MA senior Hunter Jensen, shown here with coaches Todd Clifford (right) and Tom Dawson (left) put together quite an impressive offensive season during his final year in a Panther uniform. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
May 28, 2012MOULTONBORO – It doesn't take long to notice Hunter Jensen on a baseball field. The Moultonboro Academy senior second baseman stands out almost right away. That's especially true at the plate, where Jensen does the bulk of his work for the Panthers. Hitting third in the lineup, the left-handed slugger has been a menace for opposing pitchers since he began playing at MA. With the home stretch of his career in high school now upon him, and his final postseason slated to begin this afternoon, Jensen admits a lot of work has gone into making him one of, if not the, most feared hitters in all of Division IV.
"I think turning from an athlete to a baseball player has been the biggest change since I started high school," explained Jensen during practice at MA last week. "I stopped playing other sports except for this past year I played football in the fall just to get more conditioned. But I've really focused on baseball in the offseason. That was that big jump. Really starting sophomore year, I made that connection that I wanted to focus on baseball."
With that dedication came trips south to Concord, where Jensen worked with a swing coach at Concord Sports Center during the winter months and on weekends. The extensive soft toss and tee work helped mold his swing into what it is today, as some tweaks were made to get things even sharper entering this season.
"There's definitely been a big change," Jensen said of his swing. "I've always kind of tried to just hit for average but I wanted to get more of a power swing into it. I really started to use my legs more this year. That's one thing we really worked on during this past offseason."
Jensen admits he models his game after New York Yankees star Robinson Cano, another left-handed hitting second baseman.
"I switched to more of an open stance like he has so really looking at his swing has helped shape mine," he admitted.
Whoever he mimics at the plate, Jensen's teammates know they've got a special player in the middle of their lineup. His ability to hit the baseball has almost become a given to other Panthers.
"Hunter's definitely an amazing baseball player," said senior third baseman/pitcher Duncan Richards. "I'm pretty sure there's no doubt in any of our minds that he can go pretty far in baseball. I'm in the second spot in the lineup, he's right behind me. Having him right behind me, I almost always know that I'm going to advance on the bases. It's just kind of a reassurance having him on the team."
While Jensen absolutely pounded New Hampshire pitching this spring to the tune of a .500 batting average, 15 RBI, four triples and two home runs in 42 at bats, he began noticing opposing pitchers working around him even as early as last year during his junior campaign.
"Last year I really started noticing I wasn't going to see a lot of fastballs," he explained. "So I really worked on hitting more sliders and curveballs and stuff like that. You've just got to adjust to it, that's the game."
With the chance of seeing quality pitches during his at-bats decreasing as teams became more and more familiar with Jensen, he admits it can be difficult to stay patient at the dish from time to time.
"I went 0-for-3 the other day because I was getting so itchy looking for a hit," he began. "I was swinging at pitches I shouldn't have, popped out twice and grounded out. It's definitely been a mental game as far as swinging at the best pitch and being precise about it to get the best results."
Richards sees Jensen being pitched to differently as well, especially with teams that see MA on a regular basis.
"Especially when we face pitchers that know him you'll see different pitches," Richards said. "You can tell they're throwing all of us fastballs and he's sitting on curveballs and changeups because they know what he's capable of and they're not going to let him have it."
Jensen even saw some time on the mound for MA this spring, as he got into games against Nute, Groveton, Sunapee and D-IV powerhouse Portsmouth Christian. While he pitched well against Nute and Sunapee, the results were mixed for the inexperienced hurler.
"It was interesting," he said with a laugh. "My first outing was against Nute and I had some success against them. But then Portsmouth Christian came in and that was a whole new story. But it was interesting. I've always kind of wanted to pitch to give it a try. But it was definitely a lot harder than I expected it to be. I'll stay in the middle infield, for sure."
After making the varsity team at MA his freshman year, Jensen has seen the Panthers struggle a bit until putting together a solid campaign this spring. Not a bad way for his time in a red, white and black uniform to come to an end.
"It's been an amazing season," he said. "I made varsity my freshman year and we've kind of struggled my freshman, sophomore and junior year. So this year, to even be around a .500 record all season has been amazing. This one has definitely been a good senior year for me."
The season included a trademark 6-0 win over rival Inter-Lakes last week, as Jensen and company rebounded from a tough loss in Meredith back in April when the teams met the first time around.
"That was definitely a lot of fun," said Jensen of the win. "I played legion ball with (I-L's) Brandon Krueger so to be able to go back and forth with him was kind of fun. Definitely spared myself from some trash talk this summer."
With his high school career about to come to a close, the future is wide open for the talented Jensen. After graduation, he will serve a mission for his church in Carlsbad, Calif. that will begin in August and last two years before hoping to return to baseball.
"My goal was to play college baseball and I realized to get there coming from such a small town, I had to be able to hit the ball and I had to be able to hit the ball good," he admitted. "Working on that, that was my drive. Hitting is definitely 80 or 90 percent of my game. I'm talking to a few schools now that would hopefully hold a scholarship for me. If I can get a school to commit, that would be the best situation. There are a few schools out west that are interested so I'm hoping to finalize something this summer."
Wherever he ends up, Jensen will most certainly hit. He's got plenty of success in that department, and hopefully a few more games to add to his impressive resume before his time at MA comes to a close.