COAL CITY – When last year’s baseball season ended, Coal City’s Blake Harseim went to work.
Harseim, who had just completed his sophomore year, didn’t take a summer job, but he worked on his game and his body in general.
The work paid off, as he helped lead the Coalers to a 29-8 record this season and, in the process, earned the honor as the Morris Herald-News Player of the Year.
“After last season, I went to [Rhino Sports in] Romeoville and hit there a couple times a week,” Harseim said. “I was also able to work on my arm there, too. And, I grew a couple inches and lifted weights four times a week.
“I knew that I wouldn’t get better without hard work, and I wanted to get better.”
The work paid off, Coal City coach Jerry McDowell said.
“In my 30 years of coaching, I don’t think I saw anyone improve as much as Blake improved this year,” McDowell said. “He really dedicated himself to becoming a better baseball player and he did it.”
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound junior faced stiff competition for the award from his own teammate, freshman Payton Hutchings. But it was his leadership and all-around play that secured the honor.
Harseim played shortstop when he wasn’t pitching and served as the captain of the infield. He also hit in the middle of the batting order, leading the team with a .355 batting average to go with six doubles, one home run and 16 RBIs.
He also struck out just eight times in 107 at-bats and stole four bases in five attempts.
When it was his turn to pitch, he went 5-2 with three saves. He threw 66 innings. which tied Hutchings for the team lead and had the same ERA at 1.48.
Harseim struck out 58 and walked 16, and the highlight of his season came in the Class 3A regional championship when he no-hit Morris for seven innings before being relieved by Keegan Gagliardo in a 1-0, nine-inning victory.
Harseim shows his versatility on the baseball diamond by being able to play shortstop as well as pitch, and he is also versatile throughout the school year as he will play both football and basketball for the Coalers as well.
But he’s pretty clear that his first love is baseball.
“If I play a sport in college, I want it to be baseball,” he said. “I’ve already had a couple of offers, but I’m not ready to decide yet. I am going to keep working to get better this off-season and see what other offers I can get.”
He is looking forward to next season already, and knows how to take the leadership mantle that will be thrust upon him as a senior.
“We lost a lot of seniors from the year before coming into this year,” Harseim said. “Jake Brnca, Zack Nolan and Drew Moir were good leaders for us this year, and I had to be one, too, having been up on the varsity as a sophomore. I know I am going to have to be a leader again next year, and I learned a lot from those guys this year.”
McDowell, who retired at the end of this season, knows that he has left his club in good hands with a player like Harseim returning.
“Blake always plays hard,” McDowell said. “His uniform is always dirty at the end of a game. He knows the game well and goes about doing things the right way. He was able to pitch and play short for us this year and even volunteered to catch if we needed him to. He just wants to do whatever he can to help the team be better, and that’s all you can ask of a player.
“We weren’t sure what we were going to have at the beginning of the year and we ended up winning 29 games and a regional title. Blake was a very big part of that. He was in the top two or three on the team in almost every offensive and pitching category we have.”