Coming into the first game, I knew we had a lot of confident kids,” said Martinez. “I knew everyone who was going to start that game had a confident mentality that we’re going to go out there and win. We carried that into the other games, but after that it died down.”
Harris made it simple:
“We just need to be able to transition from game one to game two with the same energy.”
In previous seasons the Larks had to beat Brown Mackie in a five-game series in order to make it to regionals. However, this year is different. This season, the Larks have to win half of their games against NJCAA competition. While that relieves some of the pressure of the postseason, it emphasizes the importance of winning every game.
For coaches Howell and Spitz, that’s something they’re looking forward to.
“I’m looking forward to every game having some meaning,” said Howell. “ Every game is really important and we’re going to lose games but we’re going to have to find a way to come back and win the next one.”