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Iowa high school baseball: Sibley-Ocheyedan keeping the faith better times are ahead

DOUG WOLTER/DAILY GLOBE Sibley-Ocheyedan High School baseball coach Marshall Doeden is working to resurrect a program that has fallen on hard times in recent years. Improved facilities and improving attitudes among the mostly-young Generals players foretell winning years ahead.

SIBLEY, Iowa — The Sibley-Ocheyedan high school baseball program hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2009. Since then the program hasn’t produced more than five victories in a summer.

The Generals finished 1-19 a season ago. And until Monday night, the 2014 squad was 0-6 and its closest game was an 11-1 setback.

Monday’s 3-2 loss to West Lyon won’t turn the Generals’ fortunes around in one fell swoop. They’re still 0-7.

But things may be beginning to look up.

A young, inexperienced team — provided it stays together — can learn to win together. The community is doing its part, too. Several businesses have contributed toward the improvement of facilities and equipment that were badly in need of updating when Marshall Doeden, a 2009 Sibley-Ocheyedan graduate who assisted head coach Mike Anderson last season, took over the program this summer.

Doeden, an imposing presence physically, enjoyed a remarkable career at Sibley-Ocheyedan, winning four letters in football, three in basketball, two in track, one in golf and five in baseball. He earned five all-conference awards altogether, including all-district honors in baseball. He went on to play four years of football and one year of baseball at Dakota State University in Madison, S.D.

It doesn’t automatically follow that a former star can lead his alma mater’s baseball program from mediocrity to success. But it can’t hurt.

“My biggest thing when I took it over, our facilities had to be updated tremendously,” Doeden said this week while sitting in a dugout of the baseball field next to the high school.

Much work has been done. And more is being done.

The home dugout, unimproved since 1993, and the visitors dugout, untouched since 1980, were targeted for improvements. The backstop, built in 1980, was knocked down by a tornado in 1993, and since then had been welded to the light poles to keep it standing. Work began this week to install a brand new backstop.

A two-stall equipment shed is in the process of being installed — and two new batting cages. Banners are being made to hang on the outfield fence.

The Generals’ uniforms were seven years old, but now the team has two new sets of uniforms. There are new helmets and new catchers’ gear.

Businesses and individuals who contributed toward the improvements were told there would be a good return on their investments. That meant that players needed to buy into the program, and Monday’s result — a game where sophomore Kyle Green pitched a complete game seven-hitter, allowing just one earned run — stands as evidence.

Hope hasn’t always been easy to come by.

Last year before away games, said Green, “a lot of players on the bus would wonder how short it was going to go, so it could be over and they’d have time to do something at night.”

Doeden said the program’s problems since 2009 have been varied. Some potential players chose not to play because they preferred summer jobs — not an unusual attitude anywhere after school lets out. But there were other issues of perception.

“Since my grade has left this school, it was alot about playing the seniors. But when I played, you put players out there who were the best and who were ready to go,” Doeden said.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories — ‘There’s favoritism — this person is going to play over me, so I’m not going to attempt to go out,’” he added.

Doeden hopes to change all that, though he points out that last year’s head coach, Anderson, performed well.

“They (the players) bought in. Mike knew his material, tried to get it back. What hurt us last year was the inexperience. By the end of the year we had five eighth graders starting who had never played a varsity game in their career.”

The biggest on-field problem, Doeden said, was defense. So he’s made that a priority along with working with pitchers to throw strikes.

The best way to improve on defense and pitching accuracy is to practice. Doeden spends a lot of time with his players on situations. He stresses communication on the field, and he practices it in practice. Throwing strikes, he says, is basically accomplished through repitition, so Doeden encourages his pitchers to throw alot in the spring before the high school season starts.

The team, he reports, has responded well.

“They want to be successful in this sport,” he says.

Green agrees.

“There’s a kind of, ‘Yeah, we gotta start winning games so we look good,” said the Generals pitcher. “It’s always been there that we can win games. We just gotta have the confidence. We’re always beating ourselves, so we can’t win games.”

There was some evidence of improvement last year. Doeden says that when the Generals played opponents a second time, they often started out well for the first four innings or so before they “fell apart” because they hadn’t often gotten that far in a game.

“I think a lot of it was they were satisfied, because ‘we got farther than last time,” the coach recalls.

Nobody wants to be satisfied now. Sure, better years seem to be waiting down the road, but why wait?

“They have the talent to play with teams. I don’t want them to have the ‘we’ll be better next year...’ I basically told them we want to win now. We want to earn (other teams’) respect,” Doeden said.

Respect hasn’t always been there. Rivals have typically neglected to put their best team on the field against Sibley-Ocheyedan. They have withheld their best pitchers, knowing that they were going to beat the Generals anyway.

When teams don’t respect them, said another of the Generals’ 2014 players, Trent Kruger, “it kind of lights a fire under you. You want to play your best. Then that’s when we try to play our best, past our abilities, and then we make errors.”

Doeden, however, insists that his team can beat anybody else on any given day. And he can relate to his players. Despite the fact that he experienced many successes as a high school athlete himself, he remembers many rough times as a freshman and sophomore.

“When you’re young,” he says, “you gotta just keep trying.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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