Nick Hladek, who is entering his senior season as a catcher for the Butler baseball team, led his summer collegiate wood bat team to the Valley League Championship this summer. Hladek batted .333 for the Covington Lumberjacks, a summer team based in Covington, Va.
The league championship came, according to Hladek, against all odds. With most of the Lumberjacks having gone home for the summer, the bench was thin. The team entered the playoffs with just six pitchers – three starters and three relievers – and the Crown Point, Ind., native was the only catcher left on the roster.
Yet, the Lumberjacks got hot at the right time, putting together and improbable 6-2 run during the playoffs.
“We only had 14 guys left, and at one point I had to catch for eight straight days,” Hladek said. “We were fighting through it and kept finding ways to win.”
Covington’s 6-2 win over Rockbridge on Aug. 4 brought the Lumberjacks one win from a league title. Rockbridge, based in Lexington, Va., answered with a do-or-die, 5-1 win the next evening. That set up a third and final game in the best-of-three series.
Exhausted and out-manned, Hladek and the Lumberjacks crushed Rockbridge in a 10-4 final. Hladek went 3-for-5 with two runs and three RBIs in the final. His RBI double in the third inning keyed a four-run inning that put Covington in control.
Hladek battled through injuries as a junior to play in 37 games. In and out of the lineup, he batted .245 with three home runs and 20 RBIs. He shook the injuries down in Covington, and the results showed.
“It felt good to stay healthy and play every day,” Hladek said. “I figured out my swing and managed to stay consistent.”
Hladek finished the summer hitting .333, which was 13th in the Valley League with four homers and 25 RBIs. He scored 23 runs and ranked eighth in the league with 26 walks.
Butler finished the 2011 season with 23-28-1 record, including a 13-9-1 mark at home. The Bulldogs placed fifth in the Horizon League for the second straight season.