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HHS baseball hopes to ride improvements into next season

Senior pitcher Mat Nicklay fields a bunt and gets ready to throw against East Ridge in Miesville. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Sophomore Drew Davis throws the ball to first against Rosemount early in the season. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Senior pitcher Jake Brake rounds third against Woodbury as head coach Taylor Pagel gives instructions. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

The Hastings Raiders' baseball team goes into next season with momentum. They just finished their best season in years and certainly since they moved into the Metro East Conference. The Raiders ended the regular season two games over .500 with an 11-9 record and finished second in the MEC. At one point during the season, Hastings won nine straight MEC matchups. However, they struggled in nonconference play, going 0-4 in the regular season (Park, Rosemount, Woodbury and East Ridge) and 0-2 in the playoffs (East Ridge and Apple Valley).

Head coach Taylor Pagel said his team accomplished their goal of improving every day.

"Our biggest goal was to get better every day," Pagel said. "We proved that by improving our batting average, our QAB (quality at-bat) percentage and our nine-game conference win streak. They played much better baseball as the season went on."

It took the Raiders most of the start of the season to get their bats going, which Pagel said was one of the areas that did not quite meet expectations at first.

"Our hitting wasn't the strongest part of our game," he said. "Although it wasn't great, it got better and better as the season went on. It was too bad that the bats went cold again during section play."

On the other hand, Hastings' pitching was solid from the start to the end of the season. Seniors Jake Brake and Mat Nicklay led the pitching staff, as well as quality reliever Douglas Nordine.

"Our pitching was stellar this year," Pagel explained. "They started strong and finished strong. We were excited about the bulldog mentality each pitcher gave us every time they stepped on the mound."

Perhaps the highlight of the season was the Raiders' nine-game conference winning streak from April 28 until they lost their last MEC game of the season May 22. Over the streak, Hastings won five MEC games at home and four on the road while outscoring their opponents 60-30. Their only losses during that stretch came to Woodbury and East Ridge in a doubleheader in Miesville, and the Raiders had a chance to win both.

Pagel said their great finish this season has only raised expectations for next season and into the future.

"One of our goals each year is to play well in conference play and try to be a top team," he said. "We moved up this year to second in the conference, which is the best we had done in a long time. Our obvious goal for next year will be to win the conference."

Looking ahead to next season, Hastings will lose several key contributors to graduation. The team will lose 13 seniors, including both starting pitchers in Nicklay and Brake; first baseman Logan Radke; outfielders Cody Leflay, Logan Nelson, Brett Peine, Clay Harris, Kyle Greenlee and Nathaniel Wiese; catcher Cole Benson; and infielders Griffin Haas, Peyton Neuville and Peter Curtis.

"Our group of seniors played their hearts out every game," Pagel said about his graduating players. "It was never a doubt that they showed up to play and worked hard every game. We love that competitiveness and we thank them for giving us everything they had every day."

Despite having so many seniors this year, Pagel said that not many of them had varsity experience and he will face the same situation next year.

"We will be young, but we were young this year according to varsity playing time, not age," he explained. "Even though we had a lot of seniors this year, we didn't have many that had a lot of time at the varsity level. That will be the same for next year. We are hoping to get the boys prepped and ready a little sooner next year as we had a slow start this year."

Key contributors from this past season who will return are Nordine, infielders Michael Quinn, Cody Lewison and Drew Davis; and outfielder Cory Wolters.

"We will have a lot of new guys step in next year and many positions will be up for grabs," Pagel said. "We will look for our hardest workers and who will earn and deserve each position before each and every game. Cody Lewison, Michael Quinn and Douglas Nordine will be big contributors for next year and we will look to them to step up in a big way as they have had the most varsity experience."

Several Raiders received conference awards after the season. Leflay, Nicklay, Brake and Benson were named all-conference selections; while Lewison, Nordine and Harris received all-conference honorable mention recognition. Hastings also handed out team awards: Nicklay was named the Dan Carey "MVP" Award winner; Lewison was the Wyatt Kruse "Mr. Hustle" Award winner; Harris was the Gold Glove winner; Benson won the "QAB: Quality at Bat" winner; Nelson won the Doc Louden "Best Teammate" Award; and Quinn was named the Most Improved.

Alec Hamilton

Alec Hamilton is a sports reporter and general assignment reporter at the Hastings Star Gazette. He is a journalism graduate of Drake University.

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