Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
SOLON – Even when their baseball careers were just getting started the Solon seniors never wanted it to end.
This week the nine seniors on the Solon roster are fighting to keep their prep careers alive as long as possible.
Starting with Tuesday’s Class 3A quarterfinal against sixth-ranked Sioux City Heelan (31-10) at 1:30 p.m. at Principal Park in Des Moines the close-knit group of seniors will try to keep their days as baseball teammates from ending.
Rewind 10 years to when that same group of current high school seniors were second graders just starting their careers as little leaguers and they were already battling for more baseball.
When practice would end 10 years ago the same Solon seniors would try to keep it going.
“Back when we played little league practice would get over and we’d go out and play whiffle ball in the outfield after practice and then we’d sit at someone’s house and talk about baseball,” Solon senior Zach Wegmann said. “It’s the same thing now, this group of guys just loves being together and loves playing baseball. We just don’t want it to end.”
Unfortunately for those seniors and for the Solon baseball program the end for that stellar senior class is coming soon.
The goal for the nine-member senior class that is the heart and soul of the team for fifth-ranked Solon (32-10) is the same this week as it was 10 years ago – to keep playing baseball as long as possible.
“We have developed a bond over the years and we just love spending time together,” senior center fielder Kendrick Harris said. “It’s our last sport here together and we just want to make the most of it and make it memorable.”
It has already been a memorable prep ride for the nine-member Solon baseball senior class.
The core of the class, Payton Bandy, Tyler Linderbaum, twin brothers Spencer and Zach Wegmann, Luke Ira, Kendrick Harris and Eric Weetman are all multi-year starters. Alan Milliman and Ben Krutzfeldt, who rejoined the group this season, round out the seniors.
Six of those players started in the Spartans’ last state tournament game, a semifinal two years ago.
Following that state semifinal loss two years ago when the group returned to Solon head coach Keith McSweeney said those players, then sophomores, stayed at the Solon baseball field together for hours playing games in the outfield.
Even then, they just didn’t want it to end.
“Every single class that comes through, some of them are bigger some of them are smaller some of them have more success but they are all special in their own way and this group obviously is special because they are so close and so coachable and they are just genuinely good guys,” McSweeney said. “When our season eventually ends, if it’s the end of the week or whenever, it’s going to be really difficult to see them move on probably as much or more than any senior class we’ve had.”
The class is loaded with versatile athletes.
Six of the nine were starters on Solon’s state semifinal football team in the fall, highlighted by Linderbaum, an Iowa signee already taking part in summer workouts with the Hawkeyes.
The Wegmanns are headed to Upper Iowa to play football and Harris will walk-on the Iowa State football team.
Ira was a multi-year starter on the basketball team and is the lone member of the class with a baseball future, signed to play at South Dakota State.
Krutzfeldt will play basketball at Mount Mercy.
Even with most of the class pursing a college athletic career that doesn’t include baseball no member of the group considered freeing up their final summer by walking away from the sport.
“We just like competing and we just like being together,” Harris said. “Our summer is basically hanging out together so we might as well play baseball together.”
The group has stuck together for nearly a decade.
On and off the field. Before and after games. From sport to sport all year long.
Ira went out for football for the first time this fall to be around his fellow seniors. Krutzfeldt spent his final summer on the baseball team despite the knowledge that playing time would be limited.
Weetman juggled baseball and soccer for the first few months of the season.
“We have a group, not only just the seniors but everyone on the team just loves baseball,” Zach Wegmann said. “We love being at the park and we love to get here early and we don’t want to leave. We want to do whatever we can to stay here whether it’s playing whiffle ball or practicing.”
The batting cages are full an hour before practice.
The parking lot behind the Spartans’ home field is lined with vehicles, tailgates open with players sitting, joking and talking well after the team arrives home from away games or the lights are shut off after a home game.
Whiffle ball games, competitions or home run derbies can break out at any time.
“We never want to leave and we want to get here early,” Ira said. “We just love being at the field together, there is never really a dull moment when we are all together.”
They just don’t want it to end.
“Coming down here to the field is the best part of our day for sure,” Spencer Wegmann said. “We are all blessed to be here still and still being able to play. Having a core group of guys like that makes it so much better.”
Part of the fun for the Spartans has come from the comradery but it has also come from winning.
The group was 22-21 and reached the 3A semifinals as sophomores and went 27-14 but lost a substate final 4-3 to Marion to miss out on a return trip to Principal Park last year.
“I would say that really sparked us a lot,” Wegmann said of the substate loss. “Ever since we started back up in January that was a motivating factor to get back to state this year and do some damage.”
The final season has been the best for the senior class.
The 32 wins are the most since Solon went 39-4 on its way to the Class 3A title in 2011.
“If you are a senior and some of these guys are going to be gone in a week and half, one of them already is and it takes a unique kind of 18-year old kid to stay in the present and not take for granted what opportunity they have in front of them to compete with their friends and that has never been a question with these guys,” McSweeney said. “They really get it they don’t take it for granted.”
Solon can’t match the 2011 squad in win total but they can deliver the first state baseball title to Solon since that team with three wins this week.
As much as three more wins and a state title would mean to the Solon seniors the three more days as teammates may mean even more.
“It’s very rewarding that all the hard work we put in is paying off our senior year and hopefully there is more rewarding stuff coming. That’s the goal,” Spencer Wegmann said. “We know these are the last few games so we are going to be teammates and we are going to cherish it as much as we can because everyone here wishes we had another season to come back and play.”