Messenger just wants to win

DUNLAP — Braeden Messenger just wants to play baseball.

And win.

And he’ll play anywhere to do it.

Messenger, a senior at Concord High School, has become the ace pitcher for the Minutemen, allowing just one run in his last three starts.

He’s also stolen 17 bases in 17 attempts, while playing both in the outfield and infield.

“Wherever coach (Greg) Hughes wants me to do, I’m not going to complain,’’ Messenger said. “I just want to put our team in the best position to win ... infield, outfield or hit anywhere in the lineup.

“I just want to win.’’

The Minutemen have been doing plenty of that this season, rolling to a 14-6 record, including am 8-2 mark in the Northern Lakes Conference, one game behind first place Warsaw.

This comes just one year after a young Concord team went 6-21 overall and just 2-12 in the NLC.

“Braeden is the type of player you can play anywhere except maybe catcher,’ Hughes said. “This year he has mostly played outfield until recently when we had an injury at second base and so he’s moved back into the infield. We’ve been putting him at second base to also help save his arm from a lot of long throws.’’

One reason for the Minutemen’s struggles last season was because Messenger made just five appearances on the mound after suffering a hip injury while running the bases at Plymouth.

“I hit a double off the fence and I felt something pull in my hip,’’ Messenger said. “I ended up missing a couple games and I wasn’t able to stretch my legs out on the mound. It was with me the rest of the year.’’

But after listening to the doctors and rehabbing the leg, Messenger has been fantastic for Concord this season, posting a 4-0 record with a 0.82 ERA with 41 strikeouts and just four walks.

Incredibly, he’s give up just one run total in his last four starts.

“We knew coming into the season that Braeden would be our No. 1 starter,’’ Hughes said. “He has always had very good command of all his pitches. When you can locate and throw hard it will make you very effective and that’s what Braeden does very well.

“He’s also very smart on the mound. We actually let him call his own pitches.’’

For Messenger, his best pitch is the one that gets him ahead of the hitter.

“If I can get ahead 0-1 or 0-2, my confidence is really high,’’ Messenger admitted. “If they’re guessing what’s coming, I can get them out on their front foot and it can be an easy out.

For Hughes, who has resurrected the Concord program this season, having someone that can pitch deep into a game has been a godsend.

“Braeden’s ability to throw quality strikes at a high percentage and get ahead of hitters has allowed him to have low pitch count innings and pitch complete games,’’ Hughes said. “In high school baseball you can run very thin on pitching real quick with the amount of games we play some weeks. So having a pitcher that can go the distance as often as Braeden does really helps save arms and makes our pitching staff more effective.’’

Messenger hit .325 last season and stole 21 bases on the year. While his average is down a little, a healthy Messenger could reach 30 steals by the end of the 2024 season.

“I really like stealing bases,’’ Messenger said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the defense and it can force them into making errors.

“Plus I like diving head-first into second.’’

For Hughes, who has his team running wild on the bases this season, Messenger has been the catalyst for his team’s attack.

“His ability to steal bases has helped our offense a lot,’’ Hughes said. “We are an aggressive baserunning team and with Braeden’s athletic ability and length he’s able to get big leads and steal bases.

“We have several base runners that always have the green light and obviously he’s one of them. He struggled getting on base as much this year, but he’s hitting the ball hard it just seems like it’s been right at people a lot.’’

The athletic ability allowed Messenger to play doubles for the Concord tennis team in the fall and he also helped lead coach Derrick DeShone’s boys basketball team to a share of the Northern Lakes Conference title.

Messenger, who led the Minutemen in scoring last season, was a member of The Truth’s All-Area team.

He has signed to play basketball at St. Francis University, although he’s admitted to leaving his options open to play a second sport.

“There has been a second thought or two about playing two sports,’’ Messenger admitted. “I will consider it and I just want to make the best decision I can.’’

But before that happens, Messenger will try to lead the Minutemen to the NLC baseball title and then take a shot at two-time defending state champion Penn in the Class 4A sectional on the Kingsmen’s home field.

“If this is my last year of baseball, it’s been a lot of fun,’’ Messenger said. “Having a strong culture has been a very big thing for us this year. We just didn’t jell as a group last year ... I think that’s one of the main differences this season.

“I think there are a lot of people overlooking us when we get to the tournament. But our team and the coaches and parents all know that we have a shot.’’

While Hughes is a big fan of what Messenger does on the field, he also admires the person he’s become.

“In addition to his baseball and athletic talent, Braeden’s just a tremendous person on and off the field,’’ Hughes said “He’s a natural leader and a very coachable player.”