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Hawks’ sights set on 1st regional crown

Rob Winner —
Mike Mercado, a junior, takes batting practice inside the gymnasium at Hiawatha High School in Kirkland, Ill., Saturday, March 9, 2013.
Rob Winner — Mike Mercado, a junior, takes batting practice inside the gymnasium at Hiawatha High School in Kirkland, Ill., Saturday, March 9, 2013.

KIRKLAND – To Hiawatha baseball coach Sean Donnelly, Will Corn doesn’t have the look of a sophomore.

Over the offseason, Corn got into the weight room and put on about 30 pounds of muscle, and grew two inches, as well. He’s certain to be an imposing presence in the Little Ten Conference this season after hitting .585 with five home runs, 37 RBIs, 10 steals and 29 runs scored his freshman campaign, where he was named team MVP and was an all-conference pick.

Any pitcher who stood on the mound and looked at Corn in the batter’s box last season will have an even bigger challenge when the Hawks make their way through the LTC this spring.

“He doesn’t look like a sophomore,” Donnelly said. “He looks more like a senior who’s ready for college.”

Corn put in the work in the weight room on his own, not at the urging of Hiawatha’s coaching staff. To Donnelly, Corn can go a long way in baseball, as the sophomore already is getting Division I looks. He took a visit to Southern Illinois this past weekend.

“That kid has the potential to not only go to college, but possibly find his way – don’t mean to add more pressure on him – but find himself possibly ... being drafted out of Hiawatha,” Donnelly said. “He’s a stud. I don’t know how else to say it. He’s a stud.”

Corn will spend most of his time either catching or on the mound. At the plate, he hopes to handle offspeed pitches better.

“Last year I’d really dive out in front,” Corn said. “I need to work on staying close and staying back, hitting the offspeed pitch better. Anyone can hit a fastball.”

This year, Corn and the rest of the Hawks have set big goals. Corn hopes to finish with double-digit home runs. The Hawks want to at least finish in the top three of the LTC, if not win the conference title. Hiawatha also is hoping for the school’s first regional championship.

Donnelly’s team has what he calls a solid pitching rotation, built around Corn, senior Tyler Burger and junior Mike Mercado, and the Hawks return their entire infield.

Corn is the main cog in the lineup, and will hit either third or cleanup. As a bigger, improved sophomore, Corn could be a guy who opposing teams would pitch around, but Donnelly said he thinks his batting order has enough depth to where that might not happen.

Sophomore Nick Doolittle likely be the Hawks’ leadoff man, with Burger and Mercado hitting around Corn in the order.

“If they decide to pitch around Will, you know what, he’s still going to come around and score,” Donnelly said. “I’m very confident with our 1 through 6 hitters.”

If Hiawatha is going to make a real impact this season, Burger said the group is going to need a no-quit mentality with its strong lineup.

“When we’re down,” Burger said, “we’ve got to make sure our heads are up and say, ‘This game ain’t over until the seventh inning.’ “

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