THE REAL MAX: Hackbarth named to 3A all-state first team by INA

WCHS junior puts together breakout season on mound through hard work and dedication

Webster City junior southpaw pitcher Max Hackbarth poses on the mound that he calls home at Lynx Field. Following a season in which he went 7-0 with a 0.52 ERA and 103 strikeouts, Hackbarth was named a Class 3A first-team all-state pitcher by the Iowa Newspaper Association today. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — Pitch by pitch, inning by inning, Max Hackbarth was wasting his talent. He knew it and so did his then pitching coach Adison Kehoe.

One walk turned into two, and then three, and then, well, you get the picture. Short outings on the mound became the norm as he mentally hit rock bottom. He couldn’t get out of his own head and he was always worrying about what could and would go wrong.

“I didn’t play to my potential at all,” Hackbarth said of those two frustrating summers, his freshman and sophomore seasons on the baseball diamond for Webster City in 2015 and 2016. “My freshman year I could hardly get out of the first inning. I didn’t have any confidence and then there were control issues. I just couldn’t mentally handle it. One thing would go wrong and then my night would be over.”

Oh, how the times have changed, and maybe that’s why Hackbarth is able to look back on those dark times with introspection. Following a monumental turnaround season this summer, he’s on top of the world. The crescendo came today, as he was named a Class 3A first-team all-state pitcher by the Iowa Newspaper Association.

“That’s just awesome,” Hackbarth said. “It’s hard to believe.”

Webster City junior pitcher Max Hackbarth had six starts where he struck out at least 10 batters this summer. His career-high of 19 came in a season-opening win over Carroll in May. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Kehoe witnessed all of Hackbarth’s struggles up close when he served as a Lynx assistant. He no longer saw the hard-throwing kid with swagger that he’d watched back when Hackbarth was mowing kids down left and first when he was in the fifth grade.

But when Kehoe took over the Lynx program last winter, he knew one of his first priorities was to pull Hackbarth out of his funk, and he didn’t treat the southpaw with kid gloves either. Instead, he looked Hackbarth in the eye and laid it all out.

The choices were simple: Accept mediocrity, or get to work and become the pitcher that both envisioned.

“Back in January, I told Max, ‘You have all the tools to be the next big thing as far as Webster City sports goes. But in the same breath, your last two years have kind of been a flub.’ And he told me, point blank, ‘My last two years, I feel like I’ve wasted high school baseball.’ But rather than run away and get upset about it, he did something about it.”

Over the winter months, as 2016 turned into 2017, Hackbarth became a mainstay at Diamond In The Rough, Webster City’s locally owned and operated business that is a dream indoor facility for baseball and softball pitchers and hitters.

Max Hackbarth was the only player from the North Central Conference named all-state by the INA. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

When the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Hackbarth wasn’t at school, eating or sleeping, it was a good bet he could be found at Diamond In The Rough. He worked on his mechanics. He implemented a J-Band regimen to create and maintain strength in his pitching arm. He did yoga for flexibility. And he threw, and then threw some more, and then threw some more.

“I worked my (butt) off to get better,” Hackbarth said. “Right when football ended until baseball started, I was out there every single day for about four hours.”

Kehoe saw that the gleam was back in Hackbarth’s eyes. Through hard work and sacrifice, that potential that had been untapped was about to be released.

“I can’t speak hard enough on his work ethic,” Kehoe said. “When everyone else was doing other things, Max was in there by himself working.”

Hackbarth entered his junior campaign this summer with a career record of 2-5 on the mound. His ERA was 4.98, and he’d walked 33 batters with just 32 strikeouts in 241⁄3 innings.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

That was all about to change, but not before Kehoe dangled low-hanging fruit in front of him in the form of apathy.

“I’ll be honest, when we talked (in the preseason) about our pitchers, I didn’t bring Max up because I wanted that chip to be squarely on his shoulder,” Kehoe said. “But you could see it in his workouts, he was a different pitcher.”

In his first outing against Carroll on May 25, Hackbarth put everyone on notice with 19 strikeouts in a complete-game 4-1 victory, and he was just getting started.

His next start featured 14 strikeouts in a five-inning rout of Hampton-Dumont. Then 10 against defending Class 2A state champion Clear Lake. Nine more in a 1-0 win over St. Edmond and then an additional 13 in a second victory over Hampton-Dumont.

On and on it went. By the time he was done, Hackbarth had six double-digit strikeout performances in nine starts and owned five complete games. His final outing against Humboldt in a district semifinal featured 14 strikeouts.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“I definitely saw improvement over my sophomore year, but I never in a million years would have thought I would get this much better,” Hackbarth said. “Coming into the season, I wanted to make first-team all-conference. That was my goal.”

He reached that and so much more.

Hackbarth’s 7-0 season and 0.52 ERA made him a strong candidate for a first-team all-state honor. Only three pitchers were selected for the top team; he was joined by the Davenport Assumption duo of Trenton Wallace and Ben Beutel. Wallace, an Iowa recruit, was named the 3A captain after he guided Assumption to a state championship.

Beutel will pitch collegiately at Bowling Green.

Also a first-team all-district choice, Hackbarth was the lone North Central Conference player to be named all-state.

“First team all-state, there’s nothing else you can really say,” Kehoe said. “It was the grind, that was the difference between Max Hackbarth and others this year. He thrives for that ball. He wanted those big games and he wanted to be that go-to guy.”

The kid that walked more batters than he struck out in back-to-back seasons transformed himself into a strikeout machine. He led 3A in K’s for most of the season, only to be passed by Wallace at the state tournament. Wallace fanned 112 batters to 103 for Hackbarth, but the Assumption senior also threw 18 more innings (72 to 54).

And those control issues that had been Hackbarth’s kryptonite? A thing of the past, as opponents hit a paltry .126 against him. He allowed just four earned runs and his ERA ranked second behind only Wallace for 3A pitchers who worked 40-plus innings.

“I would have never guessed that I would have the numbers I did this year, but every game gave me more and more confidence,” Hackbarth said. “I could handle anything mentally.”

His teammates fed off Hackbarth, too. It’s no coincidence that his breakout season came at the exact time that Webster City won its first NCC championship in 17 seasons.

But now comes the even harder part. Getting to the podium wasn’t easy, but staying there will be even more difficult.

And so Hackbarth will go back to work. He wants to pitch collegiately and to do that he knows he’ll need to throw even harder than the low- to mid-80’s that he can currently reach with his tailing fastball. He needs to fine tune his curveball and change-up as well, and he says he wants to add a cut fastball to his repertoire.

“If anything, I’m going harder now than I did back last winter,” he said. “I’ve got to work twice as hard as I did to meet the expectations.”

Hackbarth has set the bar high. No, it won’t be easy to match the video game-like numbers he put up during his senior season next summer, but it’s what he’ll aim for.

Regardless of what happens, one thing is clear: The days of Hackbarth wasting his talents are history.

All-State Teams

By Iowa Newspaper Association

CLASS 3A

Captain — Trenton Wallace, sr, Davenport Assumption.

First Team

Pitcher — Trenton Wallace, sr, Davenport Assumption; Ben Beutel, sr, Davenport Assumption; Max Hackbarth, jr, Webster City.

Catcher — Will Edwards, sr, Vinton-Shellsburg.

First Base — Devin Porter, sr, Saydel.

Infield — Dillon Sears, sr, Harlan; Tyler Hillman, sr, Pella; Nate Mortimer, jr, Carlisle.

Outfield — Matt Nelson, sr, Sioux City Heelan; Ryley McGregor, sr, Sergeant Bluff-Luton; Tyler Miller, fr, Oskaloosa.

Utility — Daniel Powers, jr, Davenport Assumption; Austin Savary, sr, Dubuque Wahlert.

Second Team

Pitcher — Zach Noble, jr, Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley; Cameron Baumann, sr, Fairfield; Brett Sears, soph, Harlan.

Catcher — Jaden Rolffs, jr, Pella.

First Base — Nolan Melchart, sr, Davenport Assumption.

Infield — Luke Fennelly, sr, Davenport Assumption; Tanner Davis, sr, Vinton-Shellsburg; Colin Kasperbauer, jr, Sioux City Heelan.

Outfield — Jacob Zuck, jr, Knoxville; Justus Burke, sr, Davenport Assumption; Owen Carstensen, sr, Marion.

Utility — Nathan Struve, sr, Vinton-Shellsburg; Luke Ira, jr, Solon.

Third Team

Pitcher — Houston Hawkins, sr, Spirit Lake; Brady Donohue, sr, Marion; Nick McCay, jr, Carlisle.

Catcher — Maverick Miller, sr, Marion.

First Base — Ryan Doran, jr, Harlan.

Infield — Cole Loeffelbein, sr, Glenwood; Ben De Boer, sr, MOC-Floyd Valley; Jarod Harris, jr, West Delaware.

Outfield — Joshua Cheek, sr, Harlan; Keaton Candor, sr, LeMars; Shane Solberg, sr, Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley.

Utility — Scottie Wirth, sr, Vinton-Shellsburg; Tanner Bedier, jr, Bondurant-Farrar.

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