Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
SOLON – Luke Ira checks a lot of boxes on the list of baseball skills.
A five-year varsity starter Ira has always been a slick defensive shortstop. He is a career .368 hitter, a standout pitcher, a good baserunner.
The list of attributes for the Solon senior goes on and on.
But power hitter? Not exactly.
Ira has hammered a state-best 13 home runs in 25 games this season for Class 3A fourth-ranked Solon (19-6, 15-3 WAMAC) which enters Monday’s doubleheader at WAMAC East leading Western Dubuque (18-4, 12-1) leading the state with 27 homers.
“He’s always been a really good player and done a lot of things really well and he’s certainly also been a good hitter and he’s just gotten stronger this year,” Solon coach Keith McSweeney said. “We’ve always talked about getting in the weight room and he’s done that on his own.”
Ira has been putting up impressive offensive numbers since entering the Solon lineup as an eighth-grader.
He spent the offseason packing nearly 15 pounds onto his 6-foot-1 frame in an attempt to bolster the one part of his offensive game he felt was lacking – the ability to drive the ball.
“That’s probably the main thing I worked on during the offseason was my strength,” Ira said. “You can do so much with skill but strength is the part of your game that you can improve on all the time.”
Bigger and stronger than any point in his career, Ira expected his extra-base hit total to rise as a senior.
Leading the state in home runs was never on his radar.
“Starting off the year my goal was to improve on those numbers,” Ira said. “I hit six last year and
I thought I could improve upon that but I didn’t think I’d hit this many or that I’d get there that fast.”
With 13 regular season games remaining Ira has already put up massive numbers.
The 13 home runs nearly double his career total of eight entering the season.
Ira has done more than just hit the long ball this summer.
In fact, the home runs have merely been a by product of an impressive final prep season for the South Dakota State signee.
Ira ranks third in the state with 41 hits and second with 41 runs.
His 1.083 slugging percentage is fourth best state-wide and his 35 RBI seventh among preps in Iowa.
Even with the increase in power Ira is hitting .488, just off his pace of .511 from last year that ranked ninth in the state.
“I’m not trying to hit home runs, I’m just trying to hit the ball hard,” Ira said. “With the angle of the bat they’ve just been going over the fence. I try to hit line drives and if you do that eventually they will go out.”
Even with the success he had early in his career Ira has continued to work to add to his game.
He believes his increased strength has allowed him to better handle the rigors of a long season making him more consistent.
Ira opened the season with a 16-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 23-of-25 games while collecting 14 multi-hit games.
“I think a lot of players when they start out and have good years as underclassmen sometimes they will peak and the thing about him is every year the game has slowed down,” McSweeney said. “It’s at the point now where he is kind of playing at a different level than his peers and that’s a tribute to his hard work.”
The power surge from Ira has helped Solon turn into one of the most potent offenses in Iowa.
Solon leads the state with 27 home runs, nine more than Mason City Newman.
Led by Ira, seven different Spartans have at least two home runs this season and the Spartans have pounded a state-leading 94 extra-base hits.
The .570 slugging percentage and 58 doubles for Solon are both fourth best in the state.
“I don’t want to get it in their heads but they are all strong guys and they can turn on the ball,” McSweeney said.
Seniors Kendrick Harris and Zach Wegmann have each homered three times while Spencer Wegmann, Tyler Linderbaum, Payton Bandy and Adam Bock all have two home runs.
Those six players join Ira and junior Chris McSweeney as regulars in the Solon lineup hitting .300 or better.
“It doesn’t really feel like we have a hole in our lineup,” Ira said. “We are comfortable with everyone up at the plate.”