GENEVA – Noah Davison called it the best in the state.
Geneva baseball coach Matt Hahn isn’t sure he’s seen a better one in his 12-year tenure.
The Geneva defense, led by a senior infield, has been one of the biggest reasons why the Vikings have started the season so strong.
After shifting a couple of pieces around to get his best group – it features Jack Wassel (third base), Vince MacDonald (shortstop), Justin Hasegawa (second base) and AJ Hostman (first base) – the defensive alignment has made a big impact on the team’s confidence.
“This might be the best defensive team I’ve had in my 12 years [at Geneva],” Hahn said. “Just hit ground balls at Hasegawa, hit ground balls at Wassel, hit ground balls at MacDonald and let’s go home. That’s what our pitchers have done – allowed the defense to have their backs – and we hope they continue to do.”
Hahn knew putting a group of experienced infielders together would not only help the chemistry but also help the pitchers know they can pitch to contact and still have success.
“You gain a ton of confidence from that. I’ve seen plenty of baseball games where it’s just a sieve back there,” Hahn said. “Now you have to nibble, feel like you have to strike everyone out, and I feel like our pitchers are aware now that they don’t have to do that. I mean, they’re 17 years old, so whether they continue to do it is one thing, but knowing you have that defense behind you is a big deal.”
Part of the defense’s success involved having the pitchers buy into that process. Strikeouts are flashy; there’s no better guaranteed out than having a batter swing and miss. But knowing the infielders aren’t going to make mistakes behind them that often has been vital.
Wassel, a Minnesota commit, has done a lot of damage with his bat during the early season, but he also is one of the slickest fielding third baseman in the area. He has stressed time and again how important it is for the pitchers to just throw strikes.
“Our pitchers really believe in it,” Wassel said. “They’re buying into it and know they just need to throw the ball over the plate. When they know there’s a good defense behind them and that we’ll make the plays behind them, we have success as a group defensively.”
Wassel was one of two Geneva infielders to move positions, along with Hostman. After playing primarily third base last season, Hostman moved across the diamond, pushing Wassel to third from shortstop and bumping MacDonald into the starting lineup.
It’s about winning at all costs for this Vikings team, who won’t view the season as a success unless they hoist a regional championship plaque.
“Every guy on this team just wants to win, whatever it takes,” Wassel said. “So this unit has been working well and hopefully that continues into the future.”
“Those three guys [Wassel, Hasegawa and MacDonald] are as good as it gets over there,” Hostman said. “Our pitchers know – and at first base, I know – that they’ll make the plays and make a good throw. They make my job easy. I just have to catch the ball. Good pitching and defense can go a long way toward success, but it’s a long season, so we need to keep the high confidence that we have right now.”
It’s not a guarantee the strong defense will continue as Hostman noted the season has quite a way to go. With games against UEC River powers St. Charles North and Batavia on the schedule, focus and confidence will need to continue to be high for the Vikings, who entered the week of April 18 at 10-4 and 5-1 in the UEC River.
It helps that it’s a senior-laden group, but Hahn has worked to instill confidence that anyone in a Vikings uniform can get the job done if called upon.
“It’s nice to have, for sure,” Hostman said of the senior leadership. “It helps the pitchers know there are experienced guys behind them, but we have confidence in anyone on this team to step in and play well defensively. But, yeah, it’s nice to have a strong senior group in the infield.”