Lynx seniors didn’t reach ultimate goal, but they put program back on the map

WCHS junior Dylan Steen gives senior teammate Max Hackbarth (5) a hug as fellow seniors Brett Olmstead (30), Noah McKinney (17), Cameron Moen (10), Jordan Tanner and Romel Martinez (2) await their turns on Monday. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Thirty minutes since the final pitch had passed and the entire Webster City baseball team was still standing around just outside its dugout at Lynx Field as darkness enveloped the sky Monday night.

Romel Martinez, with his chin pointed directly at the ground, was still in full uniform. Taking it off would force him to accept a reality that he wasn’t quite ready to grasp.

It was over. The dream. The season. And in the case of six seniors, their careers.

“Just the fact that it’s over is the hardest part,” Max Hackbarth said as sweat and tears smeared the eye black down his cheeks following Webster City’s 5-3 loss to nemesis Humboldt in the Class 3A District 4 final. “It’s been four years with most of my best friends and they’ve become like my family. My best memories are right here with these guys.”

WCHS head coach Adison Kehoe knew that nothing he could say would take the pain away, but he tried anyway. He sought out each of his seniors — Hackbarth, Martinez, Jordan Tanner, Noah McKinney, Cameron Moen and Brett Olmstead — and spoke from close range as he held on tightly in a bear hug.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Kehoe put on a brave face, he knew he had to for his players and program. But he’s only human. Just a decade removed from his own days in a Lynx uniform, he earned his coaching chops with his seniors, first as their youth coach and as their head coach for the past two seasons. In many ways, he grew up with the five and he hurt, too.

“I’m not an emotional guy, but I got teary-eyed with each one of them,” Kehoe said. “They’re great ball players, but they’re better young men.”

The pain will ease. Not today, not tomorrow, and certainly not next week during the state tournament, the one and only thing the Lynx planned for this summer.

But, eventually, this too shall pass. And when it does? Boy, do they have a lot to celebrate.

Seniors, you did it. You put Webster City baseball back on the map. You made it relevant again. And when the Lynx finally do get back to the state tournament, whether it be next summer of five years from now, it will happen because of what you started.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Think about where the program was just two, three or four years ago. WCHS endured seven consecutive losing seasons from 2010 to 2016 and in three of those seasons it didn’t top eight wins.

That all changed a year ago though because these five said enough is enough. And so they went to work in the offseason, devouring everything Kehoe spoon-fed them and when they were done, they just asked for more.

“What we’ve done, hopefully it’s motivation for all of these kids playing Little League right now,” Hackbarth said. “They want to have success because they see what we’ve been able to do.”

Hackbarth is a poster child for what determination, grit and a little elbow grease can do for an athlete. He’s said it before, he wasn’t living up to his potential when he was an underclassmen and so he did something about it.

As a junior and senior, the first-team all-state pitcher and Upper Iowa University recruit went 11-2 on the mound with a 0.98 ERA. He struck out 194 batters and averaged nearly two K’s per inning.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

No disrespect to all of the pitchers that came before him, but he’s the best I’ve seen in a Lynx uniform in my 20 years on the beat. And were it not for what teammate Dylan Steen did this season — a tidy 8-0 record and 1.70 ERA — and what he’s capable of next season, I’d say it’s not even close.

The other four seniors left their marks, too.

Moen put up a 2.74 ERA on the bump and would have been the No. 1 pitcher on any number of teams across the state. Martinez, who will take his talents to Iowa Central, hit .395 with 18 extra-base hits and 35 RBIs over the past two seasons. Tanner hit at a .299 clip with 31 RBIs and manned every … single … inning behind the plate for two summers. McKinney, a .316 hitter this summer, put up a .291 average with 14 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 2017 and 2018.

Most importantly, they led WCHS to back-to-back seasons of 19-5 and 17-6. When was the last time the Lynx won 36 games in two seasons? No, seriously, I’m asking because it was before my time, that’s for sure.

And they’ve energized the next generation of ball players in Webster City.

“Everyone wants to be the next Romel or the next Cam,” Kehoe said. “Everyone wants to be the next Max. Everyone wants to be Noah at second. Everyone wants to be behind the plate and be like Jet (Tanner). They’re all you could ask for.”

They brought out the crowds too, something Tanner appreciated as he looked around the old stomping grounds for the final time.

“My freshman year there was nobody here because nobody expected anything,” he said. “Looking at the crowd (Monday night), everybody was everywhere. That’s awesome and that’s what you play for.”

They eventually began to walk away, one by one, Monday night. Gone, but not forgotten.

Not by me.

Not ever.