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Baseball is taking center stage

Hopefully Owen Hoegh pretty much has this nursing thing down.

Because what's been taught the last couple of months to the Augustana College (Sioux Falls, S.D.) nursing major has more than occasionally been interrupted by baseball messages. Hoegh has been sending them, to himself. He can't help it.

The 2000 Byron High School graduate would never had guessed it, but he's become nutty for baseball.

"During the season, I can't think as well in my classes, because I am so keyed up for our next game," said Hoegh, a senior pitcher at Augustana.

Had you told Hoegh four years ago that athletics might grip him at the college level, he'd have believed you. What he wouldn't have believed, however, was that baseball would be sport doing the gripping.

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This was a basketball, football and baseball guy in high school, the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder starring in all three. But when it came to interest, there was a definite pecking order here, with baseball coming in dead last.

Four years later, with his college basketball ambitions long abandoned, and football also left behind, Hoegh has gone dramatic on us.

Basketball and football? Those are strictly intramural sports for Hoegh these days. They're simply what he does when he isn't pursuing his new unquestioned No. 1.

We've got a convert here. Baseball, the sport that Hoegh used to regard as too slow and loaded with boring downtime, now seems just right. From games of "flip" -- bouncing a ball off the side of his glove with his bullpen pitching buddies -- to endless baseball conversations with his five roommates, Hoegh suddenly can't get enough of this game.

"I've really gotten into the intricacies of the game, how it's played, and even how the game can be unfair at times," Hoegh said.

But there is a more obvious best reason that Hoegh has gone gaga for baseball. It's because he's evolved into a star at the Division II level, arguably the best pitcher Augustana has ever had and possibly the best pitcher this season in the North Central Conference. The hard-throwing left-hander has left an indelible baseball mark at Augustana, as its all-time strikeout leader (192), all-time leader in innings pitched (221 2/3), and likely soon-to-be all-time leader in games won. Hoegh, who is 7-0 this season with at least one start left, has 19 career wins, tied for the school record.

Baseball, indeed, has been very good to him at the college level. And it may continue to be good to him after he graduates this spring. Hoegh is a candidate to get selected in this summer's Major League Baseball draft.

"It's funny, because I really enjoyed football and basketball more out of high school," said Hoegh, who was originally recruited by Augustana for basketball. "There was the high of the Friday night football lights, and basketball was so intense, too. Baseball was never close to my favorite sport in high school."

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That changed as Hoegh discovered where his greatest athletic talents reside. He did basketball and baseball fall-season workouts as a freshman at Augustana. But just before the basketball season started, he dropped basketball and stuck with baseball. Simple reasoning.

"I could see that the only sport where I was going to be able to play right away was baseball," said Hoegh, who got limited innings as a freshman, then quickly became his team's ace as a sophomore. "That led me more into baseball and had me working year round to develop those skills."

Hoegh has developed them so much, particularly mastering a changeup that he lethally mixes in with a 90 mph fastball and a curve, that his teammates feel unbeatable when he takes to the mound.

"Owen is so calm, yet so competitive," said teammate Aaron Barber. "It's almost bad how confident we are when he is pitching, because we don't carry that same feeling when anyone else is pitching. But Owen has just become so confident in himself."

Hoegh has found his place, and it's in a baseball uniform.

Pat Ruff is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He can be e-mailed at pruff@postbulletin.com

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