In this file photo Mason Bright, right, of North Union throws a pitch to catcher Landon Converse during the Wildcats’ final game of the 2021 season. (Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
Coach feels future looks bright
The North Union baseball team had a season full of headaches, troubles and woes.
The 2021 campaign, however, wasn’t a complete loss.
The 2020 season lost to the coronavirus pandemic struck the Wildcats like every other baseball team in the state.
That loss meant the Cats returned for the 2021 season with only three players with varsity experience.
The early-season games revealed a lack of cohesion.
North Union was able to muster a single win in its first eight outings.
The biggest blow to the line up came in the bullpen.
North Union had no pitchers with varsity experience, so coach Klarke Ransome had to build his rotation from the ground up.
One of those building blocks was Trevyn Feasel, who was one of only three seniors who returned post-COVID.
He was a solid player in the field and a force at the plate, but had next to no high school pitching experience.
Feasel turned out to be Ransome’s number two hurler and pitched his way to a 3-2 record and a 3.53 ERA.
Ransome also had to find other pitchers.
Evan Hoffer fit into the equation.
The junior stepped up in a big way and became the Cats’ top pitcher.
He threw 41 innings, tallying 49 strikeouts for a 3-6 record.
Hoffer was also a weapon in the late innings, coming in for three saves.
With the bulk of the heavy lifting on the mound split between Feasel and Hoffer, Ransome had a late arrival to the bullpen who surpassed his expectations.
Out of necessity, Ransome explored Mason Bright’s ability on the bump.
The freshmen shortstop-turned-pitcher threw 38.2 innings late in the season.
He fanned 35 batters and posted a 2-3 record.
With the bullpen worked settled, Ransome had to figure out the rest of his lineup.
He relied on veterans to fill the right side of the infield with seniors Chris Isler at first base and Grayson Beeney at second.
With so many fresh faces, Ransome had to fill holes in the field with inexperience.
He tapped Nolan Draper and Landon Converse along with Bright.
Draper played wherever he was needed – third base, left field and shortstop – while Converse became the starting catcher.
A team full of players who had never played as a unit slowly started to learn from each other how to play as a team.
Through it all, they gained much-needed experience.
Ransome gave credit to the senior leadership for bringing along the rest of the team.
“Our three seniors have been very key in what we have done this season,” he said at one point in the campaign. “They are a huge part in how much we have improved throughout the year.”
The change came during the Wildcats’ home game against Urbana.
A 4-3 win over the Hillclimbers snapped a four-game losing streak that led to the first back-to-back wins (Northwestern and Elgin) and eventually a 9-9 season on the back half of the year.
Ransome said the team should feel proud of its growth.
“I think more than any other team I have been a part of, the improvement from game one to 26, they should be really proud of what they have accomplished,” he said. “I think if we start the year over, we are pretty darn good.”
After being bumped from the Division III district tournament by a 6-2 loss to Pleasant, North Union is now looking to the future.
A year that ended below .500 (10-16) has a silver lining.
The Cats lost only three players, built a pair of arms in the bullpen for next season and took three freshmen and gave them a full year’s worth of varsity experience. Along with the solid growth, Ransome rotated in some younger players.
Freshman John Hughes tallied innings of work as a relief hurler for a 2-1 record.
Caden Potts played in 10 games in right field.
NU’s only sophomore, Richie Bolander, worked the mound and the plate as a designated hitter.
Ransome said his young players took what they learned all season and applied it in the field.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back,” he said. “They have seen what they can accomplish and there are a lot of guys who are hungry to get better.
“I would be willing to bet we are going to be in a pretty good position next year.”