Holcomb's VanCleave takes top spring sports honor
By BRETT MARSHALL
By BRETT MARSHALL
When the 2014 spring baseball season started for the Holcomb Longhorns, freshman Conner VanCleave wanted to do his utmost to make sure the program would be laying a foundation of winning that would continue into the future.
After the season came to an end for the Longhorns, this one in the Class 3A regional finals against Lyons, VanCleave and his teammates had more than accomplished that goal.
Finishing with an 11-10 overall record, believed to be the first winning season since the mid-1990s, the Longhorns established themselves as the team of the future by virtue of having no seniors on the roster.
VanCleave was a big part of the Longhorns' success, but he is the first to credit his teammates for any success he enjoyed.
And certainly his statistics bear that out, and for his accomplishments this past season, VanCleave was voted The Telegram's Spring Sports Player of the Year.
This year's honor covers the sports of baseball, softball, boys tennis, boys golf, girls soccer and girls swimming.
A standout pitcher, the 6-4 VanCleave compiled an 8-3 record while leading the team in innings pitched at 69 2/3 (just more than half of the team's total innings played). He recorded a Class 3A state best 106 strikeouts while walking just 17 batters. And while he did give up 37 runs in his time on the mound, only 13 of those were earned, giving him a sparkling 1.31 earned-run average.
"Getting to high school baseball was different, and the fact we didn't have any seniors, and nobody expected much from us, it was a pretty fun experience," VanCleave said. "We wanted to prove we are a good team, and I think we accomplished that. The reason I was successful was because of the defense that my teammates provided. I couldn't have done it without them."
In 12 mound appearances, VanCleave yielded 55 hits and 37 runs. He tossed a five-inning no-hitter on April 8 against Spearville, a game in which he faced just 16 batters, one over the minimum. He struck out 11 batters in that game.
"I think it was a good season, and I'm really ready for the next one," VanCleave said. "We've got almost everybody coming back, so we're looking for even more good things next season."
VanCleave perhaps saved his best outing of the season in the Class 3A regional semifinals, when he and his Longhorns took on the No. 1-seeded TMP-Marian Monarchs of Hays. In that game, VanCleave limited TMP to just six hits, giving up no runs in a 1-0 upset victory. He recorded 11 strikeouts while walking just one in picking up the big win.
"The TMP game was exciting all the way through," VanCleave recalled. "It was great to share that with the older kids. We knew we wanted to get to the regional finals, but in the Lyons game (a 6-1 Holcomb loss), we just didn't play with the same confidence, and we didn't make as many plays as we'd made in the other games."
When looking at his composite season game-by-game, VanCleave was blessed with consistency — in his eight victories, he never gave up more than four earned runs in a complete game. In fact, had Colby (a 4-3 Holcomb loss), Hugoton (a 9-7 Longhorn setback) and Elkhart (a 5-3 loss), all been limited to earned runs, VanCleave and his teammates would have had two more wins and gone into extra innings to determine the outcome of the other.
When not on the mound, VanCleave mostly played first base with an occasional appearance in the outfield. He batted .338 with 22 hits in 65 at bats, while compiling a team-high 29 RBIs. He had seven doubles and two home runs and only succumbed to five strikeouts. He had a .538 slugging percentage and a .427 on-base percentage.
"I still want to improve my hitting and get it back to where it used to be," VanCleave said of his offensive statistics. "The main thing is to do what I can to help my team get better."
VanCleave and the Longhorns were coached by his father, Todd, and it is a role that the younger VanCleave is quite comfortable with.
"It's been normal for most of my baseball playing," Conner said. "He's coached me through the years, and I just have to deal with his expectations. It's an awesome experience. The main things he works with me on is to learn how to not lose my focus."
VanCleave said he would like to improve his velocity (he's been clocked at 84 mph on his fastball), and "I'd like to spot my curveball better," he said.
A multi-sport athlete at HHS, VanCleave also played football and basketball for the Longhorns, but baseball is his first love.
"I like playing the others, and they do things to benefit me," VanCleave said. "But, yes, baseball is the main sport."
The remainder of The Telegram's spring sports first team was comprised of three Garden City High School girls soccer players; two GCHS softball players; and athletes from tennis, golf, swimming from seven other area schools.
2014 Telegram All-Area Spring Sports
Name, School Sport
Enneliese Alcantar, Garden City Girls Soccer
Cecilia Alvarez, Garden City Girls Soccer
Dusti Befort, Garden City Softball
Sloan Baker, Scott City Baseball
Abbie Dart, Garden City Softball
Karlee Davidson, Lakin Softball
Reid Davis, Hugoton Baseball
Stephen Degallado, Ulysses Baseball
Taylor Deniston, Holcomb Softball
Dozie Ekweariri, Garden City Boys Tennis
Jhorynn Hernandez, Lakin Softball
Chase Keller, Syracuse Boys Golf
Taylor Larsen, Garden City Boys Golf
Samantha Norton, Garden City Girls Swimming
Maria Rodriguez, Garden City Girls Soccer
Kenzie Roth, Holcomb Softball
Thomas Solorio, Garden City Baseball
Conner VanCleave, Holcomb Baseball
Ryder Yakel, Lakin Baseball
Spring Sports Player of the Year — Conner VanCleave, Holcomb