An ace can change his suit

Pendleton pitcher Isaac Henslee tore through his junior season, earning a spot on the all-state and all-IMC first teams as well as being named IMC?pitcher of the year.<br><I>Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Pendleton pitcher Isaac Henslee knows as well as anyone what can be achieved in one offseason.

As a sophomore for the Pendleton baseball team, Henslee was a fast riser, overcoming a shoulder impingement that held him out of non-conference play to instantly hit everyone's radar with electric stuff on the mound.

He quickly established himself as one of the top three pitchers on the staff along with Taylor West and Logan Whitten, but one swift act of what he called immaturity sidelined what could have been a special playoff run. After losing a game and the Intermountain Conference crown to Hermiston in the season finale, Henslee lost his cool and struck the ground, breaking his hand.

"One thing I focused on this year is composure and I think I did a lot better of a job this year than last year," Henslee said. "I was a lot more relaxed on the mound this year and I saw things in a different way. It helped me growing up, just being a junior and hanging out with older kids and stuff."

There were no blowups for Henslee in his junior season, who did not pitch his way into many jams, but when they came he calmly worked his way out of them. Through most games, there would be one inning where he would work harder to get the third out and his ability to do that was the biggest reason he won the IMC's pitcher of the year award and was named to the All-State first team.

"He did calm down this year and matured up," said Whitten, who pitched alongside Henslee as a senior starter. "He didn't get too mad on the mound. That's very nice when a pitcher doesn't react like that like he did last year.

"You have to keep your composure. If you get mad it's never a good outcome. If you keep your composure and keep pitching it will work out for you."

Part of the process for Henslee was learning how to pitch to contact. Packing on 20 pounds, growing three inches and upping his speed on the radar guns, it would have been easy to keep trying to blow away hitter after hitter.

Henslee did the opposite, though. Dialing back on his heat and keeping the ball around the zone, the Buckaroo hurler let his defense work for him.

"When I was a little younger through Little League and Babe Ruth and stuff every single pitch I was trying strike the kid out and when he'd hit it I'd get mad just because he hit me," Henslee said. "Now I try to work with the defense and they're making the plays other teams wouldn't make. The more ground balls get, and see how easy it is, I just grew up into it. It's a lot easier to get three outs on five pitches instead of getting 12 pitches and striking people out."

During the long season, one of the things the Bucks could count on during their playoff run was a win to open the series. Only once when conference play began did Pendleton lose an opener, a 7-1 loss to The Dalles-Wahtonka.

In that contest, Henslee allowed just one run over seven innings of work, but the Bucks lost in extra innings after their ace had left the game.

"Every win we got gave us more confidence," Whitten said. "Every game we one got us one game closer. The nice thing is he's a junior so he has one more year of dominance. The more experience, the better he's going to get. It just depends on how hard he works in practice and in his bullpens. The sky's the limit for Isaac."

The potential could pay off in a big way as Henslee spent much of last season auditioning for a role with a Division 1 program. Each season he has worked on different things and this past year added a knuckleball to his repertoire. Next year could bring even bigger things when he starts the year as a senior ace.

At this point Oregon State and Texas Tech would be the leader for his services should they bring offers to the table.

"The earlier I get it out of the way so I can just pitch and have fun instead of worrying about where I'm going to go," Henslee said. "I can just go out and be me."

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