Catchers are tough. David Gottemoller is something else.
Perhaps best exemplifying the Sterling senior's threshold for pain is one of his first hunting stories. But that's best set up by another tale of toughness.
During his sophomore year, Gottemoller and his friends were snowboarding at Snowstar Winter Sports Park in Andalusia, his first crack at the sport. One of his buddies bumped him, and he twisted his knee. His left foot locked in his bindings, Gottemoller tore his meniscus.
Crediting the cold with dulling the pain, Gottemoller says he continued to snowboard. Then he played an entire baseball season, even getting called up to varsity down the stretch.
"I remember his first varsity at-bat, he fouled off about three pitches in a 3-2 count and then lined a single," head coach Robbie Minor said.
In the fall of his junior year, a more gruesome injury convinced Gottemoller to finally have surgery. Trying to carve a deer antler knife, he bore a 5/16-inch bit into his left hand, a few inches into the webbing between his index finger and thumb.
A week and a half after having both surgeries in one fell swoop, Gottemoller dropped his first buck with his bow and arrow. Afterward, the bow's grip suggested hunting might not have been the best of ideas.
"There was blood on the handles from me drawing the bow back," Gottemoller said. "It was more than worth it. There's nothing better than your first."
Today, junior Zach Rehmert is Sterling's backup catcher but spends most of his time at first base, often admiring Gottemoller's guts.
"David's a wall back there," Rehmert said. "That's just his nature. When he's getting after it back there, it gets us all pumped up on the infield."
Gottemoller's synergy with his pitchers is a big reason the Golden Warriors are off to an 8-7 start after posting 4-11 marks through 15 games each of the past two seasons.
"He allows me to trust in my pitches more," senior Tanner Morse said. "It allows me to open up my pitches earlier in the count."
"As a pitcher, if you're confident in your stuff, you think you can throw it anywhere," fellow senior Logan Rippy said. "You can trust that David is going to block everything."
Assistant coach Marquise Cody, who spent 2006 in the Chicago White Sox's minor-league system after graduating from Prophetstown, appreciates Gottemoller's growing aggressiveness at the plate.
"He's a kid who can absolutely stroke it when he gets a hold of it," Cody said. "The main thing with this team is getting them to step up and swing at more strikes."
Rehmert says cashing in with runners in scoring position is the big difference in the team's success this season. And it begins with Cody cracking the whip in the batting cage.
"If we don't swing at a pitch that's over the plate, he makes us get out of the cage," Rehmert said. "He's that serious about it. He wants us to swing at pitches all over the zone. If you don't do that, you're not doing your job."
During the Warriors' current four-game winning streak, Gottemoller's been doing some serious work, batting 9-for-12 with two doubles and five RBIs. The team has committed just three errors, its pitchers issuing just 10 walks while striking out 22.
"David's definitely a guy who drives this team," head coach Robbie Minor said. "He's a great kid attitude-wise and one of the hardest-working guys around. Whenever I look him in the eye, I know he's ready to go.
"He's the type of guy you want on your side when you go to battle."
Gottemoller plies his craft despite constant reminders from that left knee.
"It's still bothersome. I gotta ice after every game," he said. "My knee hurts all the time, even now just sitting down."
He also tore his rotator cuff his freshman year, which is how he moved from the mound to behind the plate. Yet he's thrown out about 40 percent of base-stealers this season.
It was just 3 years ago that Gottemoller took up hunting. Nothing gets him more excited than a good hunting story.
"It was such an adrenaline rush just watching it come in," he said, describing what it felt like as his first buck approached, his bloody hand holding the bow steady. "My hands were frozen. I could hardly feel my body."
He says baseball provides a different sort of rush.
"There's a team involved in baseball, and you can't do it without your teammates," Gottemoller said. "The biggest rush is when you win a huge game against a team you didn't think you could beat."
See: the Golden Warriors beating age-old rival Rock Falls 5-3 on Saturday. Gottemoller nearly jumped out of his spikes when Tanner Morse punched out Steven Armoska for the final out of the game.
"Best side of the river, right here," Gottemoller said after the game.
Sterling vs. Geneseo
Where: In Sterling – today, Friday; In Geneseo – Thursday
FYI: Geneseo has won 12 of the teams' 15 regular-season meetings since 2006 ... Sterling took two out of three in the 2011 set and beat Geneseo 6-3 in the 3A Geneseo Regional ... The Maple Leafs took all three last year and also edged the Warriors 3-2 in the Geneseo Regional.