Coaching helps Golden Hawks soar

The Mid-Prairie baseball team practices Friday for its state tournament appearance today against West Lyon at Principal Park in Des Moines. (Doug Brenneman/Union)
The Mid-Prairie baseball team practices Friday for its state tournament appearance today against West Lyon at Principal Park in Des Moines. (Doug Brenneman/Union)

WELLMAN — A team has many moving parts that have the potential to go many different ways, especially when it is a team of teenagers.

The best coaches may be at the high school level. They have to instill the fundamentals while they nurture the many levels of talent.

Sometimes it all comes together like it has for the 2020 Mid-Prairie Golden Hawks baseball team under head coach Andy Greiner and his assistant coaches. They have the Hawks playing in the state tournament for the first time since there were four appearances from 2001-2007, including a championship in 2004.

“We are kind of like heart surgeons,” Greiner said with a laugh. “We go in hoping for the best, but anything can happen. It is nice to get some consistency.”

That consistency comes through directed coaching.

Kyle Mullet is the head junior varsity coach and works with the catchers. Chris Robertson’s responsibilities include working with the outfielders. Jay Strickland is the assistant junior varsity coach and works with the pitchers. Josh Moore is the head coach for the freshmen/sophomore team. Greiner works with infielders primarily during individual defensive sessions.

“Strickland has worked with me since my freshman year,” said senior leader Brad Tornow, who has an earned run average of 0.91 this season. “He really helped me hone my craft.”

Senior outfielder Chris Miller credits the coaching staff with creating a mental edge, in particular assistant coach Kyle Mullett.

“We want to win, but coaching helps,” Miller said. “Mullett is a big guy about mentality. He has taught us to hate to lose. I think this year that saying has really stuck in our heads for a lot of us. We want to give it our all and win.”

Greiner was in the dugout for the first state tournament in program history in 2001, the title in 2004 and the back-to-back trips in 2006-07.

“Our itinerary is very tight, but it reflects what we’ve done the last four times we were at state,” Greiner said. “I soaked it all in and I am going to be duplicating what seemed to click.”

The 2004 trip was the last year the tournament was held in Marshalltown. It has been at Principal Park in Des Moines since. The Golden Hawks have won their first round game every time, but lost in the semifinals the three times they did not win the title.

Greiner has mowed the field at Mid-Prairie as close as he can to simulate how fast the field at Principal Park will be.

“It’s kind of like the Augusta Golf Course out there, just tight as all get out,” Greiner said. “I think that will play into our favor offensively.”

The Golden Hawks like to lay off the high pitches and keep the ball down. Some of those are likely to turn into hits.

“We need to have our outfield be good at getting angles,” Greiner said. “If not, we are going to end up chasing the ball all the way to the fence.”

When balls hit the ground at Principal Park, they seem to accelerate instead of checking up. The substate final at Mediapolis had an infield that was thick grass and cut long. The field at state is going to be the opposite of that.

“If we stay with our approaches at the plate, balls are going to get through,” Greiner said. “Hopefully we will be able to accomplish some of our offensive goals and put tons of pressure on West Lyon.”

Greiner said West Lyon is similar to the Golden Hawks, but he doesn’t think its competition compares to the teams in the River Valley Conference.

“They hit the ball one through nine, similar to us. That’s one thing where we have an advantage is because we played in a tough conference. It will be interesting to see how they match up.”