Heritage Hall coach Pat Wasson learned something last year when he went to a four-man rotation.
“At the end of the year, those guys were fresh,” Wasson said. “We had Bob Kraft out there and he was throwing his best in the playoffs.”
Kraft, the Chargers' No. 1 last year, is now at New Mexico State, but Wasson has kept the same philosophy going with his pitchers.
After a bit of a rough start, it's paid off as the Chargers surged to make the Class 4A state tournament, which begins Thursday at Shawnee, where Heritage Hall will take on Berryhill at 11 a.m.
They'll go with their No. 1 this year, Chad Nelson, in the opener.
“It's started with good pitching,” Nelson said, pointing to players like junior Tyler Huber and freshman Ryan Huber, who are brothers. “We're getting ahead and attacking hitters.”
Nelson is 8-2 with a 2.20 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP.
“He's able to hit his spots so well,” Tyler Huber, who catches Nelson, said. “His slider has really good movement on it and he's able to put it where he wants.”
Nelson gives plenty of credit to the older Huber, who sat out last season after transferring from Putnam North, with his progression into the Chargers' ace.
“I hardly ever shake him off,” Nelson said. “He almost always knows what I want and what we need to throw. That makes my job so much easier.”
What's also helped is the ability to keep him from behind the plate.
Early in the season, Nelson caught when Tyler Huber pitched or was playing elsewhere.
But a minor injury earlier in the season opened the door for freshman Caleb Gfeller to see time behind the plate.
Gfeller's performance gave Wasson the confidence to keep Nelson out of the grind of catching and to give Huber a break when needed.
The Chargers got off to a rough start, due in part to ambitious scheduling and in part to the young players getting acclimated as Heritage Hall worked to replace the significant pieces it lost last year. But the state tournament never faded as a goal.
It certainly wasn't a given either.
“I always knew the potential was there,” Tyler Huber said. “I just didn't know how quickly or if it was going to come together this year.”
Now that it has come together for the Chargers, senior outfielder Barry J. Sanders said Nelson is a big reason why.
“He's such a competitor,” Sanders said. “We have a lot of confidence in him — sometimes too much because we think he can do it all. But we realized pretty early, and Coach Wasson told us that the group of us was as good as it was going to get, there wasn't anyone else coming, so we went to work and everybody's improved, especially Chad.”