MCCORDSVILLE — Jake Stank’s first college baseball season couldn’t have started any better.
It ended well, too.
The former Mt. Vernon standout, who opened the college baseball season as the leadoff hitter and right fielder for Anderson University, hit the first pitch of the season for a home run.
It was the first of many strong games for the McCordsville freshman. It all culminated into a postseason award as the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year.
“The first pitch of the season, the first college pitch that he saw, he hit just an absolute bomb to right-center field for a home run,” Anderson coach Matt Bair said. “He made his mark from the first pitch.”
Stank hit .338 with a .600 slugging percentage. He tied for the HCAC lead with six triples. He was second on the Ravens in home runs with eight and RBI with 36. He had eight stolen bases and scored 34 runs, playing in all 41 of the team’s games. He also had a pair of outfield assists.
The Ravens opened the season in Tennessee at Sewanee: The University of the South. The Ravens won the Feb. 12 game 4-0. Along with the home run, Stank’s stat line was quite impressive. He went 3-for-4 with two runs scored, the homer, two RBI and two stolen bases. He had nearly one-half of the team’s seven hits.
“The first game we were doing our warmup and we hit BP (batting practice) a different way than we did in high school. I was messing it up a little bit,” Stank said. “I was really nervous, then the first at-bat happened. He just threw me a fastball a little outside and it went where it went. It washed all the nerves away for a while.”
Stank thought his first plate appearance was a good tone-setter for the rest of his season.
“It helped me settle in,” he said. “In the off-season, I put on a lot of weight. I felt like I was a different player than I was in high school. It helped boost my confidence for the rest of the season. I definitely felt more confidence in myself.”
Stank’s weight gain was intentional. He put a lot of gym work in to get ready for his first college season. He said his weight was around 160 when he left Mt. Vernon. By the fall, he was around 180-185. By the end of the season, he was a 200-pound bonafide college power hitter, who still had speed to steal bases and leg balls hit to the gap for triples.
Stank added, with his increased strength, a lot of those gap hits he had in high school — that were doubles — were now clearing fences for home runs.
“It’s been a big change,” Stank added.
“He has worked hard in the weight room and has transformed his body,” Bair said. “He came in as a strong kid, but right now he is an animal when it comes to the weight room. We expected him to come in and potentially play a significant role as a freshman, but you are never for sure how that is going to work out.”
Stank’s rookie season had a lot of highlights.
In a 20-11 win over St. Norbert (Wis.) on March 5 at Kokomo’s Municipal Stadium, he hit three home runs and drove in five.
On defense, after he had hit his first homer, he collided with the outfield wall trying to make a catch. He wasn’t sure whether he’d be able to remain in the game.
“I felt locked in and it was like the old saying where the ball looked like a beach ball,” Stank said of his at-bats. “I rammed into the fence (later in the game) and hit my leg and knee pretty bad. (Coach Bair) asked if I was going to be OK to play. I said, ‘yes’, but I was hurting. I told him not to take me out and I was feeling fine.”
After that half-inning on defense, Stank was one of the first hitters to come to the plate. Like he did during his first at-bat, he hit a home run.
“I was rounding third, (Bair) said, ‘You weren’t lying. You made the right decision (to stay in the game),’” Stank recalled.
He had a two-homer game later in the year during an 11-0 HCAC victory against Mount St. Joseph. He drove in seven of the 11 runs.
“It was awesome (to get the Newcomer of the Year Award),” Stank said. “I worked really hard and to be recognized for the work I put in, out there grinding with my teammates. It was a great, amazing feeling.”
Stank hit in eight of his first nine games. He had a bit of a rough stretch in the middle of the season, but finished strong by hitting in nine of the final 10 games. Four of those were multi-hit contests, including a four-hit day against DePauw on April 27.
“He ended up winning freshman player of the year in our conference. What it says, as much as anything, is the other coaches across the conference saw what we saw,” Bair said. “He was an extremely productive player that has some explosiveness in games and could really change the game.”
“I think (the season) did exceed my expectations,” Stank added. “I hadn’t set too many goals. I just wanted to take it all at face value and appreciate the season as it came. I didn’t set too many high expectations or low expectations. I was pretty happy with how I did. For the future, I just want to keep it up and help my team win.”