Hickman junior James Hudelson is used to being moved around the infield.
He has been successful playing both first and third base this season even though he rarely stays in either position for more than a few games at a time.
But as the Kewpies took the field Monday night to begin their game against Smith-Cotton at Hickman Field, Hudelson found himself in yet another spot on the diamond.
This time it was on top of the pitcher’s mound.
“I had to deal with some nerves at first, but after the first few batters I was settled in,” said Hudelson, who struck out five Tigers (4-10) on his way to pitching a complete game in Hickman’s 4-0 win.
Although it took Hickman’s 18th game of the season for Hudelson to be used as a starting pitcher, the pitcher’s mound isn’t an unfamiliar place for him.
He has been pitching since he was 9, when he alternated between the mound and first base in Little League.
“Pitching is what I’ve always done,” said Hudelson, who had only pitched in relief for the Kewpies this season.
Hudelson’s lack of starts on the mound this season hasn’t been because the Hickman coaches lacked confidence in him.
Instead, Hudelson has proven to be too great an asset in the field.
“It’s hard to pitch him because he’s so valuable as an infielder,” Hickman coach Dave Wilson said. “Before the game, though, I told him that he had to step
up today, and that we needed him because we’ve played so many games lately. He pitched outstanding.”
Hudelson’s three-pitch repertoire consists of a fastball, a curveball and a changeup.
The changeup has been Hudelson’s latest addition, thanks, in part, to the encouragement of Hickman catcher Bart Steponovich.
“He doesn’t really like to throw the changeup,” Steponovich said. “It’s a good pitch, and I’ve just been trying to get him to throw it a bit more.”
Hudelson maintained his focus on the mound even when things didn’t go so well in the batter’s box, which is something Wilson is always concerned about with his pitchers.
“As a coach, you hate to hit pitchers,” said Wilson, whose team improved to 9-9 with the win. “You never know if they are going to be mature enough to not take a bad at-bat out to the mound.”
Hudelson went 1-for-2 at the plate, including a double off the top of the center field wall to lead off the second inning, which led to Hickman’s second run of the game. He also reached base on an error by Smith-Cotton shortstop Derik Kinde.
“Luckily, James got out to a good start at the plate, so we didn’t have to worry about him losing focus,” said Wilson.
“Maybe if he worked a little harder in strength training, he would have got that ball out,” Wilson added with a laugh.