KIRKLAND – Hiawatha sophomore Will Corn turned and pointed while standing just outside the home dugout at Hiawatha’s baseball field.
“I was born right over there,” Corn said.
Throughout his life in Kirkland, Corn has seen a few decent Hiawatha teams play on the field just west of his birth place. He’s heard stories about former major leaguer and Hiawatha alumnus Gene Lamont, and saw the Hawks finish with a 13-13 record two years ago.
But Corn never has seen the Hawks win a conference or regional title. He’s seen a reputation of futility grow throughout his life. But this year the Hawks, who are 5-1 and 5-0 in Little Ten Conference play, hope to change that.
“Hiawatha kind of has a reputation of getting stepped on in almost every sport,” Corn said. “It’s aggravating kind of. It’s like, we don’t show up here to get beat. We practice all the time, just like everybody else. This year, we’re not here to be a walking mat.”
Heading into the season, coach Sean Donnelly knew his team had a chance to be special. Captain and ace Tyler Burger was set to return for his senior season and Corn was back after hitting .585 with five home runs and 37 RBIs as a freshman. The Hawks have a pitching staff that goes four deep with solid players and only lost two seniors from last year’s team.
But the biggest reason for the change doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
“We’ve gotten a lot closer to each other,” Burger said. “A couple of years ago, the team, they didn’t care. We’re striving for victories. They just slacked, didn’t show up and didn’t put the time and effort into practice that we do.”
Donnelly thinks plenty of that fuel comes from seeing Hiawatha teams struggle over the years.
“I think some of our seniors want to prove that they’ve turned this ball club around, that they’ve turned this program around,” Donnelly said. “There’s a little bit of edginess that they are good ballplayers and this can be a good program.”
The Hawks will do just that if they meet Donnelly’s expectations.
While Donnelly is careful to keep his team in check with the new burden of expectations on its shoulders, he said he thinks this team can be the best Hiawatha team in “quite a few decades.”
“We think we can win conference. We think we can bring our first regional title to Hiawatha,” Donnelly said. “Those are our goals, which might sound lofty, might sound crazy when you put the name Hiawatha next to them, but we’re playing with great confidence and the kids are making plays when they need to, and it’s starting to snowball.”