Niwot's Connor Messinger was good for three years, but he absolutely exploded for his senior season in 2011.
"My coaches told me, 'Go out there and be a bulldog,'" Messinger said. "Go scrap for everything and just plow through everybody and everything you come in contact with out there."
If being a bulldog means not backing down from anyone or anything, Messinger certainly followed his coaches' instructions. He led Class 4A Northern Conference starters with a .576 batting average and threw a league-high two complete-game shutouts. He did all this while dominating the infield from his shortstop position.
His outstanding season is why he is the Times-Call Baseball Player of the Year.
Messinger had an immensely successful season, but when you're not winning it's tough to enjoy the game.
"I feel pretty solid with my play, but there's always mixed feelings on a season like that," Messinger said. "It's probably the most confidence I've had as a player in a long time but it's never fun to lose. "
The Cougars had six freshmen that played major innings this season and finished 7-12. They failed to reach the postseason for the first time in more than 20 years. In the middle of their season, the inexperienced Cougars lost 11 of 12.
"We have good players, just a lot of them are freshmen or first-year varsity players," said Messinger, obviously frustrated by the heap of losses. "I think it was pretty much just a lack of experience."
But they turned it around. The Cougars won three of four to end the season, including a huge 11-0 win over top Northern team Broomfield. Messinger had two RBIs and pitched a complete-game shutout that day.
"We were talking about it afterwards and we were saying, 'That's how good we could be,'" Messinger said. "That was our potential, but we couldn't execute for whatever reason."
The Cougars began saying a team prayer in the outfield before the last four games. Messinger said it wasn't because everyone on the team was particularly religious, but it got the team together and focused. And focus was Messinger's greatest ally in 2011, which led to his pitching breakout.
"We talked about playing for pride and the name on our jerseys for the last couple games to try and go out strong," Messinger said.
Messinger throws his fastball in the mid-80s and mixes in a knuckle-curve, a pitch homebred in Niwot which he learned from Cougars stud Ryan Strufing last year. Messinger finished 5-4, led the league in innings pitched and was third with 61 strikeouts.
A vocal leader in the dugout, Messinger likes the individual, yet still team-based, way the game is played. And the spotlight.
"I feel like baseball is just the perfect game," Messinger said. "Everything about it is pretty much perfect. There's so much strategy and it's so mental. It's structured but it's very instinctual.
"Whenever something happens, the spotlight's always on you. When there's a ground ball to short, it's always on you. There's structure in that you know what you're supposed to do and there's always a right and wrong thing to do."
Messinger is going to Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, and wants to take baseball as far as he can. Like all players, he has to specialize heading up to the college level, and he wants to play shortstop rather than pitch. That's his bread and butter.
Even Cougars head coach Craig McBride was awed by Messinger's poise at the plate, both ahead and behind in the count, and his "jaw-dropping, off-balance" throws from shortstop.
"He the kind of player every coach wants to have on their team," McBride said. "He was the leader of our team and of our young guys. He's all-around a great player."
Messinger missed last year's summer season with a broken wrist, but he's playing for the Longmont Twins Legion A team this summer. He terrorized the Northern League during the prep season, but now he'll team up with his high school rivals.
"It's weird because they were your rivals for so many years," Messinger said. "But it's OK. They're all good guys."
Brad Cochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TIMES-CALL ALL-AREA BASEBALL
C -- Reed Thomson, Sr., Erie He batted .455 with 21 RBIs for the Tigers.
1B -- Keith Albertson, Sr., Lyons He batted .472, smacked 19 doubles and drove in 34 runs.
2B -- Greg Reynolds, Jr., Silver Creek At the plate, he hit .403 with two home runs and 16 RBIs. He also stole 13 bases.
3B -- KC Rivera, So., Frederick He hit .426 with two homers and 21 RBIs.
SS -- Connor Messinger, Sr., Niwot He combined his .576 batting average with a 5-4 record over 59.1 innings on the mound.
OF -- Teagan Kramer, Sr., Silver Creek Batting .321, he drove in 20 RBIs, homered twice and stole 12 bases.
OF -- Hunter Pickett, Sr., Longmont He hit .397 with six home runs and 22 RBIs.
OF -- Jesse Fisher, Sr., Lyons He batted .484 with four homers and 21 RBIs.
DH -- Julian Moroyoqui, Jr., Longmont He batted .317 with five homers and 19 RBIs.
UT -- Josh Crist, So., Longmont He batted .426 with 16 RBIs and won four games on the mound.
P -- Jake Toretto, Sr., Silver Creek As a senior, he pitched his way to a school-record eight win with a 2.06 ERA. He hit .327 with 14 RBIs.
P -- Joey Cinea, Sr., Longmont He had a 2-1 record, 2.50 ERA and batted .470 in the Northern.
P -- Ryan Heather, Sr., Erie He pitched two complete games and recorded two saves with a 2.04 ERA while averaging 10.4 strikeouts per seven innings.
Player of the Year -- Connor Messinger, Niwot
Coach of the Year -- Trevor Platt, Silver Creek: After a rough start, he guided the Raptors to win 10 of 12 games and make the district playoffs.
Austin Apodaca, Jr., Silver Creek; Jaron Balman, So., Frederick; Cody Beaver, Fr., Mead; Colton Bishop, Sr., Erie; Zach Brodie, Sr., Lyons; James Dick, So., Longmont Christian; Taylor Dudley, Jr., Erie; Haden Fesenmeyer, Sr., Lyons; Kyle Godfrey, Sr., Erie; Tory Hargash, Sr., Longmont; Taylor Keen, Sr., Lyons; Alex Kinnison, Fr., Niwot; Matt Lamb, Sr., Frederick; AJ Lambert, Jr., Alexander Dawson; KC Lord, Jr., Silver Creek; Reilly Mau, Jr., Longmont; Griffin Nelson, Fr., Mead; Griffin Phillips, Sr., Longmont; Joshua Pratt, Jr., Longmont Christian; Dillon Reider, So., Erie; Adam Reigle, Fr., Skyline; Jake Sarosi, So., Niwot; Logan Schuster, Sr., Berthoud; Ryan Schram, Sr., Silver Creek; TJ Stanchfield, Jr., Mead; Marcus Steward, Sr., Silver Creek; Colin York, Sr., Skyline.