Waletich slugs way to award

Mankato — Fairmont High School graduate Max Waletich has always seemed to find success on the baseball diamond.

In his third year of collegiate baseball, Waletich continues to find that success on the field as he earned Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference player of the week honors for his efforts on the Minnesota State University, Mankato Mavericks.

“It’s still very early in the season, but we’ve had some success as a team and I’ve started out well, so that’s exciting,” said Waletich.

For the last two years, Waletich played for the North Iowa Area Community College Trojans, transferring to MSU during the offseason.

The Trojans, with Waletich playing in the infield, reached the National Junior College Athletic Association, Division II World Series last season.

As a sophomore, Waletich batted .329 and collected 33 RBIs with nine doubles and one home run.

The all-Region XI honorable mention selection in last year’s playoffs also swiped six bases last season.

Now playing in the outfield for the No. 2-ranked Mavericks, Waletich knows that he still has things to improve on at the next level.

“I think there is some adjusting to the new level of the game,” said Waletich. “There’s a little higher baseball competition around you. Like at practice, everyone is competing really hard to play and the teams we go up against are a little better than what I was used to.”

It didn’t take the junior long to adjust to the Division II level as Waletich batted .444 during the Mavericks’ last two games against Southwest Baptist in Bolivar, Mo., on Feb. 17.

The infielder-turned-outfielder has a .714 slugging percentage, scoring two runs and driving in three RBIs in going 5-for-7 from the plate.

“I think any time that you join a new team, there are different things to get used to,” said Waletich. “This year I’m playing outfield, and that’s where the coaches say I’ll be most of the season. So that’s taking some adjusting, but it’s something I can do.”

And there is a strong baseball foundation for Waletich to build on.

As the starting shortstop on Fairmont’s varsity, he was two-time Sentinel All-Area Player of the Year, earning all-State honors his senior year when the Cardinals placed third in the Class AA state tournament.

In his final season with the Cardinals, Waletich had a .466 batting average with 41 hits, scored 27 runs and delivered 36 RBIs. His effective swing also produced 11 doubles, one triple and two home runs on the season.

In the first month of the spring season, the Mavericks have started 5-1, and both the team and Waletich are looking for continued improvement as the season progresses.

“I knew before the season that I needed to work on my speed and my strength. I spent a lot of time at the gym doing that,” said Waletich. “And right now I’m focusing on getting my arm strength up and into shape as soon as I can. It’s even more important now that I’m in the outfield.”

The Mavericks also are coming off of a successful season last year, losing 8-2 to the University of Tampa in the Division II National Championship game.

“I think Mankato always seems to have a very talented team,” said Waletich. “And our coaches focus on the mental aspect of the game, making sure that we understand everything we need to know. But they also say that we should try to get better every day at something.”

“Our team has a strong pitching core of upperclassmen, but I think it is a good and varied mix of young and older players,” said Waletich. “So far the season has gone well. I’m just going to work on trying to keep getting better every day.”