Jun. 28—Landon Waddell was happy to see the Mitchell baseball calendar turn to June earlier this summer.
He had a rough spring high school season on the mound, posting the highest earned-run average of Mitchell's spring pitching staff. So as Waddell and his teammates moved to the Post 18 Legion season, he took the opportunity to reset his game and his approach on the mound.
And it is paying dividends in a big way. Waddell, an incoming senior, has posted a 2.44 earned-run average in 28 2/3 Legion innings and a WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) of 1.326. Both stats are a team-best for Post 18.
In five starts, he has a 3-1 record, allowing 24 hits and has a 2-to-1 ratio on his strikeouts to walks, with 30 punchouts compared to 14 walks.
"I've been getting better at not getting deep in counts and coming with a strike-first pitch," Waddell said. "This season, my off-speed pitch has been a lot better and that's been a big plus for me."
Mitchell coach Luke Norden said Waddell's approach has been better, working to mix speeds and locations when he's on the mound.
"He's been doing way more pitching instead of throwing," Norden said. "He's been focusing on executing his pitches, throwing off-speed pitches for strikes, not worrying about trying to throw it by everyone. Early in the season, he was trying to throw the ball by guys. Now, he's changing eye levels (for hitters.) ... He's more confident and has done a good job of attacking the strike zone.
He's also gotten the leadoff man out more than two-thirds of time this season (20 times in 28 2/3 innings). Opponents have been held to hitting .226 against him, and Waddell and teammate Jonah Schmidt (28 strikeouts) have been trading with each other the Post 18 lead in strikeouts during the Legion season.
Waddell's strongest performance of the season came June 25 in an 8-1 win over Aberdeen at Cadwell Park, allowing just four hits and striking out seven in a complete game effort. After a first-inning run, Waddell allowed only one hit after the third inning and effectively mixed locations and speeds to keep the Smittys off-balance at the plate.
It was his third start this season with at least seven strikeouts in a start, hitting a season-high eight strikeouts twice already this year.
In the spring, Waddell had an ERA of 8.71 in 17 2/3 innings pitched with 20 walks and 24 strikeouts
"He had really high expectations and wanted to help the team be successful and sometimes you put a little too much pressure on yourself," Norden said of the spring. "But as he's gone along this season, he's gotten more comfortable and really improved."
American Legion baseball allows players to compete until their age 19 season, even if they've already been to college. In 2021, that includes any player born in 2002.
This year, Mitchell is able to take advantage of the rule, including with a pair of players that will be on college baseball rosters next spring.
Brady Brosz, who played college baseball in 2021 with Southwest Minnesota State, and Ryan McGinnis, who wrestled last year at Dakota Wesleyan University, but will be on the baseball roster in 2022, are on the Post 18 roster.
Norden said those players provide great knowledge to their teammates from their post-high school experience and from years in Mitchell's program.
"There's just the knowledge and having experienced a little bit more at that next level and being able to share that with your teammates is a big thing," Norden said. "It's kind of like having another coach in some ways."
Brosz, who made four relief appearances for the Division II Mustangs last spring, has been highly effective in his limited time on the mound this summer, with 13 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. Norden said Brosz been sidelined for the last three weeks with tendonitis, limiting his ability to contribute on the field. McGinnis, who plays catcher, has played in 17 games so far this season with an on-base percentage of .372.
"It might be guys that are playing college ball or not but it's not like bringing a talented kid up who hasn't been in the system. You're bringing back someone who has the experience and knows what's expected," Norden said.
With four wins at Cadwell Park to close last week, Mitchell Post 18 started to see more success in the win column, perhaps turning a corner in the 2021 summer season. After a lopsided loss to Brandon Valley, that included a pair of wins against the Renner Royals, who were eight games above .500 entering a June 24 meeting in Mitchell.
Norden said his team was just a few steps away from victories earlier in the month, and noted he had to tell his team that they were closer to success than they had first believed.
"It's just been a case of taking some small little steps. And we've done that lately," Norden said. "It really comes down to just a small percent at a time, just growing by a little percent. We didn't need to jump a ravine to get where we wanted to go. We just need to keep climbing a little bit of that rope and keep getting better."
Mitchell (12-16) plays five games this week against more quality opponents, starting with a single game on Tuesday at Harrisburg and two games at Brookings on Wednesday. Post 18 will also host Pierre for a 5 p.m. doubleheader on Friday, July 3.
"We're playing a lot more free and we've talked a lot about that ... playing as a team and having more fun and just being as loose as we can, rather than being tight and worried about making mistakes," Waddell said. "We're just going out and playing baseball."