A 15-24-1 (7-19 in the WaMaC) record doesn’t begin to tell the story of the improvements the West Delaware baseball team made during its season. With only two seniors and several other players with limited varsity experience, the Hawks battled through inconsistency and inexperience to play their best baseball in July.
All anyone has to do to see how much the West Delaware baseball team matured throughout the season is to look back on the Hawks’ final game of the year, a 4-3 16-inning loss to Central DeWitt in the Class 3A District Tournament.
On paper, the game looked like a mismatch. Central DeWitt entered the contest sporting a 35-3 record, while the Hawks were 15-23-1. But the Hawks went toe to toe with the Sabers, earning the respect of everyone who witnessed the game.
“That game had so many different emotions tied to it,” head coach Nate Lahr said, “Even in a loss that ended our season I could not be prouder of how our players performed in that game. To see how Nick (Casey) and Jared (Voss) pitched under the pressure throughout extra innings was a really fun thing to watch as a coach.”
Casey, along with Ben Ridenour, were the lone seniors for the Hawks.
“Those two mean a lot to West Delaware baseball,” Lahr explained. “Over the past five years, those two have represented our program as well as I could imagine. Going into our spring workouts both these two were rehabbing knee injuries and couldn’t participate fully in everything we were doing.”
Lahr said that allowed the two seniors to help younger players. “It gave them the opportunity to be more hands on with our younger players to instruct and help them improve. Both guys continued to model what it takes to be a successful baseball player in their demeanor in games and practice and in the constant extra work they put in outside of practice times.”
Lahr said that while it may have been easy to give up as the team struggled, neither Casey nor Ridenour would have any of that. “Both of them handled this season with so much maturity and never once decided to relax because things were not going well. In a lineup that featured four to five, and in one game, six freshmen in the lineup, to have seniors with the character and leadership of these two was so important for the improvement of the team.”
As Lahr expected, he saw his team get better as the season progressed. “We improved in most areas of the game. Offensively, our hitters made some big strides over the last third of the season. Being in the WaMaC East, we had the opportunity to compete against some of the best pitchers in our area.”
Different players provided the offense at different times. “Logan Woellert and Kyle Cole were our two hitters with some early-season success,” Lahr said. “During the middle of the season, we relied on Casey, Cole and Voss to provide a lot of our offense. As we came down the stretch, we started hitting the ball harder to all fields and putting the ball in play more with two strikes throughout the lineup. We saw improvements from Ridenour, Chris La Rosa and Luke Kehrli in these areas toward the end of the season.”
On the mound, Lahr used several pitchers. “When our pitchers threw strikes we improved and were more successful. Early in the season, we felt we gave away some games due to all the walks and hit batters our pitchers allowed.”
While Lahr knew he would rely on Casey, Voss, Woellert and Lukas Meyer on the mound, others contributed. “Two nice surprises were Cole and Chad Bishop. It was a little unexpected coming into the season. Chad led us in innings until the last week of the season and Kyle ended up starting both our postseason games.”
Besides the 16-inning game, Lahr mentioned other highlights to the season. “Team victories over Cascade and Independence, along with pitching well and playing clean defensively really was our best recipe for success. Nick Casey striking out 17 batters in the second game of a doubleheader against Benton Community, along with each and every one of our players having some performance they can be proud of this season.”
Lahr also noted the birth of his daughter, Morgan, in June as a season highlight.
Lahr gave credit to his assistant coaches, not only for how they handled things when he was gone when his daughter was born, but also for the team’s improvement throughout the year.
“I am so grateful to be able to coach with Kevin Werner, Randy Turner and Dunston Werner. Kevin and Randy have lots of experience and a wealth of baseball knowledge they try to give to our athletes daily. Dunston is new to coaching, but he is going to be a really good coach for a long time. Not only do we have three great baseball coaches, but also three great role models for our athletes to learn from and grow as people.”
Statistical leaders for the Hawks were: batting average — Casey .288, Cole .287 and Kehrli .271; hits — Casey 34, Cole 33 and Kehrli 29; RBIs — Casey 20, Voss 19 and Ridenour 18; pitching record — Voss 3-3, Woellert 3-4 and Meyer 3-4; earned run average — Voss 1.00, Cole 1.25 and Zach Goebel 3.05; strikeouts — Casey 78, Voss 29 and Cole 27.