Spring Preps Spotlight: No. 4 Summit High baseball all-stars Brian Hessler and Jacob Payer | SummitDaily.com

Spring Preps Spotlight: No. 4 Summit High baseball all-stars Brian Hessler and Jacob Payer

Editor's note: This is Part Three of a three-part interview series with Summit High School spring sports stars. To read the complete interviews, including Part One with track and girls lacrosse and Part Two with girls soccer and boys lacrosse, see the sports section at SummitDaily.com.

Not to jinx anything, but this spring's Summit High baseball team is already going down as the best in school history.

Since moving to 4A in the mid-2000s, the Tigers have struggled on the ballfield, with only a handful of winning seasons in the past decade. Their woes can't all be blamed on tough opponents like Rifle and Palisade: When more than half of the season is spent playing doubleheaders in enemy territory and hitting balls in a gym because there's still a foot of snow outside, it's hard to find a rhythm on real-live grass and dirt.

Sometimes, though, all it takes to overcome Mother Nature is a solid crew of committed seniors (and maybe a balmy April). It's what happened in 2015, when the Tigers went 12-6 thanks to future college recruits like infield slugger Thomas DeBonville, (Nebraska State University), Luke Egging (McCook Community College, Nebraska) and Mitchell Gray (Trinidad State, Colorado), and it's happening in 2017, when the boys are 12-2 overall and undefeated in 4A Western Slope league play with five games remaining, including a doubleheader against rough-and-tough Palisade (11-3 overall, 6-1 league) on April 28.

Like two seasons ago, college recruits lead this year's team: senior catcher Brian Hessler (Trinity College, Texas) and senior ace Andrew Shaw (Adams State College, Colorado). Add another six veteran senior starters, and Summit now sits at No. 4 overall (MaxPreps) and No. 9 overall (CHSAA) in the 4A Colorado standings — more bests for the program.

Before the final stretch of the regular season, the Summit Daily sports desk talked with Hessler and senior first baseman Jacob Payer about the highs and lows of a historic team.

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Brian Hessler | No. 7 Tigers baseball

It ain't easy playing catcher for the top 4A leftie in the state, but senior Brian Hessler doesn't mind. Not like it's anything new: He's been behind the plate for senior Andrew Shaw since the two were in little league, and he's now helping the Tigers ace (0.81 ERA, 85Ks in 43 innings) look even better in the state playoff hunt. Add another 50-plus innings catching for the team's remaining rotation and it's no wonder Hessler is one of four captains with Shaw, Jacob Payer and Sam Hull.

He's also a beast at bat. The 6-foot, 3-inch Trinity College recruit boasts a .371 average and .551 on-base percentage, with 13 hits and 10 RBIs in 12 games. He's hoping for more of the same in the final five games.

First baseball memory: I loved it right away. What kept me coming back is that I love that competitive atmosphere and being outside.

My baseball highlight: Probably the eight-game winning streak we have had this season. It has been fun to be part of such a competitive team that takes pride in winning — not just happy to win.

My favorite memory off the ball field: The way this year has gone. It's fun to watch everyone play so well and have everyone have so much fun playing. Everyone on our team gets along and enjoys each other. I will never forget this year's players and what they mean to me.

If I weren't playing baseball…: I would probably be doing things outside. I love being outside and being active. I cannot sit still very long.

Pregame meal: I don't have a favorite meal, but I like to eat a lot because if I don't I will crash in the middle of the game.

Post-win celebration: Being with my teammates. What better way to celebrate than with the people who got you that win?

Pump-up music: I don't really have a favorite music to listen to before a game. I really don't care, but whatever gets other people excited to play works for me.

My pre-game ritual: I've had the same basic pre-game ritual and routine with my warm-ups and stretching since I was 14; however, I am very superstitious. I will not wear the same clothes if I play bad, or if I get out too much with a bat, then I start using a different one. My biggest superstition is that I keep a pearl bracelet in my bag for good luck. No one wants to blame themselves for losing or playing bad, so that's why I have my superstitions: so I have something other then myself to blame if things don't go well.

Biggest rival on the ball field: Rifle. We do not like each other, and the games are usually close and extremely competitive.

Jacob Payer | No. 9 Tigers baseball

Jacob Payer didn't start at first base the summer before eighth grade, but by his sophomore year with the Tigers he'd found his calling. The senior captain is now a vital cog in Summit's infield, rounded out by Max Hess at second, Turner McDonald at shortstop and Will Heuck at third.

After a slow start at the plate, Payer found his swing when Summit started playing league doubleheaders in early April. He now boasts a .324 average and .468 on-base percentage with 12 hits, 7 RBIs and 9 runs in 14 games, including 5 RBIs against Englewood on April 10. He's peaking at just the right time.

First baseball memory: The first time I played baseball was on a little league team with a lot of the players I still play with now. I loved it right away. I think that the missed catches, bad throws and strikeouts are what kept me coming back. These mistakes made the game fun to come back to because they gave me a drive to get better.

My baseball highlight: The way we have been playing this year. The best part has been the games we have battled back in when we were losing.

My favorite memory off the ball field: The bus rides back after games that we win. There's always such a good atmosphere that makes them fun.

If I weren't playing baseball…: I would probably be playing rugby. It looks like a lot of fun and playing a contact sport would be cool.

Pregame meal: The breakfast burritos that one of the parents always makes for the team.

Post-win celebration: Go out and get food as a team and have a fun bus ride back.

Pump-up music: My favorite genre of music to listen to before working out or practicing is country. I have always listened to country, so it kind of helps me get into my groove.

My pre-game ritual: I have a lot of pregame rituals. I always wear the same socks and shirt under my jersey. When we are winning I don't shave or wash my uniforms. I just kind of started doing these things and it worked, so I stuck with it and it kept working.

Biggest rival on the ball field: Definitely Palisade. We've never beaten them, so when we go to play them that puts a chip on my shoulder and (gives me) extra drive to beat them.

Editor’s note: This article was revised to reflect current rankings from CHSAA. These rankings are voted on by coaches and media, and are considered the official Colorado state preps rankings.

2017 Tigers baseball schedule

March 9 — vs. Alameda (19-2 win)

March 11 — vs. Skyview (12-1 win)

March 14 — vs. Middle Park (8-2 win)

March 18 — vs. Canon City (6-9 loss)

March 22 — vs. Arvada (13-2 win)

March 29 — vs. Colorado Academy (4-5 loss)

April 1 — vs. Rifle (6-2 win, 6-5 win)

April 5 — vs. Battle Mountain (12-4 win)

April 8 — vs. Glenwood Springs (1-0 win, 5-2 win)

April 10 — vs. Englewood (22-2 win, rescheduled from March)

April 12 — vs. Eagle Valley, (5-0 win, 14-11 win)

April 28 — vs. Palisade, Palisade at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. (varsity doubleheader)

May 2 — vs. Battle Mountain, Frisco Peninsula Park at 3 p.m. (weather depending)

May 5 — vs. Steamboat Springs, Frisco Peninsula Park at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. (varsity doubleheader, weather depending)