May 31, 2017 06:36 PM
(ABC 6 News) – The Austin Packers baseball team is down to their last life on the baseball diamond, and if they’re going to beat the odds and claim a section baseball title for the first time since 1990, they’ll rely heavily on junior stars Phillip Zynda and Jack Dankert.
Zynda, a right fielder, and Dankert, a shortstop and pitcher for the Packers, are underclassmen, but they’re looked at as leaders on the Packers baseball team. “I don’t think there’s really an age requirement on leadership,” Dankert said. “It’s kind of who performs when they’re called upon.”
When it comes to performance on the baseball diamond, Zynda and Dankert haven’t disappointed. “We’re 7-1 in our last eight games” Packers head coach Joe Kroc said. “Phil is hitting .480 in that eight-game stretch, Jack is hitting .450. Overall, they’re both over .350 for the season.”
Kroc said early in the 2017 season, Dankert struggled at the plate—but as the Packers have continued to win ball games and even climb into the Class AAA state baseball rankings, Dankert has shown consistent improvement. “He’s really put in time and effort into his swing, and he’s been outstanding on the mound,” Kroc said. “At shortstop, at the plate, he’s just been grinding, and now he’s found that success.”
“(Jack) can hit his spots when he’s pitching,” Zynda said. “He doesn’t always just throw them right down the middle, but the pressure doesn’t get to him. Even in the high-pressured situations, he’s throwing a lot of strikes.”
“Sometimes, I can be a little wild,” Dankert countered. “But I think lately I’ve gotten better at throwing strikes.”
Kroc said Zynda has “natural talent”, which Zynda said comes from his father, Todd, who played high school baseball at Wausau West in Wisconsin and played baseball while serving in the Marines. “A lot of my family played baseball,” Zynda said. “It’s just a fun sports for us to play.”
Before moving to the outfield, Zynda played catcher. Before the 2017 baseball season began, he had surgery on his right meniscus—Zynda said surgeons had to remove “40%” of his right meniscus.
Despite the offseason surgery, it hasn’t affected Zynda’s approach in the batter’s box—and his teammates know that. “Probably his hitting (is what he’s best at),” Dankert said. “I know in the Northfield game, he had three big RBI’s, he always seems to come through in the clutch.”
For Dankert, in Zynda’s opinion, he’s the pitcher the Packers want to have the ball when it matters most. “You can always count on Jack,” Zynda said. “He’s always been pretty clutch for us, so it’s fun to play with him.”
When it matters most, Zynda and Dankert aren’t sitting back and watching—they’re right in the heat of the action, ready for whatever comes their way. “Anybody can talk the talk, leaders show by example,” Zynda said. “When it’s the big situation in the game, it’s about coming through for your team.”
Zynda, Dankert and the Packers return to the diamond on Saturday at Red Wing, where they’ll play Albert Lea in the Section 1AAA playoffs. The loser of that game is eliminated from the playoffs, while the winner will play the loser of Saturday’s Northfield and Red Wing game. Winner of that second elimination game between Austin/Albert Lea and Northfield/Red Wing will play for the winner of Northfield/Red Wing for the Section 1AAA championship.
Updated: May 31, 2017 06:36 PM
Created: May 31, 2017 05:01 PM
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