As his fellow Mustangs gathered around the cage, Brock Deter pointed his bat and made a simple request.
"I want Volckmann," the Morrison senior said at the tail end of practice at The Cage in downtown Morrison.
It was retalliation – albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek – for the sadistic satisfaction Deter's longtime friend gets out of rocketing frozen ropes off the screen as pitchers throw him soft toss.
"I like to watch 'em flinch, so I guess he was trying to hit me," Volckmann said. "I was busting him inside, though, so he couldn't hit them at me."
What a difference a season makes
The playful jabbing comes on the heels of a 6-26 season on the hardwood that included a 1-13 mark in the Three Rivers. That followed a disappointing football season – by Mustang standards – that saw Morrison lose in the first round of the playoffs.
Making the Mustangs' inability to defend their Class 2A football title more excruciating were sprains to both of Deter's ankles. He suffered a high sprain of his right foot in Week 3 against Hall, then a low sprain of the left the following week in Peru against St. Bede.
It validated that the solidly built, steamrolling fullback was, in fact, human. In multiple ways.
"Being my last go-round, it definitely went through my mind: Why is it happening now, instead of maybe 3 years ago, when I wasn't as important a part of the team?" Deter said.
The lament was understandable, seeing as how after playing baseball his freshman and sophomore season – even earning a call-up for regionals in the latter – Deter spent last spring getting after it in the weight room.
"I respect that, because he's the type of kid who went in and did lift," Morrison baseball coach Ben Sondgeroth said. "Sometimes you have kids who say that they're going to lift, and then they sit home and play video games."
Deter's determination led Sondgeroth to welcome him back with open arms.
The third-year skipper became an All-American utility player playing the corner infield positions at the University of Indianapolis after Tommy John surgery ended his days as a catcher. Thus, he recognizes a strong prospect at the hot corner, where he has penciled in Deter.
"He's gonna have to be smart with quick reaction skills," Sondgeroth said. "He has to be able to read hitters and have that natural athletic ability to read the ball off the bat. Brock's got that lateral quickness, so I think he'll be able to handle it.
"And he brings a lot of intangibles to the ballclub beyond his physical skills."
Putting stock in bonds
The biggest intangible is the bond between Deter and three of his classmates with whom he's played sports since kindergarten.
Kyle Meurs is a fellow linebacker in football who also played hoops and is playing varsity baseball for the first time.
Volckmann also played both other sports and, along with shortstop Danny Willis, forms what Sondgeroth calls the smoothest middle infield tandem he's seen.
"He knows what it's like to be in the bigger leagues," said Willis, also a football standout. "[Assistant] coach [Jim] Ridley, who's been around baseball his whole life, he talks all the time about how he thinks we're the smoothest middle infield around. That really builds your confidence."
Sondgeroth hopes that confidence is contagious. While Willis and Volckmann have set the modest goal/competition of breaking the school's stolen base record, the Mustangs will be without fellow burner Blake Blean, who separated his shoulder and is out for the season.
Morrison also graduated its top two pitchers, Andy Schaver and Brandon Neighbour. Bill Lee Greul is the new ace, a lefty who disrupts batters with his delivery from a three-quarter arm slot.
The team's top reliever from last season, Alex Fischbach, will also eat up a lot of innings.
"He's a strike-thrower," Sondgeroth said. "He doesn't throw hard. At all. But he gets people out. I don't want to say he can't break a pane of glass, but it'd be pretty close."
Likely sliding into the role of top reliever will be Deter and his devastating knuckleball. He discovered it while "messing around" in junior high.
"It's more of an R.A. Dickey-type knuckleball, as opposed to a Wakefield knuckleball," Sondgeroth said. "He throws it real hard, and it's got some crazy movement to it. It's not a floater, by any means."
Riding off into the sunset
The Mustangs set the bar high by winning a 2A West Carroll Regional title last May. That's just how Deter likes it.
"Nobody likes to lose, and to play for a top baseball program like Morrison, you're going to have that desire to win," he said. "You're going to win with this baseball program. It's the history. It's the coaches. It's everybody involved in it."
But more than anything, he's excited to be having fun. Especially seeing as how this could be his last varsity sport, period. He's leaning toward attending Sauk Valley Community College, although he's considering playing football at Loras, Luther or UW-Platteville.
"This is my last sport I'll probably play, as of right now," said Deter. He plans to major in agri-business, hence the Platteville interest.
Those sort of big decisions can weigh heavy for Deter and his longtime buds, as they stare down one last prep sports season in the sun – weather permitting.
"There's a lot on your plate, but once I put this hat on, I know it's time to get to work," Volckmann said. "I'm trying to enjoy every moment I have with my friends."