Small College Sports

Upper Iowa's Jake Hilmer looks to hone skills against Iowa Valley League's tough competition

Hilmer played basketball and baseball as a freshman for Peacocks

North Linn's Jake Hilmer (1) hits a single during a Class 2A state quarterfinal against West Branch at Principal Park in
North Linn’s Jake Hilmer (1) hits a single during a Class 2A state quarterfinal against West Branch at Principal Park in Des Moines on Monday, July 29, 2019. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — If there is a chance for Jake Hilmer to step on a field and compete, the two-sport Upper Iowa athlete and former North Linn standout will take advantage of it.

The league, opponents or teammates don’t matter. He possesses a passion to play and he’s always been wired that way.

Of course, the bonus is being able to do that with and against others who share the same goals, passion and skills for the game.

Hilmer discovered the perfect outlet, playing for the Norway Bandits of the Iowa Valley League this summer. He has played in three games, ending a three-month hiatus from his last contest that occurred when the COVID-19 pandemic ended the college baseball season.

Hilmer had two hits and scored three times in the opener of last weekend’s doubleheader split with Red Top.

“Any time you’re playing games and getting live at-bats and competition it’s going to be good,” Hilmer said. “You can see there are lots of good players. There are lots of guys playing at bigger schools or who have gotten drafted in the past. The competition is as good as you can get really.

“For me, it’s to challenge myself. Hopefully, improve and identify things I need to work on for next college season.”

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Hilmer challenged himself in his first year in college, attending Upper Iowa so he could continue both his basketball and baseball careers. He served as a starting guard for the basketball team, averaging 12.2 points and more than 4.5 assists per game.

Focus shifted solely to baseball at the start of March. The season was canceled just two weeks after the switch. Hilmer still managed to hit .400 with a double, home run and a pair of RBIs in three outfield starts. He also made two appearances on the mound.

“It was unfortunate that once I got right on the diamond the season came to an end immediately after it,” Hilmer said. “In the few games that I did get to play, I was pretty happy with how I played, individually.”

Balancing multiple sports with academics is a daunting task at the college level, nevertheless for an NCAA Division II program. Hilmer used Upper Iowa’s indoor facility to work on his baseball skills during his own time as the basketball season closed. The disappointment of the brief spring season is offset by the experience gained from the transition from the hardwood to diamond. He plans to apply that knowledge in the future.

“Even though I didn’t get to play the whole year, I know what it will look like next year and the following years,” Hilmer said. “I got a feel of how much work it’s going to take and how hard it will be, but I think I can use it as a good learning curve, finding out what I need to do more and less of and how my body will react. I’m already looking forward to next year.”

During the break, Hilmer tried to stay in baseball form. He played catch with his brother, Austin, and got in his cuts, fine-tuning his mechanics. Hilmer admitted there was a little rust when he took the field for Norway and Manager Justin Schulte.

Hilmer was an all-state utility player who manned shortstop for the Lynx. He moved to outfield for the Peacocks as a way to break the lineup due to the program’s infield depth. He was encouraged by coaches to return to the infield because that might be where he most needed next spring.

Team-first attitude has been a pillar of Hilmer’s approach.

“If I can do it all, it just makes it easier to be able to put me in any sort of lineup on any particular day,” Hilmer said. “The more flexibility I have as a play the better chance I have to be on the field day in and day out.”

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The IVL will be a chance for Hilmer to work on his all-around game against tough competition that includes current and former college players of all levels and even some that own professional aspirations. He will try to pick up as much as he can from other players and add it to his repertoire.

“The goal is to have fun, meet some more people and make connections with guys who have the same goals as you,” Hilmer said. “Learn from some of these guys. Just make yourself a better baseball player.”

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

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