I-L senior pitcher Brian Borders tosses a pitch during action earlier this season against Belmont. Borders solidified the Lakers staff as the number two starter. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
July 02, 2012MEREDITH – There were some great performances for the Inter-Lakes High School baseball team this spring, as the Lakers finished 10-7 with an incredibly young and inexperienced squad. Let's take a look at three of the players that really shaped the I-L roster this spring, with a mix of upper and underclassmen right in the middle of all the action.
I-L's lone senior was the team's number two starting pitcher on the season, and he came up huge in certain spots to give coach Vint Choiniere's club stability behind ace Brandon Krueger. Borders won four games on the mound during the season, beating Franklin, Belmont and White Mountains twice.
"We had a desperate need this season given our lack of experience overall," began Choiniere. "We had a clear cut ace of the staff but as we all know, you need a dependable number two starter to rely on. Since he joined our program as an eighth-grader, Brian has been working towards being that number two starter."
One big key to Borders' success this year lies in his ability to develop a second pitch to keep hitters off balance. Add in his knack for pounding the strike zone and you had a winning combination that the Lakers rode all season long.
"He was so dependable," said Choiniere. "He was also productive at the plate and played a solid defensive first base for us. All the things he represents off the field as a leader as well make him so valuable. He's a real student of the game. That might be an overused term but he really is. Just a real joy to have and it was very emotional for me to have someone graduate who has been in your program for five years. We're going to miss him a lot."
Everyone in Division III knows Brandon Krueger by now. The left-handed ace of the I-L pitching staff had yet another outstanding season, as he was named to the D-III first team all state squad for the third year in a row. The junior was also selected to play in the Junior Showcase game which consists of the best juniors in the entire state. Krueger also received some votes for D-III Player of the Year, which ultimately went to Franklin's Brian Pickowicz.
"My respect for Brandon continues to grow," Choiniere said. I first coached him when he was an eighth grader in some of the offseason leagues. I was always impressed with his potential but he's been our number one ace, a dominant ace, since the first game he pitched as a freshman. Opening day against Berlin, he wins that game as a freshman on the road against an outstanding team. He has done things, starting with his freshman year, with the entire load of the team on his shoulders. He's held up so well under incredible pressure."
In addition to being the team's best pitcher, Krueger was also a monster at the plate this spring. He finished with an incredible .464 batting average, leading the team in 14 of 15 major offensive categories.
"What's incredible is that if you take Brandon out of our team stats completely, we batted less than .200 as a team this year," explained Choiniere. "But overall he just showed tremendous growth this year. We had some moments where our defense let us down a bit, which is no surprise when you're that young. We really hurt ourselves in the playoff game. Only two of the nine runs we gave up were earned. But Brandon stayed poised, never let up in concentration. He never did anything but support his teammates. That's just everything you would want in your leader."
The sophomore burst onto the scene this spring, batting well over .300 to make the second team all state list. Not too shabby considering he opened the year as the team's number nine hitter in his first varsity season.
"He really started to catch fire," said Choiniere of Hambrook. "I like to teach hitting the ball up the middle and opposite field, we try to teach going with the pitch. Ryan started to do that incredibly well. Many of his well-hit balls went to right field."
Hambrook drove in 11 runs on the season and totaled six doubles, excellent numbers for a kid who forced his way up the I-L lineup and into the leadoff spot down the stretch.
"When he got very hot, I hesitated to take him out of the nine-hole because he was so hot there," Choiniere said. "But at that point, we needed to put him in the leadoff spot and see if he can spark the offense. Driving in 11 runs was second on our team despite hitting first and ninth, where there aren't always a lot of RBI opportunities. And he basically split his time between center field and second base depending on who was pitching. That's a lot to learn for a young player but Ryan really performed at a high level for us."