Austin Callahan doesn’t strike out much.
When the First State Bank Seniors shortstop does go down on strikes, it is a surprise to fans, teammates, opponents and especially his head coach Jeff Hayden.
Callahan has only struck out twice this year in 97 at-bats. The Fremont High School multi-sport athlete is hitting .381 for the Seniors, who carry a 20-9 record into Sunday’s doubleheader against Omaha South.
“During my coaching career, I’ve never had a player with a strikeout percentage that low,” Hayden said. “It just shows how disciplined he is offensively. He doesn’t chase bad pitches. When he gets behind in counts, he finds a way to put the ball in play. ... His approach helps his team win.”
Callahan, hitting third in the order, has a slugging percentage of .577 and is hitting .353 with runners in scoring position. He has 21 RBI and has scored 25 times. He has ripped 13 doubles and three triples, not including a three-bagger he hit during the Cornhusker League All-Star Game earlier this week in Hastings.
During the spring high school season, Callahan hit .439 for Fremont Bergan with a slugging percentage of .614. He had 16 RBI, four triples, two doubles and 12 runs scored.
Callahan, who is a starter for the FHS boys basketball team and also a standout tennis player for the Tigers, said steady practice has helped him become a solid hitter.
“I think my coaches and my dad (Wade) helped me a lot with my swing,” he said. “Hitting the weight room this summer has helped me drive the ball for power. You have to hit the ball as hard as you can, but be under control.”
Callahan was the starting third baseman for Bergan when the Knights qualified for the Class A state tournament in 2017.
“That was huge knowing that I was coming back this year and that we had played at the biggest level of high school baseball,” he said. “It gave me some confidence to step up there at the plate and on the field.”
Tyler Push, who now plays for Newman University, was the starting shortstop on the state team. Push, Nick Hill, Kaden Hendrix and Caleb Hartmann were among the 2017 seniors.
Hayden said Callahan realized that he would be counted on to help fill the offensive void left by that group.
“We talked a little bit about that, but Austin understood that,” he said. “Toward the end of last summer, he was our best bat in the lineup. He ended the season on a (tear). He came into this year knowing he was going to be a big part of our lineup.”
With Push gone, Callahan shifted to shortstop in 2018. It was a move he was comfortable with.
“In my last year of Nighthawks I had played shortstop,” he said. “I felt like I had to step up knowing that Tyler had graduated and how good of a shortstop he was. I had to take that position.”
Hayden said there was a period of adjustment in making the move from third to shortstop.
“It was a transition for him in the spring because those are two very different positions,” he said. “At third, you don’t really have time to think when the ball is hit to you. At short, you have time and some players will tend to stay back and not attack the baseball. We talked to him about attacking the baseball and he’s done a much better job with that this summer.”
Callahan has worked to improve in all facets of his game.
“He puts in extra work at the end of practice,” Hayden said. “He’s one of those guys that you almost have to kick out of practice. He isn’t afraid to put in extra work.”
That extra work will help Callahan in his quest to play collegiate baseball. Midland University and Doane are among the schools already interested in him, but he would love to play at the NCAA Division I level.
“This coming year is a great opportunity for me to hit the weight room a little more and maybe hit a couple of home runs my senior year,” he said. “Our coach talks about our freshman class a lot and they’ve had a really good record. I’m excited about next year.”
Hayden wants Callahan to keep working on his strength and other aspects of his game.
“He’s been one of our best hitters for two years so teams know about him and certainly will next year,” he said. “He sees a lot of offspeed pitches so for him moving forward he’ll just have to keep adjusting to that. Defensively, he has made plays for us, but (a player) can always get better on that end. He has good arm strength, too, but when you go to college, coaches really look at that. You can never have too much of that. I think if he works on those things, he can become more of a complete player.”