DIKE — Ready or not, Collin Vanderlind’s moment arrived to step onto the varsity baseball stage midway through his sophomore season.
Dike-New Hartford coach Sean Leonard recalls being out of pitchers during a home game against a Gladbrook-Reinbeck team that went on to qualify for the state tournament that summer. Enter Vanderlind, then a sophomore, who threw a complete-game shutout over the Rebels to earn his place in the varsity rotation.
“He’s been pretty spectacular for us ever since then,” Leonard said. “He’s taken advantage of that opportunity.”
Vanderlind embraced the challenge.
“I was really scared, but excited,” he recalls. “I enjoyed pitching varsity a lot more than JV because there’s a lot more competition. I tried to tell myself to stay positive and that I’m pitching out there for a reason.”
Opposing hitters have yet to figure out Vanderlind, who has used his accurate and deceptive left-handed delivery to compile a 13-1 career record with an ERA under 2 every season. He’s opened his senior campaign 3-0 with 26 strikeouts versus five walks and has yet to allow a run — earned or unearned — in 20 1/3 innings.
During Vanderlind’s most recent start, he struck out 12 and allowed just one walk and four hits against a Denver team that upset a 30-win Dike-New Hartford squad en route to the 2016 state tournament. A key moment in last week’s win over the Cyclones came when Vanderlind struck out the side to escape a jam with runners on first and third and no outs.
“He’s pretty fearless out there and he’s pretty confident,” Leonard said.”He likes his stuff that he’s got and if he gets into a jam he’ll just continue to pound the zone where other pitchers might shy away from hitters.”
Pitching from a young age with his dad, Joe Vanderlind, serving as his first youth coach, control has always been one of Vanderlind’s leading characteristics. He’s kept hitters off balance while working both sides of the plate.
That accuracy has been amplified as an asset this season with the IHSAA enforcing a new pitch count policy. Once a pitcher reaches 110 pitches during a day, he must be removed from the game after he’s finished pitching to the current batter. A required rest period from one to four days is also in place depending on how many pitches are thrown.
“Whenever I’m out there, I just feel confident in who I’m playing with and the guys I have behind my back fielding,” said Vanderlind, who plans to attend Ellsworth Community College where he will pitch and study athletic training. “You have to attack the batters faster to keep the pitch count lower. ... Now teams can’t just throw one guy and it shows off your entire team.”
Multi-sport standout Trent Johnson has been an asset to the Wolverines’ pitching staff behind the plate. Nick Durnin joins Vanderlind as a leader at the top of this year’s rotation. As a team, Dike-New Hartford has allowed just 23 runs in 73 innings while jumping out to an 11-0 record and No. 4 ranking in Class 2A.
“I think we’ve done some good things in every aspect of the game,” Leonard said. “We’re not a finished product. We still have a long ways to go. Our best baseball is still in front of us, but getting off to this start is fun too.”