GAYLORD — As a junior last season, Gaylord pitcher Robbie Hansen was one of the top arms in the Big North.
The problem was the run support behind him wasn’t strong enough to keep his win-loss record among the league’s other best pitchers.
The Blue Devils have spent the offseason working on their hitting and, most importantly, want to use it to help their pitching staff which includes Hansen, Levi Irish, Jack Korte, Brandt Kierczynski and a host of other arms that appear to be in the mix.
“Hopefully, we can put some runs on the board,” Gaylord coach John Schneider said. “He (Hansen) kept us in games all season, and he really didn’t deserve the record he earned pitching. We’ve concentrated a little more on hitting this year.”
While extra work on Sundays has helped the Blue Devils, Schneider also dug into the baseball team’s budget to improve the squad’s hitting.
“We got a new pitching machine, and we can go 36 balls at a time,” he said. “It’s an Iron Mike pitching machine and is remote, so I can shut it off and on to work on a kid’s hitting. It’s really consistent.
“It’s going to help our hitting here in the future, and the skies are the limit for these kids this year.”
That’s good news for Hansen, who has lofty goals for his final season in a Blue Devils’ uniform. Goals that include guiding Gaylord past the Division 2 district tournament as well as a bunch of individual achievements he wants to accomplish.
“We definitely plan on winning a district title this year,” Hansen said. “We’re hopefully going to the regional.
“We just want to get as far as we can. It’s gotten us down that we haven’t won districts, so that’s definitely our goal to win a district title.
“I hope to be the Big North Player of the Year, personally. That’s my goal. I want to be First Team All-Conference and maybe be an All-Stater. I set my goals high and try to do better than I did last year. I just need to keep doing my best.”
The Blue Devils were 10-20-1 last season and lost to Gladwin, 13-5, in shocking fashion in the D2 pre-district at home.
Following the loss, the team set a goal of winning 20 games this season.
Hansen has stepped up to improve his game with offseason training with private coaches, extra lifting and working on his mechanics with new Gaylord assistant James Van Wagoner, the former coach at Mancelona, who was one of the top head coaches in the Ski Valley the past decade.
“Our new assistant coach, Coach Van Wagoner, came in and has really been working on our mechanics,” Hansen said. “My mechanics are a lot better, and it has helped with my control. It’s put a lot more velocity on my fastball, for sure. My offspeed pitches are moving really good.”
Hansen, who is 6-foot-4 and 268 pounds, estimated that he is throwing 80 to 85 mph, an improvement from last year.
The rest of the Blue Devils have improved as well.
“We’ve done a lot of pitching and hitting on Sunday practices since December,” Hansen said. “There’s just been guys in, and we’ve put the work in.
“All the pitchers have improved greatly. Our hitting is getting better. We should be a solid baseball team this year.”
While Gaylord hopes its run support improves this season, it already knows it’ll carry one of the best pitching staffs in the area.
“Robbie has added velocity to his fastball,” Schneider said. “Levi Irish is an entirely different pitcher than last year. He’s probably been our most consistent strike thrower.
“Korte and Brandt are just doing a great job, and our pitching staff is just really solid this year.”