There were plenty of times when Marshall's Drew Hmilewski could have packed it in - times back in sixth and seventh grade when his arm and his shoulder began to hurt and he wasn't sure if he wanted to pitch anymore.
There were times when he and the strikzone felt like they were speaking different dialects. He could have quit then, too.
But walking away has just never been Hmilewski's thing.
Independent file photo
player of the year
1.71 ERA, 43 Ks
.465 Avg., 23 RBI, 33 R, 40 hits, 6 XB hits,
"Back then I would have trouble finding the zone and my arm would hurt," Hmilewski said. "I didn't think I was that good. I didn't want to give up though. I wanted to become better at pitching. I didn't want to give up on it just because I didn't think I was that good."
Hmielewski began toyng with the idea of spending more time on the mound as a freshman but still wasn't sure.
After putting in more work over the summer, his sophomore year brought change.
"Something seemed to click," Hmielewski said. "It took off. I really started to work at at it. I fell in love with pitching."
Hmilewski said he started to hit the strikezone with more fluidity. He also started to enjoy one of the more gamesmanlike clashes within a war in all of sports.
"I love the battle between the hitter and the pitcher," he said. "It's kind of a mindgame. What does he think I'm going to throw and what do I actually throw?"
There are other factors that play into Hmilewski's enjoyment of being on the mound. He even find ways to spin negatives into positives.
"It's just as much of a mental game as it is a physical game," Hmielewski said. "If you don't have your curveball, you have to find a way to find it or get around it- Whether it's hitting the zone in different spots or pitching a different pitch."
There are also numerous factors that make Hmilewski successful. For starters, he has the genes.
Drew's mother, Mary Jo (Miller) Hmilewski, was a standout athlete at Tracy-Milroy (now Tracy Area) High School and later went on to play basketball at Kanasas State. She is tied for the single-game assist record and has the fifth most single-season assists. His father, Chris, played baseball (pitcher and first base) at Kansas State before being drafted by the Montreal Expos and making it to AA Harrisburg.
Chris and Drew have spent a lot of time outside of organized practices honing his craft.
"He taught me a lot of about the mechanics," Hmielewski said. "He always told me to use proper mechanics, so I don't hurt my shoulder or my elbow. He always stressed that if you do it right, it will come."
It came in a special way for Drew this past season when the Tigers played host to Worthington.
Hmilewski struck out 10 and helped get three more outs with his glove, tossing a perfect game in a 7-0 Marshall victory (He was also 2-for-4 with an RBI that game).
He also has developed attributes on the mound that can't be taught.
"This year we saw Drew throw with a lot of velocity," Marshall manager Chace Pollock said. "In order to get velocity, a kid just has to go out and throw. You can't teach velocity."
Work ethic and the willingness to want to improve is something that also came naturally for Hmielewski.
Pollock and his teammates have seen examples of this on many occasions.
"He's a really hard worker and he's never content," Pollock said. He'll stay after practice taking extra swings, throwing more pitches and taking extra grounders. He's continuing to get better."
Hmilewski feels his "never give up" attitude is his strongest asset. There were times this past season where it proved to be contagious to the rest of his teammates.
The Tigers were down 10-0 after two innings in their second game of the season against Lac qui Parle Valley before they slowly chipped away.
They scored two in the third inning, four in the fourth, eight in the fifth and three more in the sixth and went on to win 17-13.
Teammate Connor Winkleman picked up the pitching win, and Hmielewski finished 1-for-3 with an RBI and scored a run.
Though Pollock claims he hasn't had to do much and that Hmilewski has done most of it himself, Hmielewski credits Pollock a lot for his success.
"He makes sure we have the fundamentals down," Hmilewski said. "He makes sure we do things the right way. He's always pushing us to get better. He's been behind us and been behind me this whole season and always making sure were hungry."
Hmilewski's offensive sats are not to be forgotten. On top of his 1.71 ERA and his 43 strikeouts, he finished with a .465 batting average - the highest in the area for someone with at least 80 at-bats.
He drove in 23 runs, scored 33 himself and finished with 40 hits. Six of those were extra base hits.
"Drew has tremendous batspeed," Pollock said. "He put up those numbers against tough competitition. Our conference had some really good pitchers. He faced a tough pitcher almost every time out."
He still has two more years of high school baseball left and, scary as this is for the conference opponents, he still has a lot more room to grow.
"I always had a battle with myself on if I wanted to pitch or not," Hmilewski said. "I almost decided I didn't want to pitch anymore. I'm glad I didn't give it up beceause it's a lot more fun now."
All Area First Team:
Neil Eichten- Wabasso
37 2/3 IP, 13 ER, 2.42 ERA, 4 wins, 3 saves, 42 K, 79 AB, 33 H, .418 Avg, 18 RBI, 26 R, 38 SB, 6 XB hit
Noah Winkleman- Marshall
86 AB, 35 H, .407 Avg, 34 RBI, 21 runs, 11 SB, 5 XB hits
TJ Van Perseum- Murray County Central
59 AB, 25 H, .424 Avg, 15 RBI, 22 R, 8 SB, 9 XB hits
Kristian Leppke- Canby
96 IP, 26 ER, 1.86 ERA, 10 wins, 84 Ks
.375 BA, 24 H, 23 RBI, 23 R, 2 HR, 2 3B, 6 2B.
Bayley Enstad - Lakeview
36 IP, 15 ER, 2.92 ERA, 38 AB, 13 H, .342 Avg, 11 RBI, 7 R, 8 SB, 3 XB hits
Connor Winkleman- Marshall
38 1/3 IP- 4 ER, 0.73 ERA, 4 wins, 45 K, 93 AB, 37 H, .398 AVg, 19 RBI, 35 R, 18 SB, 12 XB hits
Nick Petersen- Murray County Central
9MCC- 47 AB, 19 H, .404 Avg, 17 RBI, 12 Runs, 6 HR, 8 XB hits
All-Area Second Team:
Taylor Carlson- T-M-B 44 2/3 IP, 14 ER, 2.19 ERA, 3 Wins, 1 Save, 69 K
Bryce Gorder- Canby 51 IP, 22 ER, 3.02 ERA, 4 Wins, 63 K
Josh Altermatt- Wabasso 54 IP, 17 ER, 2.20 ERA, 5 W, 62 K
Peyton Nuy- Minneota/LHI 38 IP- 16 ER, 2.95 ERA, 6 Wins 42 K
Seth Boerboom- Lakeview 51 IP, 12 ER, 1.65 ERA, 5 Wins, 38 K
Carl Douglas- Marshall 42 2/3 IP- 12 ER, 1.97 ERA, 4 Wins, 24 K
Bryce Johnson- Marshall 71 AB, 30 H, .423 Avg, 20 RBI, 29 Runs, 18 SB, 7 XB Hits
Tyler Martius- RRC/WWG .409 Avg, 15 R, 11 SB, 5 XB Hits
Seth Plotz- Lakeview 46 AB, 18 H, .391 Avg, 16 RBI, 15 R, 6 SB, 5 XB Hits
Austin Buysse- Minneota/LHI 55 AB, 20 H, .364 AVG, 14 RBI, 16 R, 1 SB
All-Area Honorable Mention:
Nick Altermatt- Wabasso, Jordan Beck- Minneota/ LHI, Adam Durfee- Canby, Jacob Otto- RRC/WWG,
Andrew Behnke- Minneota/LHI, Tanner Kack- Canby, Riley Full- Canby, Travis Varpness- Lakeview,
Brady Lanoue- TMB, Jordan Beck- Minneota/LHI, Mason Campion- Marshall, Riley Sharbono- Marshall, Caleb Salfer- Wabasso.