Muskego — Muskego outfielder Sam Hammer admits he was a bit frustrated during the 2009 season.
He spent much of the season batting as low as seventh in the order and, though he played in 31 of his team's 35 games, he started approximately only half of them, often splitting time in right field with a teammate.
He finished ninth on the team in at-bats despite batting .380 and even started a state quarterfinal game against New Holstein on the bench before entering later as a pinch-hitter, just days after belting a key three-run home run in the 10th inning of a wild sectional final win over Whitnall.
Flash forward one summer, and Hammer put together one of the finest seasons in school history. He batted .525 with 62 hits, 10 home runs, 46 RBIs and 36 runs scored as the Warriors' everyday left fielder. He was named the Greater Metro Conference's player of the year, was Muskego's first Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-state choice since at least 2001, and was the runner-up in the 2010 NOW All-Suburban Baseball Team's player of the year voting.
"I was surprised (to have this kind of season)," Hammer said. "I didn't expect as many opportunities as I got. I wouldn't have those RBIs without my teammates getting on base first. They gave me the opportunities to put up those kinds of numbers."
Strong offseason effort
So how does a player go from starting roughly half of his team's games as a junior to becoming one of the state's elite as a senior? For Hammer, it was easy.
"It was a little bit frustrating last year, but I was just looking to help my team out anyway I could," Hammer said. "It definitely was a motivator. I lifted (weights in the offseason). I probably didn't pick up a bat all winter. Once spring came around, that's when all the tee work came into play."
Muskego coach Mike Schramek said "he just continued to have a great work ethic. He just worked extremely hard in the weight room, and that's a key. He's a fabulous athlete and is mechanically strong in what he does in both his mental and physical approach."
Schramek, this season's GMC coach of the year, said Hammer put the team on his back often as a junior and called him a key contributor during the Warriors' run to the state semifinals. He said it was that stretch that opened his eyes to what kind of season Hammer could have as a senior.
"He had a key double to solidify our win against Waukesha West (in the sectional semifinal), the home run against Whitnall, a (pinch-hit) double against New Holstein (in a state quarterfinal) to keep us going," Schramek said. "I was looking for moments each and every game, and he came up with hit after hit. To come up in those pressure-packed moments, I knew he was a guy we'd be able to put a lot of offensive responsibility on.
"He had an opportunity (as a senior) to be the guy in the lineup, and he made the most of it. Eight, nine months before the season, I had him slated for that role."
Hammer said that postseason stretch gave him a glimpse of what his role could be as a senior and kept him focused during the offseason, but added that it was not until a season-opening tournament at Germantown when he realized his senior campaign could be a special one. In one at-bat, he swung at an outside fastball and hit a line drive that barely elevated higher than 10 feet off the ground before banging into the right field fence.
"That was something I could not have done last year," Hammer said. "That was in my mind; it was definitely a sign that I had improved. Once you see the improvements and the work pay off, it motivates you to do more."
Success off the field
Hammer, an academic all-state team member with a 3.75 GPA, finished with a career .471 batting average, 62 RBIs, 59 runs scored and 13 home runs. He will play baseball at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater next fall, one of five Warrior seniors expected to continue their careers at the next level. He said he could play the outfield or perhaps third base, a position he played until his junior season. He intends to work on his defense this summer.
Schramek described his star as a well-rounded person: "He gets it done in the classroom and is a model citizen."
Seven of the 15 NOW All-Suburban Baseball Team selections were considered for the player of the year award, as voted by the NOW sports staff and online readers. A total of three points separated the top three candidates:
1. Tyler Zemla, Oak Creek, 29 points
2. Sam Hammer, Muskego, 28
3. Adam Vlaj, Eisenhower, 26
4. Brad Duggan, New Berlin West, 19
5. Brian Huntsinger, Nicolet, 15
6. Alex McRae, New Berlin Eisenhower, 13
7. Sam Kohnke, Nicolet, 10
Every Muskego starter earned all-conference recognition by the Greater Metro Conference coaches following the Warriors' conference title season. Senior outfielder Sam Hammer and coach Mike Schramek highlighted Muskego's selections as the league's player and coach of the year.
FIRST TEAM: Cole Borek, junior, pitcher; Sam Hammer, senior, outfielder; Nick McCormack, senior, catcher
SECOND TEAM: T.J. Anderson, senior, infielder; Matt Berry, senior, infielder; Mike Robinson, senior, outfielder
HONORABLE MENTION: Kevin Schoenbach, senior, infielder; Adam Schulz, junior, pitcher/outfielder; Wes Smith, senior, infielder
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