MASON CITY — When NIACC coach Travis Hergert was watching Brandon Williamson during his senior season at Martin County West High School in Minnesota, he saw potential.
Williamson was a good high school pitcher, but his fastball was rarely topping out into the mid-80s, which, if that were to persist into college at the level NIACC plays at, it would be tough to stand out. The thing Hergert liked, though, was the pitcher he thought Williamson could be.
“You’ve got this 6-foot-5, 180-pound left-hander and those just don’t fall off trees, and he was fairly athletic,” Hergert said. “I thought this kid could grow into his body and learn his craft, and that’s what he’s done.”
That frame could’ve led him to basketball. Football was even something Williamson enjoyed in high school. But it’s baseball that’s gotten the Welcome, Minnesota, native’s full attention, and the results since arriving at NIACC couldn’t be better.
Gone are the days of throwing those 80-mph fastballs. Williamson is now into the mid-90s.
So, now he has the fastball, and as a lefty who throws heat, the scouts wanted to see his other pitches develop more. Check that off as Williamson has devoted this offseason to improving that as well. When it all comes together, you’ve got a kid who’s put in the work to push himself to the next level.
“It takes like a motivation, really, and confidence to a certain point,” Williamson said. “You don’t come to a JUCO because you’re all this and that. You come to get better and work hard, and that’s really what it takes is a motivation and a mindset to know what you’re doing and hard work.”
Williamson was 4-1 last season with an ERA of 3.86 in 49 innings across 14 appearances and five starts. He added 47 strikeouts, pitched one complete game and had one save.
The numbers last year, plus his pitching intangibles, were enough for Division I schools to take notice, and Michigan State was his choice as he signed with the Spartans this past fall.
It’s what’s coming down the pipeline next that has him striving to be even better.
Last week, Perfect Game, an online baseball scouting website, released its top 150 JUCO pro prospects. Williamson checked in at No. 12. NIACC’s Bryce Ball and Isaac Greer also made the list.
“It’s a little more stressful to tell you the truth because at the end of the day, it’s not Herg’s career, it’s not the team's; it’s on my shoulders and it’s how far I want to take it or how hard I want to work for it,” Williamson said. “It’s a little more stressful going from just talking to schools to questionnaires from pro teams, and you start to realize it’s a little more important what you’re doing than what you thought.
“It kind of motivates, too. You’re so close and you just want to get there and it makes you want to work even harder.”
Hergert said Williamson’s changeup is starting to come around as it was a pitch scouts wanted to see him work on. Williamson adds that to a solid slider, which Hergert calls “pretty devastating.”
Getting players to this point, after all, is what Hergert and his staff at NIACC live for. He’s always been adamant that college World Series appearances, conference titles and all that are great, but what they want is to develop players for the next level. Williamson is just the latest product.
The only thing left to do is end the winter waiting and get back on the field against live competition. NIACC’s season opens with a four-game series at MCC-Maple Woods in Kansas City, Missouri, on Feb. 24 and 25. And to Hergert, Williamson can only go up.
Williamson just wants to remain grounded.
“I try not to think about what’s to come or what happened before. I try and focus on today,” he said. “We have a saying: ‘Get one percent better today,’ and that’s what I’m focused on today.”