JACKSON TWP. A nice replacement battery can always add a jolt when one is needed.
The Jackson baseball team received just such a boost one day prior to the start of the season when the battery of senior pitcher Kyle Nicolas and senior catcher Dillon Dingler finally joined the team after their extended run with the basketball team as it captured its second state title in school history.
When the duo officially rejoined the baseball team less than 24 hours after the basketball team’s title win in Columbus, they heard a fair amount of teasing from teammates who wanted to welcome them back as only athletes can.
“There were definitely a couple of, ‘Hey, who’s the new guy?’ jokes,” Nicolas said. “It was pretty tough and we were a little rusty at first. The state final was Saturday and we got back Sunday. We had baseball practice that same day about three hours after we got back.”
Dingler agreed, but said the jokes were a nice welcome back to a team that many consider a contender to contend for a second state "title of its own this spring.
“Oh yeah, it was definitely really funny and it was good to be back with our teammates,” Dingler said.
The quick turnaround wasn’t limited to Sunday; Jackson’s first game of the season was the following day, kicking off a busy week with multiple games scheduled. Both players also play other spots in the field when they’re not pitching and catching and each will go on to play college baseball next season, Dingler at Ohio State and Nicolas at Ball State.
Baseball may not have officially been on the agenda for Nicolas and Dingler while basketball season was going on, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t find a spare moment or two to get their diamond work in.
“During basketball we’d go down once a week and practice a little bit, do some throwing,” Nicolas said. “We’re also on the same summer ball team and when I’d throw there, he’d catch me. The past 10 times I’ve thrown an actual game, Dillon’s been catching me.”
In the first few days of their time back with the baseball team, Nicolas and Dingler’s biggest challenge was merely shaking off the rust at their respective positions. As a pitcher, it could be argued that Nicolas having less wear on his arm from missing the preseason would help, but he noted that it was tougher to not be around the team and face live batting.
“I’d rather throw in the preseason and get pitches in,” Nicolas said.
This season was a departure from the past two seasons, when the basketball team was knocked out of the tournament sooner than expected and any baseball players on the roster were able get involved with preseason activities. With one of their top pitchers and starting catcher out, the Polar Bears still had plenty of talent on hand and a 10-0 start to the season, including a 10-inning win over St. Ignatius, proved as much.
The rotation is deep beyond Nicolas and Dingler is one of three catchers expected to see time behind the plate this season as Jackson chases a successor to its 2014 state baseball title.
Nicolas has pitched out of the bullpen in his first few outings on the mound, including in the team’s second game of the season - a win over GlenOak - and in a win over Hoover. His six-inning stint in the St. Ignatius game showed that his arm is rounding into form and Dingler has been a steadying presence since getting back into the lineup.
One of the primary goals for any Jackson baseball season is to win the Federal League and in that pursuit, a 4-0 start thanks to sweeps of GlenOak and Hoover has the Polar Bears headed in the right direction. There are the requisite non-league challenges to overcome, including Chardon, Strongsville and Toledo St. Francis, but after going through an entire preseason without two key players, Jackson is now back at full strength and out to make a trip of its own to Columbus.
Should it happen, it would put Dingler specifically in a unique position. Not only did he play crunch time minutes for the title-winning basketball team, but he was also a starter last fall for the Jackson football team, which made the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Being part of a playoff-bound football team, a state championship basketball team and a baseball team that could match those feats would make for quite the senior season.
“It’s been a great year obviously and our (senior) class has definitely been really successful, but the main thing is that I can’t wait to get out there and play with all of my my friends,” Dingler said. “It was obviously tough in the first few games of the season, but now we’re (he and Nicolas) are getting into the swing of things.”
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