Hennemann fights back from injury to lead Eastern offense early on


Jason Howell

Sophomore infielder Cale Hennemann had one run and run hit with 2 RBIs during two at bats during the Panthers’ 9-7 loss to Illinois on Tuesday at Illinois Field in Champaign.

Maher Kawash, Staff Reporter

In a college baseball season of more than 50 games played, it is all about the endurance and ability to face adversity.

Throughout the journey of one season or a four-year collegiate career, a player can struggle, build chemistry among his team and attempt to improve through all challenges.

In just his second season, sophomore Eastern baseball player Cale Hennemann has seen and done it all.

Hennemann has become an everyday starter for the Panthers with his improved play at the plate, and ability to lead his team through his play rather than words.

He has endured the adversity of injuries and losing, but after batting just .228 a year ago he has seen an improvement in his play as well.

Hennemann is batting .330 so far this season while leading Eastern with 20 RBIs in his sophomore campaign.

But after appearing in 40 games his freshman season and starting 29, Hennemann suffered an arm injury.

He was forced to undergo surgery and missed 12 weeks in the fall.

“I think my injury helped my game because I took a step back and realized how much I miss being able to play every day,” Hennemann said.

No athlete wants to suffer an injury, but Hennemann seemed to only take the positives from his.

“I learned to not take playing every day and having fun for granted,” Hennemann said. “Baseball is like a job when you get to college, so I just try to relax and try to have fun because if you don’t then you will be miserable.”

While he learned to enjoy the game after his injury, Hennemann’s play on the field has continued to improve.

He has become a consistent spark in the Panthers’ lineup by producing 16 walks this season as well.

As he continues to make strides in leading the Panthers to more wins, Eastern Coach Jason Anderson has credited Hennemann’s performance.

“He has been a huge help this year,” Anderson said. “We have a young team overall, but he is a guy in the early stages of his career that has stepped up and performed well.”

While it is clear Hennemann’s role with the Panthers continues to expand, it is his continued growth that is most important to the team.

Hennemann continues to improve by being able to play many positions on the field, but second base has become his home on the field this season.

Hennemann has found his home at second base right next to his longtime teammate, shortstop Nick Maton.

Hennemann and Maton have built a special relationship over the years.

Both guys have been playing together since they were 15 years old. Maton’s father coached their travel team.

Now, about five years later, the middle infielders have found themselves relying on each other with the Panthers.

Hennemann credits his chemistry with Maton as a beneficial factor on the field.

“When you play up the middle of the infield you need to communicate with each other, and that’s easy with Nick,” Hennemann said. “We’ve played with each other for so long that it is just natural to us now.”

While the chemistry between the two benefits the Panthers, Hennemann appreciates the bond he has with Maton, he said.

“It’s pretty cool because we have grown up playing up the middle together, and I really enjoy it,” Hennemann said. “Our chemistry on the field really can help our team.”

Maton also values the relationship he has with Hennemann, and said the chemistry improves his performance.

“I feel like having him over there makes me a better player, because I know he is always going to pick me up,” Maton said. “He communicates so well so the whole infield always knows what’s going on.”

While it is clear both have a special bond over their middle infield connection, it is their desire to win that is most important.

“It’s fun to play together, but we both also really want to win because winning makes everything better,” Hennemann said.

Although the Panthers have just five wins this season, it appears that both players have an important role in the rebuilding process.

“Both of them are so young and it is nice to see them grow together,” Anderson said. “There is a lot of success coming their way, and it is nice to see how they interact and get through struggles together.”

As both players continue to improve on the field, Hennemann credits his early experience for his recent success.

Not only has he led the team with 20 RBIs, but he has scored 15 runs as well as earning three stolen bases.

“The experience I’ve had has paid off, but the main thing is my teammates giving me confidence to do well,” Hennemann said. “I got a good opportunity last year and learned how to struggle.”

Hennemann has been able to reach base safely in his last ten games. His most recent performance came against Illinois.

In that game Hennemann had two hits while knocking in two runs as well as earning two walks.

He has seen plenty of stat lines like that this season, and said it all comes down to the simple things.

“I’ve just tried to simplify the game, because the more you think about it, the more you’re going to struggle,” Hennemann said. “My teammates give me confidence and I just try to have good at bats and I’ll have success.”

Even with his recent success, Hennemann said he still would like to improve on getting more consistent, and becoming a better vocal leader on the team.

Hennemann still has another two years with the Panthers following this season, and Anderson is a coach who appreciates that the most.

“Were just trying to bring a different culture to the team, and Cale exemplifies that perfectly,” Anderson said. “He isn’t the biggest, fastest, or strongest, but if you watch him play plays the game the right way by doing whatever it takes to win a ball game.”

As Hennemann continues to improve at the plate and in the field, it is winning that matters most to him.

“I came here because I wanted to win, and we just have to keep believing while we get through the tough times,” Hennemann said.

Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]