Mike Pithan was one of the smaller players for Bishop Heelan when he was an eighth-grader, but he easily caught baseball coach Andy Osborne's eye.
Back then, Osborne had a practice player of the day award and a WWE-style belt was given to the winner. Even as an eighth-grader, Pithan brought the belt home quite often.
"He's been such a competitor since he joined the program. As an eighth-grader, he jumped out to us," Osborne said. "He stood in there as an eighth-grader and competed right there with the varsity players. His biggest setback as an eighth-grader was his size. He wasn't physically ready but he competed his tail off."
Pithan, this week's Journal Metro Athlete of the Week, also knew he needed to add some weight to his frame. As a senior, he still isn't the biggest player on the team but he's matured into his body because of the work he's put in.
"I put a lot of time in the weight room to get better to make the varsity roster," Pithan said. "I knew size was my issue but I put the work in the weight room to be able to play and contribute to the team."
Pithan started to contribute to the team as a sophomore. He only had eight at-bats but he was the main defensive replacement for Osborne's squad that qualified for the Class 3A state tournament.
Then when Mason Heaton graduated, Colin Kasperbauer moved to third base, opening up a starting spot at second base last season for Pithan. He quickly made the most out of his opportunity, batting .368 with 27 RBIs.
Osborne said he wasn't surprised with Pithan's breakout as a junior. Pithan just needed the opportunity to play is all.
"He matured and was ready to play the game at that level," Osborne said. "It was fun to watch him play and do so many things well, not just defensively because he always excelled there. Offensively, he's taken off."
Last season Pithan batted lower in the lineup because the Crusaders batting order was full of talent from top to bottom. But most of that talent from Heelan's run to state last year graduated. Pithan is really the only key piece back from last season's squad.
Pithan had one goal this season. Even though there would be a bunch of new players in the lineup, he wanted to help lead them back to Des Moines.
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"People throughout the city thought this would be a down year and didn't think we would be that good," Pithan said. "I like playing for Heelan a lot and playing for my school and playing for my teammates. I've had some great teammates and made some great friends. I don't care about individual accolades. I just want to win with my teammates and make it back to Des Moines.
"It's been a pleasure playing for Heelan the last five summers. It's been the best five years of my life. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be playing baseball in college."
Pithan, along with Heelan, is having a great start to the season. Pithan is batting .444 on the season with nine RBIs, 15 runs scored and seven stolen bases.
He has helped lead a bunch of new starters to an 11-5 record. The Crusaders knocked off a ranked 4A Dowling Catholic team this past weekend and are receiving consideration in the 3A poll.
Because of his success last season, Osborne moved Pithan up to the No. 2 spot in the order this season. Pithan has helped set the table for a Heelan offense that has scored 110 runs already this season. The Crusaders have scored five or more runs in 12 of their 16 games this season.
"Mike has the innate ability to handle the bat. He's not going to slug home runs or doubles or triples but he's always putting the ball in play and rarely strikes out," Osborne said. "He's able to push bunt and his willingness to do that, some kids don't always want to do that. He's smart on the bases. All of those components make Mike such a complete player."
Pithan's baseball career will continue after the season when he joins Iowa Central's program in the fall. Osborne said Pithan is going to do the exact same thing he's done for Heelan since he showed up as an eighth-grader.
"He won't be the biggest kid again but he will go there and do all of the same things and the coaches are going to love him," Osborne said. "He will have a great career after Heelan."
Kenzie Foley, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: The junior threw a no-hitter against Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln on Tuesday, June 4, striking out nine batters. She also went 6 1/3 innings against North to get the win, the first conference loss for the Stars. She also scored two runs and drove in two runs.
Riley Plantenberg, Bishop Heelan: The senior is batting .419 this season and has an ERA of 1.58 in 40 innings pitched this season.