MASON CITY — For NIACC baseball coach Travis Hergert and his staff, there’s one main goal they want to accomplish with the team in any given year.
Regional titles are nice and World Series trips are great, but the Trojans are all about getting guys ready to play at the next level and beyond. Days like Wednesday are the big reward.
NIACC had four players sign National Letters of Intent Wednesday with Division I schools. Newman grad Bryce Ball signed with Dallas Baptist, Tyler Lien with Louisiana-Monroe, Joey Werner with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and Brandon Williamson with Michigan State.
“It’s really rewarding because to me it’s a culmination of their hard work and just being able to trust our process,” Hergert said. “This is why they come to a place like NIACC. This is what we sell them on. We don’t sell them on winning and losing, we sell them on being able to get better to go to the highest level possible.”
Ball seemed destined for this fate even early on in high school. In his days as a prep at Newman, one could always see the raw, physical ability he possessed, but it took a year more at NIACC to hone those skills.
He finished his freshman season as a first-team all-region selection after hitting .419 with 22 doubles, seven home runs and 52 RBIs.
“It’s pretty crazy to think that I came from Newman, a 1A school with a good baseball tradition, then came here to another good baseball tradition of sending guys on to big schools. It’s meant a lot,” Ball said.
When it came down to schools, Ball had plenty of options.
The recruiting process is not an easy thing, Ball said, but Dallas Baptist, which is a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, had everything he was looking for, especially his favorite part of the game.
“Hitting. It’s all hitting,” Ball said of what he liked about Dallas Baptist. “It’s very similar to what we do here — I mean, it is what we do here. It’s hit balls hard. The campus is nice, but just the environment and the coaches, all around it’s awesome.”
For Werner, the decision to sign with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi came all the way down to Wednesday morning, but it’s a decision he’s thrilled with.
Werner hit .324 as a freshman with five home runs, seven doubles and 27 RBIs.
“All the hard work, preparation and baseball I played throughout my life and it’s a dream come true playing DI baseball,” Werner said. “But there’s still more work to do; it never ends.”
Finally, there’s the pitching products who worked tirelessly to turn themselves into Division-I players.
Williamson, a tall lefty, had plenty of options of where to go, but playing in the Big Ten was something he always wanted to do and Michigan State wound up being the perfect fit.
He was 4-1 last season with an ERA of 3.86 in 49 innings across 14 appearances and five starts.
It was deciding on NIACC that was the initial game changer, though.
“Out of high school, I wasn’t going to be a Division I pitcher and didn’t even know if I wanted to play,” Williamson said. “I came here, trusted him (Hergert) and the coaches, and they made me who I am now.”
Lien came into NIACC with a lot to prove, too. But, as a lefty, if he could improve his game and put forth a quality first season with the Trojans, the phone was bound to start ringing. He did just that as he pitched his way to a 5-2 record with 48 strikeouts in 49⅓ innings.
The credit went right back to NIACC.
“Coach Hergert is the greatest junior college coach in the country,” Lien said. “He takes kids like me and Brandon who weren’t that good coming out of high school and he turns them into (Division I players). That’s why I came here. He’s 90 percent of the reason I’m here today.”