With a roster of talented freshmen and sophomores, the future’s bright for Hebron baseball.
The big question for this spring is, how much of that potential will be realized now?
“I think we’ve got the foundation set, we just need to get a little game experience and I think we can be good,” Hawks coach John Steinhilber said. “I’m as excited as I was when I first got here, the group with Damon Wallace, Kyle (Hernandez), Cody Hayes, when we had Hunter (Ryan), Tyler (Patrick), Logan (Ryan), Travis (Patrick), (Luke) Woodward, Chad (Patrick), all those guys. We can see we’ve got kids we’re going to be able to work with for four years. I really like where we’re going.”
But for seniors like Matt Clark and Drew Grennes, there’s nothing but the present.
“The future’s now, showing we can compete with the top teams, showing we’re the best on the field,” Clark said. “I think we can win. Why not? We have stuff to prove still.”
Steinhilber anticipated having six or seven freshmen and sophomores making their high school debuts in the lineup when Hebron takes the field Tuesday at La Porte for its season opener.
“We’re a young team. We’ve just got to try to lead them, help them out,” Grennes said. “They’ve been playing since they were 2. They know how to play. They will be helping us, too. It’s a give and take thing. They’ll help us and we’ll be there for them, too. We just have to improve throughout the season, play our best baseball in the sectional. That’s we strive to do.”
While they didn’t have a 2020 season, Steinhilber was strongly encouraged by the high level of summer and fall participation.
“What we know is how well we know our kids,” he said. “We are going to be young. The sophomore group, my son is in that group, I’ve seen ’em all play. We have freshmen who have surprised the heck out of us. We’re really in the midst of having the pitching staff we had four, five years ago. It’s an unknown, but I think it is for everybody. One thing I can base it on, losing the spring is, did you play in the summer? did you play in the fall? Out of 24 kids, I think 15 played fall ball. That’s unheard of here. It’s usually five or six. Probably 12 or 13 played summer ball, and they were playing 16 to 18s, facing guys we’re going to be facing.”
Hebron’s pitching staff features Tucker Patrick, the last in the line of a talented family that includes brothers Tyler and Trevor and cousin Chad, Jackson Peeler, Matt Clark, Gage Swinford, Trevor Roy and Landon Hale. Several others will also get the ball.
“The pitching coaches (Tyler Patrick and Zac Hernandez) are excited with what they have seen,” Steinhilber said. “Matt’s our best pitcher coming back. We’ll be pitching pitchers who didn’t have freshman seasons. We’re not coming out throwing guys seven innings. The first four games will be scripted. We graduate one pitcher, so we have the rest back for two, three years. We’re really blessed with that.”
Isaiah Steinhilber and Hale will handle the catching duties.
“I think they’re going to be a pretty good duo,” coach Steinhilber said. “Taking advice from our two former catchers on our staff helps.”
Peeler will anchor the infield at short with Patrick at first. Grennes plays the corners, Clark also works at third, and Roy is also an infielder. All will see significant time since Peeler and Patrick pitch.
“Tucker’s been crushing the ball,” Steinhilber said. “We knew Jackson was going to be our shortstop.
Kyle Ludwig will start in the outfield, while Swinford’s bat will get him in the lineup somewhere. Outfielder Noah Click is playing for the first time since eighth grade.
“I just worry about hitters because we’re young,” Steinhilber said. “The lineups are going to be different the first round. We’ll try to give guys some at-bats. If we can get through April, get some warm weather, since I’ve been here, when it’s gotten warm, we’ve really hit here. This is the best (weather) we’ve ever had (in the pre-season). We’ve had live pitching four, five times. We’ve never had that.”
A challenging start with La Porte, North Newton, Valparaiso and Kankakee Valley will put the Hawks to the test early.
“I don’t think we will be, but I told the kids, if we’re 0-4, as long as we’re learning, getting better, I don’t care,” Steinhilber said.
Clark and Grennes will take it upon themselves to help the younger players work through the grind of a varsity season.
“Just show them the type of attitude you have to have out there,” Clark said. “Especially as young kids, they think they have to make every play. Even if they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. They just have to show what they’re made of out there, show they can come back from mistakes, staying enthusiastic, and still be good. Us leading them will show them an example of how to do it, and help them and us get better throughout this season and it will eventually pay off when we’re not here.”
After not having a junior season, both seniors are thankful just to be playing again.
“It feels good to finally be back out playing the sport I really love playing,” Clark said. “Not having a junior season was really sad. I felt last year we also had a really good team coming up. We lost three of the seniors we would have had. It was crushing to have that taken away from us, but we’re happy to be back.”
Hebron’s coaching staff also includes JV coach Wayne Straka and varsity assistant Chris Wiltfang. All the assistants are also Hebron graduates.