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Bieker a rock behind the plate for Indians

5/21/2014

By NICK McQUEEN

By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

Last summer, Brady Bieker spent most of his time with the Hays Senior American Legion Eagles as a pitcher. He finished 3-6 in 17 appearances with a 3.55 earned-run average.

Late in the season, he played a few games behind the plate in a fill-in role for No. 1 catcher Jake Sedbrook.

Heading into his senior season this spring at Hays High School, Bieker knew behind the plate might be his best opportunity to contribute for the Indians.

"I had some big shoes to fill for him," Bieker said of Sedbrook, who graduated from HHS after last season.

Bieker made the most of the opportunity, while making vast improvements through the offseason at the position. He ended up catching 19 of the Indians' 20 regular-season games, providing not only a solid option behind home plate, but shoring up an infield that could have been somewhat in flux throughout the year.

He and the Indians are in Goddard today for the Class 5A regional. Hays High plays Maize South at 2 p.m., then with a win would have the opportunity to play at 6 p.m. in the regional championship game. The winner of today's tournament heads to the 5A state tourney next week in Manhattan.

"He made the kind of improvement you want to see a kid make," HHS coach Frank Leo said. "When the kids stay at the same level, your team won't see any improvement, but when each individual kid makes a jump the team gets better.

"It freed us up to do a lot of things on the infield," Leo added. "Gave us a lot of flexibility."

Had Bieker not made the jump to be a No. 1 catcher, or had not worked out, sophomore Connor Rule might have had to see more time behind the plate, removing him from third base. But, Bieker's play helped ensure Rule could stay at third, and when he wasn't pitching, senior Layne Downing could be at shortstop.

"We have a solid infield," Bieker said. "That's probably when we are at our strongest."

Most of what Bieker improved upon was just staying on the ball, and not letting anything get past him.

"Worked in my free time when I had the chance," he said. "Went to the barn and worked on blocking and stuff. I felt like I needed to improve to help make the team better.

"My main aspect was just to focus on blocking balls and keeping everything short and in front of me."

In 19 games, Bieker allowed just six passed balls, and nabbed seven of 16 stolen base attempts against him. He finished the regular season 110 of 123 on chances with 12 assists and just one error.

"Brady made a big jump, and he takes pride in his defense," Leo said. "I tell our catchers every year that their defense is worth two or three runs per ball game if you can give us some good defense."

Bieker, however, did struggle offensively in the 17 games he played. He batted .147 and recorded just five hits with four walks, and struck out eight times.

"Try not to let that get to me," Bieker said. "Just 'flush it' like Coach Leo says, and just move on to the next AB, next play. Just have to stay locked in all the time."

Bieker, despite having just two hits in the tournament, was one of four Indians named to the Western Plains Diamond Classic all-tournament team two weeks ago -- all because of his work behind the plate.

"Being a senior, we were going to give him that shot," Leo said of Bieker's full-time role. "It was kind of his to see if he wanted to keep it, and earn it.

"He's shown flashes of being a great catcher (in the past), but he made a big jump this year," Leo added.