THE POSTER CHILD: Hackbarth a Class 3A first-team all-state pitcher once again
Love-hate relationship between player and coach produces results; Steen a second-team selection as utility player
The line between love and hate was oftentimes blurred during the brutally cold winter months. Ego. Pride. Manhood. All three were challenged as the temperature and temperament rose inside the walls of Diamond In the Rough, the facility that sits on the south side of Webster City that caters to baseball and softball players.
There were days when Max Hackbarth would stomp out hurling curse words in his coach’s direction. There were days when Adison Kehoe would push and push and then push some more as his pupil walked to the edge of the cliff. And after cooler heads prevailed — it might take a few hours — the coach would always call Hackbarth and reel him back in.
“I’m not always the nicest person or coach to be around in those sessions, especially when I have to mentally break them a little bit,” Kehoe, Webster City’s head baseball coach for the last two years, explains. “Sometimes I had to take (Hackbarth) to places he’s never been before because that’s how you break through barriers and find that untapped potential.”
Five days per week, hour after hour sweating inside those four walls, that’s where Hackbarth transitioned from a nice ballplayer to one that hitters feared. He didn’t always like Kehoe and vice versa, but the results speak for themselves.
“My individual success and our team success have been 100 percent Adison,” Hackbarth, who will head to Upper Iowa University and join the baseball program in the fall, explains. “I know he’ll never take any credit, but anything that has happened for me individually is because of him.”
That bond will never die. It’s why their hug was so long and so tight the night it all ended in the Class 3A district final against Humboldt earlier this month. They broke through that wall together.
Hackbarth’s two-year run of brilliance on the mound culminates today with a second straight Class 3A first-team all-state honor. He was one of three pitchers named to the top team by the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.
Webster City had two players honored by the IPSWA. Dylan Steen, a junior, claimed a second-team accolade as a utility player after he had a breakout season, both on the hill and at the plate. More on him in a minute.
It’s impossible to dismiss the ascension of Hackbarth with the rise of the Lynx program. Think back to 2016, both were inconsistent and in many ways an afterthought on the statewide landscape.
And now? The results speak for themselves.
With a tailing fastball that can reach the mid-80s, a hard breaking curve and a cut fastball that can spin batters around, Hackbarth is the finest pitcher I’ve ever covered. Period. End of story. Over the last two seasons, he was that good.
As a senior he put together a 4-2 record and 1.35 ERA, perhaps not Earth shattering, but dig deeper to find the truth. In his two losses he allowed just five hits and no earned runs with 20 strikeouts. He fanned 91 on the season, the fifth-most in the class.
When he struggled, he was still better than most. And when he was on? Unhittable.
But the transformation was as much mental as physical. He always had the tools to be an ace, he just needed someone to get in his head and push him there.
“Back (as a freshman and sophomore) I just couldn’t handle anything,” Hackbarth says. “Now you can smack a double off me and I just don’t care because I know I’ll strike out the next guy. Without Adison, it wouldn’t have been possible. There were days when I was (angry) at him, but I knew what he was doing was for the greater good.”
Over his final two seasons in a Lynx uniform, Hackbarth went 11-2 with a 0.93 ERA. His 194 strikeouts and .127 batting average against made him one of the state’s most dominant pitchers regardless of class.
And over that time, Webster City went 36-13 on the diamond, won a North Central Conference title and had viable state tournament dreams.
The two go hand in hand. The team’s success was certainly about more than just one player, but Hackbarth was no doubt the poster child.
“At the high school level, he was a luxury,” Kehoe says. “He’s a symbol of what Webster City baseball can be and should be and hopefully he realizes what he’s left behind and how this program has turned around. The mark he’s set for the young kids … everyone wants to be the next Max Hackbarth on the mound.”
The next Max Hackbarth is actually the first Dylan Steen, who put together a 2018 resume that could compete with anyone, his teammate included. An 8-0 record on the mound with a 1.70 ERA and 84 strikeouts. A .419 batting average with 29 RBIs.
Hackbarth was the ace. Shortstop Romel Martinez was the glue. But, overall, Steen was the best.
“He’s our best all-around player,” Kehoe says of Steen. “You could stick that kid in every position and the results would have been great. The game is very natural to him and it’s cliche, but he’s a beautiful kid to watch play baseball.”
And now it’s Steen’s turn to get the Hackbarth offseason treatment from Kehoe. January isn’t too far off and they’ll eventually meet up and get to work. Webster City is his team now and it’s a challenge Kehoe says Steen won’t shy away from.
“He’s all-in because he wants it,” Kehoe says. “He’s fired up. It’s going to be fun.”
This is how programs are built. And Webster City may just be getting started.
IPSWA All-State Teams
Captain — Luke Ira, sr, Solon.
Pitcher — Max Hackbarth, sr, Webster City; Julien Broderson, jr, Davenport Assumption; Brett Sears, jr, Harlan.
Catcher — Spencer Kleene, soph, Sergeant Bluff-Luton.
First Base — Ryan Doran, sr, Harlan.
Infield — Luke Ira, sr, Solon; Colin Kasperbauer, sr, Sioux City Heelan; Nate Mortimer, sr, Carlisle.
Outfield — Hunter Hope, sr, Sioux City Heelan; Brady Kluender, sr, Spencer; Trevor Bormann, sr, Algona.
Utility — Nic McCay, sr, Carlisle; Nick Gottilla, jr, Davenport Assumption.
Pitcher — Cam Miller, soph, Solon; Jayden Gibson, jr, Grinnell; Zach Noble, sr, BHRV.
Catcher — Jaden Rolffs, sr, Pella.
First Base — Austin Simpson, jr, Fairfield.
Infield — Cam Steffens, sr, Central DeWitt; Ryan Willis, sr, Waverly-Shell Rock; Gabe Lux, sr, Cedar Rapids Xavier.
Outfield — Casey Young, soph, Winterset; Jacob Zuck, sr, Knoxville; Nick Foss, sr, Harlan.
Utility — Dylan Steen, jr, Webster City; Lucas Bixby, jr, Central DeWitt.
Pitcher — Rick Atkins, jr, Marion; Evan Appenzeller, sr, Boone; Isaiah Henrichs, jr, Carlisle.
Catcher — Seth Adrian, soph, Davenport Assumption.
First Base — Spencer Goerdt, sr, Dubuque Wahlert.
Infield — Gabe Eckstaine, sr, LeMars; Kyle Moeder, jr, Cedar Rapids Xavier; Drake Shelton, jr, Decorah.
Outfield — Tanner Bedier, sr, Bondurant-Farrar; Easton Darling, soph, Winterset; Brady Leonard, sr, Waverly-Shell Rock.
Utility — Jackson Boever, sr, Sioux City Heelan; Jack Higgans, sr, Nevada.