Prep Baseball

For the love of the game: North Linn's Jake Hilmer developed love for baseball at early age

Sophomore ace helps lead Lynx back to state tournament

North Linn’s Jake Hilmer threw a shutout during the Lynx’s Class 1A substate final baseball win over Iowa Mennonite at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. North Linn won 2-0 to advance to the state baseball tournament. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
North Linn’s Jake Hilmer threw a shutout during the Lynx’s Class 1A substate final baseball win over Iowa Mennonite at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. North Linn won 2-0 to advance to the state baseball tournament. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Jake Hilmer has become a multisport standout for North Linn.

He helped lead the Lynx basketball team to the state semifinals in the winter, which came a year and a half after he helped the baseball team reach the same round before he even stepped in the hallways as a high-school student.

Basketball might draw more attention from college suitors, but it was baseball that first tugged at a little boy’s heart.

“I fell in love with baseball when I was very young. It was the first sport I fell in love with,” said Hilmer, who would drag his dad, Mike Hilmer, outside for catch. “We played in the backyard. We’d play it all day.”

His passion is conveyed with smile or an excited pump of the fist that can be seen when Hilmer takes the mound or plays the field. He has played another key part in getting the top-ranked Lynx back to the Class 1A state baseball tournament, beginning Friday at 11 a.m. at Principal Park.

Fourth-seeded North Linn (41-2) faces No. 5 Remsen St. Marys (27-7) in a quarterfinal game at 1:30 p.m.

“We have a tight-knit group,” Hilmer said about the team that has set a school record for wins in a season. “I’m able to play with my friends. We have a lot of fun.”

Hilmer has been playing with most of the same teammates since they were at the youth level. That came after his introduction to the game that captured his attention.

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The Minnesota Twins is his team of choice. He recalled watching Twins games with his dad, learning the rules and strategy at an early age. Viewing games evolved to throwing the ball around and an all-state season as a freshman.

“I’ve had some gamers and kids who are clutch, but nothing like this, especially for a sophomore,” North Linn Coach Travis Griffith said. “He understands the game so much better than anybody his age.”

North Linn is far from a one-man gang. The Lynx have a balanced team with a deep pitching rotation that most 1A teams cannot match. Lynx center fielder and leadoff batter Ryan Miller hits .417 with a .523 on-base percentage and leads 1A in runs (77) and triples (11).

Miller (7-1), Logan Novak (7-0) and David Seber (6-1) are ace-caliber with earned-run averages under 1.17.

Hilmer does a little of everything. He is 11-0 with 80 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings pitched. He has allowed seven runs all season, which consists of 12 starts, and has a 0.60 ERA. He has notched 33 straight victories and hasn’t lost since June 16, 2015 against Don Bosco.

Offensively, Hilmer leads 1A in hits (72) and stolen bases, stealing 58 in 59 attempts. He is batting .514 and reaches base at a .561 clip.

“My parents, coaches, me, I don’t think anybody expected this much success,” Hilmer said. “I was fortunate to step into this role as an eighth-grader and play with a great group.

“It’s a perfect situation.”

Hilmer has dominated in his two postseason outings this season, tossing 2-0 shutouts against Maquoketa Valley and Iowa Mennonite. The latter clinched North Linn’s second state berth, both coming in the last three years.

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“It helps to have a big-game pitcher like Jake Hilmer to put on the mound,” Griffith said. “Jake Hilmer in those big games finds a way to get it done.

“He understands the process of what is going on in the game. When he needs to step up and when he doesn’t. It’s nice to have. Ryan Miller is the same way. The bigger the game the bigger Jake Hilmer shows up.”

The batter could be from the last-place team in the Tri-Rivers Conference or a New York Yankee and Hilmer will have the same amount of confidence. He has put in work to improve his fastball and his effective change-up.

The sessions behind the house when eyes weren’t on him have prepared him to thrive when he is the center of attention. He embraces the pressure, going to bed the night before a game thinking how he can help his team in the upcoming contest.

“I’ve never gotten nervous,” Hilmer said. “I love postseason baseball. There is nothing like being a pitcher in big games. I love the big moment.”

Three teams are seeded better than the Lynx. If they were to get by Remsen St. Mary’s, they would likely draw top-seeded and perennial power Mason City Newman. Hilmer recognizes the potential for North Linn to play in the final 1A game of the season and claim the crown.

“This team can win a championship,” Hilmer said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”

If the Lynx can win their first baseball championship, Hilmer will seek out his dad, who is also the North Linn Athletics Director and a co-head basketball coach.

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The youngest Hilmer would express his gratitude for those hours watching Twins games, playing catch and bonding through sports.

“My dad has meant the most to me,” Hilmer said. “He’s helped me become who I am. If we win a championship, he’d be the first person I credit. The success I’ve had is because of him.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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