Cleaned-up approach has dirty rewardsApril 18, 2017
By BRENDAN PERKINS
LINCOLN CITY — At last, Adam Hedinger gets to run the washing machine.
Well, check that. He has an assist on that chore. “Yeah, mom’s going to be a little disappointed she has to wash this jersey,” the Jasper catcher said, looking down and surveying the dirt on his uniform that he took home from Lincoln City on Monday after the Class 3A No. 1 Wildcats earned a 4-0 shutout of Heritage Hills. So far this season, Hedinger and Noah Weidenbenner have had an arrangement: whenever Hedinger reaches base, Weidenbenner supplants him as a courtesy runner on the basepaths. But with the rate Hedinger has been hitting lately, a reward seemed prudent so he could run the bases and finish the deal for himself.
“I wouldn’t like it,” Jasper coach Terry Gobert said. “Work my butt off, get on base, get taken out.”
“I don’t get the luxury that much,” added Hedinger, who caught the one-hit pitching of Jacob Lents and Seth Mendel. “I think everybody in the ballpark knows that Weidenbenner’s a little faster than me.”
Monday’s sixth-inning scenario — a 3-0 lead and no outs when Hedinger laced a leadoff single — was tailor-made for giving Hedinger a shot on the basepaths. He earned his dirty badge of honor diving back to third base after he and Eric Nordhoff both slipped at almost the same time rounding the corner bases, as Heritage Hills’ grassed-in basepaths and early-game showers made for a slippery track. Trevor Krapf’s sacrifice fly allowed Hedinger to rumble home on a night where Patriot pitcher Spencer Buse limited the Cats (8-1) to five hits, yet Gobert emerged more pleased with his ongoing quest for better approach.
The bottom of the order helped satisfy the demand. No. 9 hitter Josh Weidenbenner reached twice and scored twice when Jasper turned over the lineup for Evan Aders to lift a sacrifice fly and Austin Simmers to bash an RBI triple. Connor O’Brien, who’d had four at-bats all season, singled to open the fifth inning, when the Cats added two runs to a 1-0 edge that was in jeopardy an inning earlier when Heritage Hills (2-9) assembled a bases-loaded threat.
“Quality at-bat would be Krapf coming in with two strikes, and you’re trying to stay away from him and he just laces the ball to right-center. That’s a good at-bat, instead of trying to pull the ball. We had more hard-hit balls,” Gobert said. “O’Brien was a plus … he hasn’t really started other than on the mound, and he’s been working hard, he came in and he hit the ball hard, so it was good to see Connor come in and contribute.”
Likewise, Hedinger’s adjusted approach has allowed him to become one of the Cats’ better bats as of late. In going 0-for the first couple games of the season, either walks or strikeouts were the usual end result and Gobert saw someone who was capable but pressing. “You’re getting yourself out,” Gobert told him. But since that intervention, Hedinger has repaired his average to .364 thanks to heady at-bats like going to the opposite field or waiting on a breaking ball, which he did for first of Monday’s two hits.
It doesn’t hurt that another whirlwind is finally behind Hedinger. A year ago at this time, he was simultaneously fighting for the status of being the everyday catcher as well and doing so under the weight of leading a veteran pitching staff. “Things were probably spinning pretty quick,” Gobert said. Hedinger can confirm, as he called last season’s breaking-in process “overwhelming” at times.
“I had to focus on making the right calls on the defensive side, but now that I have under my belt the confidence, it helps that I can stay back and just focus on hitting right now, just doing what Coach tells me to do,” Hedinger said. “Especially with one year under my belt, that (offensive) approach has been brought to me by those seniors last year, they really helped me out with that and being simple and just driving it the other way.”
Hedinger also nearly steered the Wildcats through their second no-hitter of the season, a bid that remained into the fifth inning until Patriot pinch-hitter Alberto Lopez drove a single to left. Lents (3-0) still chalked up his second shutout of the season before Mendel cleaned up the final two innings with the help of Noah Luebbehusen’s running, over-the-shoulder grab in foul ground.
Buse supplied a presence on the mound to help Heritage Hills keep pace. For a second straight start, the sophomore hurled a complete game while the Pats were shut out, and even though Buse is yet to win in three decisions, Patriot coach Greg Gogel said he’s providing an ideal model for the rest of the Pats’ staff.
“He was a workhorse, he did a nice job again tonight competing,” Gogel said. “He keeps on getting a little bit better. He pitched the whole thing for us and did a good job and managed his pitch count. We just hope for him to improve and we need some of the other pitchers to continue to get better as well and compete like he did.”
The next step is answering a riddle, as “everything’s been kind of a Catch-22 so far this year,” said Gogel, explaining that some of his team’s most reliable defenders have labored at the plate, and some of the best hitters have struggled at times defensively.
“We’ve got about five or six guys where that’s been the scenario, so it’s been very difficult putting the pen to the lineup card with great trust and anticipation of what you’re going to get,” said Gogel, mentioning the spark that’s arrived from freshmen as Cayden Kratzer knocked three hits in Saturday’s loss to Boonville and Simon Scherry came about 20 feet from launching one out of the park Monday. “But let’s keep on lining it up and putting it out there, and hopefully everybody will buy in and we’ll get it all put together.”
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