Waukon baseball team wraps up 6-25 record during 2014 season

The Waukon baseball team played to an overall record of 6-25 this season, a mark second-year head coach Jerry Keenan says doesn’t necessarily reflect the potential that he saw in this year’s team that returned a dozen letterwinners with varsity experience from a nine-win crew one season earlier.
“I am not certain that our record was always indicative of the way that we were capable of playing,” Coach Keenan said. “The way we played the last two weeks of the season was very encouraging as we look forward to next season. I am proud of these young men for the way they represented our school district and our communities.”
Those final two weeks of the season saw this year’s Indians post as many wins for the year as they had in the first five-plus weeks of this summer’s campaign, winning three of their final seven games of the regular season. “The last two weeks of the season were the best baseball that we played all year and I think it showed on the diamond,” Coach Keenan explained.
In addition to those final two weeks of the season, Coach Keenan looked at the season as a whole for other notable aspects. “Season highlights include the players maintaining a positive attitude all season long,” he said. “This season also allowed us to gain a lot of experience on the mound and in the field for a lot of young players.”
Coach Keenan looked no further than home plate to try and explain his team’s slow start out of the gate this season, which saw the Indians post just three wins in their first 11 games before suffering through a 12-game losing streak to fall to a 3-20 overall record. The Tribe averaged just over seven hits and just under three runs per game this season, striking out (159) almost exactly as many times as they recorded a hit (160) during the season.
“We didn’t start the season hitting the ball well,” Coach Keenan explained. “We need to come out next year hitting the ball like we ended the season this year hitting. We have to be better with clutch hitting and our two-strike hitting approach.”
Four out of this season’s six wins for the Indians came against Northeast Iowa Conference (NEIC) teams, including those final three victories of the season and “bounce-back” victories where the Indians countered double-digit or near double-digit losses to Oelwein, New Hampton and Charles City in NEIC doubleheaders. That NEIC mark placed the baseball Indians in seventh place in the final seven-team league standings, just one game behind a Charles City team they won two of three games from this season.
Helping lead the way this season were four seniors, although only three of them were able to actually take the field this season. Hunter Hammel missed out on the entire season recovering from a knee injury suffered during the football season last fall, and joined fellow seniors Tyler Benzing, Parker Hesse and Sam Schwartz in wrapping up their high school athletic careers with completion of this summer season.
“All four of these young men are outstanding students and athletes,” Coach Keenan said. “I thank them for being positive role models for our team and for the young people of our communities. I appreciate a great deal the leadership that these guys provided. These guys will be missed and I wish them the best in all of their future plans.”
Despite that good share of senior leadership, it was mostly members of the junior class who posted pacesetting statistical numbers on this year’s squad. Juniors Sully Bucheit and Jake Ronan provided a majority of the offensive leadership for this year’s team, Bucheit driving in a team-high 17 runs on team second-best totals of 25 hits and a .309 batting average while Ronan paced the offense with 30 hits and a .337 batting average.
Both Ronan and Bucheit also contributed heavily to the Indian pitching efforts this season, each of them with over 34 innings pitched. Sophomore Haden Hammel emerged to the forefront of the Tribe’s mound efforts this season with 48-1/3 innings and a team-high 39 strike-outs and team-low earned run average (ERA) of 5.65.
For their efforts on the diamond this season, both Ronan and fellow junior Adam Benzing received All-Conference honors, Benzing being named a Second Team Infielder and Ronan receiving Honorable Mention. Ronan was also named Team MVP and Hesse was named as this year’s Jeff Houg Award winner for being most dedicated. Hesse was also named to the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Academic All-State Second Team, which is awarded to a senior who is a starter in 90% of a team’s games or in the pitching rotation, has an ACT score of 24 or higher or ranks in the top 20% of his class, has a grade point average (GPA) of 3.4 or higher, and has outstanding moral character.
With this year’s leadership numbers being posted by players eligible to return, Coach Keenan is optimistic about prospects for next season. But he also realizes that leading returning numbers won’t be enough to guarantee future success.
“The guys need to continue to throw in open gym opportunities,” he said. “I enjoy seeing the athletes also play in other sports, and wish them success in those areas as well.”