NORFOLK, Neb. – Coming off a historic run at the NJCAA DII Baseball National Tournament, and ultimately placing fifth in 2019, the No. 11 Northeast Community College baseball team will have its eyes set on new goals when it takes on defending national champions, Northern Oklahoma College-Enid at 1 p.m. Saturday at David Allen Memorial Ballpark in Enid, Okla.
“Our season really comes down to the development, the growth and the maturing week in and week out and how we handle the highs and lows of a full season” head coach Marcus Clapp said. “Ultimately, we have to be playing our best ball at the conference tournament to give us a shot at repeating.”
The Hawks were a force to reckon with last spring, after rattling off five-straight wins in the Region XI Tournament, before sweeping Miles Community College in the North Plains District Championship and earning a berth to the national tournament in just the programs second year under Clapp. Clapp was named the District Coach of the Year and the Midlands Men’s College Coach of the Year by the Omaha World-Herald.
The Hawks finished 37-19 overall, while going 2-2 at the national tournament and finished in the top-30 nationally in many offensive categories, including: doubles (97), hits (499), home runs (56), extra base hits (162) and total bases (782).
Heading into 2020, the Hawks lose a large portion of their offensive output. First Team All-American Drew Smith signed with NCAA DI Grand Canyon University and was named the NJCAA DII Baseball Player of the Year after putting up video game-like numbers. Smith hit .456 to go along with a .538 on-base percentage and an .897 slugging percentage. He tallied 18 home runs, 69 RBI and 166 total bases.
For his efforts, he was named a First Team All-American, ICCAC DII Baseball Player of the Year, ICCAC DII Baseball Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-Region XI and NJCAA DII Baseball World Series All-Tournament Team.
He ranked in the top-5 nationally in total bases (2nd), hits (3rd), home runs (4th), RBI (4th), slugging percentage (4th) and batting average (5th).
Christian Dumont, Bryce Walker, Donovan Warren, Jackson Tingwald and Cale Hlavac contributed immensely to the Hawks’ dominant season, including pitchers Andrew Shaw, Lane Koetter, Dylan Nicholson and Sebastian Rodriguez, just to name a few.
The new year brings a plethora of new faces, while returning a handful of experienced players. Two-way player Brennen Bales (Nebraska City, Neb.) returns after redshirting in 2019 and Western Illinois University commit Derek Botaletto (Omaha, Neb.) adds leadership at the shortstop position. Last season, Botaletto hit .302 with 29 RBI, 10 doubles and four home runs, including a .406 on-base percentage. Outfielder Jayden Sinju (Murray, Utah) returns after a breakout freshman campaign where he hit 11 doubles, nine home runs and tallied 50 RBI and a .310 batting average.
“We have some key sophomores that are back with a lot of experience and have World Series experience,” Clapp added. They know what it takes to play through a long season and postseason. Those men will bring valued knowledge and understanding to this team.”
Catcher Spencer Weber (Bennington, Neb.) looks to take the next step behind the dish after recording 79 at-bats and three home runs last season. Mills Macek (Blair, Neb.) also hopes to have a solid sophomore season after playing in 28 games a year ago. On the mound, Hunter Kelchner (Grand Junction, Colo.) and Dylan Wright (Sydney, Australia) hope to see their role increase heading into 2020.
The main story remains in the talent that Clapp and assistant coaches, Bladen Bales, Landon Briscoe and Derron Davis have recruited to fill roles as pitchers and position players.
“We will have quite a few freshmen that are going to be a big part of our success this year, especially on the mound,” Clapp said.
Cooper Whitt (Knoxville, Tenn.), Houston Fogelstrom (Omaha, Neb.), Caiden Hill (Papillion, Neb.), Ty Hansen (Edmond, Okla.) and Ben Prediger (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) will look to crack the starting lineup after having decorated high school careers. Hill and Hansen bring experience after transferring from the junior college and NCAA ranks, respectively.
In terms of pitching, Matt Dreher (Blair, Neb.), Nate Zyzda (Sioux City, Iowa), Jeremy Schneider (Lovell, Wyo.), Tanner Olmstead (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Grady Hatton (Omaha, Neb.), Dylan Rodgers (Norfolk, Neb.) and Chris Mazzini (Parker, Colo.) will push for starting and relief roles when the season gets underway on Saturday.
“It takes hard work and drive and want to and a willingness to put team before me,” Clapp said. “It’s a long season and we have to learn how to handle success and adversity. If we trust the process and believe in ourselves and our teammates, we are building the culture of Northeast baseball and the success will follow.”