Hulne: 4 players have put in double duty to give Austin baseball a boost

Published 7:50 pm Monday, July 7, 2014

It’s been a solid summer for baseball in Austin.

The Post 91 Legion baseball team is off to a 10-8 overall start and the Post 1216 VFW baseball team is off to an 18-4 start to the season.

A big reason for both teams’ success has been a handful of players who have dedicated a lot of time on the baseball diamond this summer. Daniel Bollingberg, Nate Conner, Dylan Gasner and Alex Ciola have spent much of this season playing on the Legion team and the VFW team, and they’ve played major roles for both squads.

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Bollingberg has been a defensive standout at shortstop, a solid lead-off hitter and he’s provided some solid pitching for the VFW team, Gasner is a great defensive catcher who has started to pick up his hitting in recent games, Conner provides a smooth swing and plenty of speed on the base-paths and Ciola is a solid hitter who can play just about any position either team needs him to play.

All four of these players have made a major commitment to the sport of baseball and its paid for Austin this summer. The Legion team, which had to co-op with Albert Lea last season, is having its best season in at least six years and the VFW program has a pretty good shot of landing the No. 1 seed in the District.

“They’re a big piece of the puzzle and they work harder than anybody else we have around. You don’t often see kids that age give up their whole summer like that,” Austin co-head coach Andy Swank said. “They’ve grown quite a bit this summer and they’ve learned so much.”

Playing five or seven games a week may sound like work for some high school students, but these four players have embraced the challenge. It’s been an even bigger added workload for Conner and Bollingberg as they are also football and hockey players.

Conner plays for the Austin Packers and he was the team’s top rusher as a sophomore and Bollingberg led Lyle-Pacelli in rushing last fall as a sophomore.

Swank said it takes a lot for athletes to compete in three sports, and they definitely have a lot to do in the summer.

“It’s certainly a commitment to be a three sport athlete. It’s unbelievable the time and commitment they put in,” Swank said.

The Legion team has adjusted well to its new coaches this summer as Swank and Austin’s other co-head coach Joe Kroc have adjusted to running a program for the first time. They want their team to compete in every game and they’re hoping that the squad can make an impact when the postseason rolls around.

“Both coach Kroc and I have extremely high expectations for the kids. We’re pretty hard on them and we have been all summer, but I think the guys enjoy being pushed like that,” Swank said. “I think we’ve had pretty good success this summer. The guys had to believe they were capable and their confidence level is starting to grow.”

If that confidence continues to grow, Austin may just be on the verge of a baseball boom.

Post 1216 will host Albert Lea at 4:30 p.m. this Wednesday and Post 91 will will host the Rochester A’s in a doubleheader Tuesday at 5 p.m.