The 2019 high school baseball season was something Ogden High senior Nick Freeman looked forward to ever since his Tommy John surgery. He won’t be a part of it after a torn ACL in the Iron Horse football game this fall, which means he’s out for several more months.
But college baseball is in the cards for the Tigers’ former ace. Freeman recently committed to play baseball at Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay, Oregon.
The SWOCC coaches are confident he’ll be able to recover from his injuries and pitch at the level he was at as a sophomore, a level that had attracted collegiate attention already.
“I called him when I tore my ACL and he said, ‘Hey a lot of coaches will give up on you if you tore your ACL,’ but he said, ‘I want you to know that we’re not like that and I’m excited to get to know you and for you to visit,’” Freeman said. “I thought that was really cool of him to say that.”
Curiously, Freeman isn’t the only Weber or Davis County prep baseball player trading the dry, snowy and mountainous Wasatch Front for an isolated, foggy, coastal city a 14-hour drive away with three times the amount of yearly rain as Ogden.
A pair of Northridge High players — Dakari Armendariz and Tyson Denning — as well as Roy High pitcher Hunter Yoder, Layton High’s Micah Del Rio, Davis pitcher Jake Wendt and Cameron Barnson, who played at Viewmont last year, also committed to the SWOCC Lakers during the early signing period in November.
How did this all happen?
According to SWOCC’s third-year head coach, Dave Deutschman, it all started with former Roy High catcher Jack Hulce.
Hulce graduated from Roy in 2018 committed to SWOCC. In Hulce’s junior year, he batted .455 with 31 RBIs, eight doubles, four home runs and one triple, and was named to the Standard-Examiner All-Area Baseball First Team.
Deutschman said once Hulce got on campus, Hulce quickly became someone that the rest of the team was drawn to for a variety of reasons.
“We got Jack here and we found out very quickly that Jack’s the real deal, but I think above Jack’s baseball abilities ... I found out that Jack’s a great kid and I wanted to see what else was available in the area,” Deutschman said.
So the SWOCC coaches came to Utah this summer. Freeman went to a summer baseball game at Fremont High, where he met SWOCC’s recruiting coordinator Gunnar Ueda-Pancheri. They got to talking. For now, there’s no scholarship money for Freeman as he’s coming off injuries but if he proves himself, he said, there could be some scholarship money in the works.
Eventually, more local players started getting contacted by SWOCC coaches.
“There’s quite a few guys there that have high GPAs that we recruited ... (and) then we found some other really good players there during that time,” Deutschman said.
Around that same timeframe this summer, Ueda-Pancheri came to Utah to watch club baseball tournaments and came upon Armendariz, who had happened to be guest-playing for a club team playing at Ogden High. Eventually the two got to talking, Armendariz had a scholarship offer and committed.
“I went up there, met the head coach, got to take a tour, got to take some hacks for him and it was just a good experience. It felt good, it’s very different from Layton, more isolated ... I think change is good and I think the growth that comes with change is very beneficial for life,” Armendariz said.
When Armendariz committed, he was the only local player who had committed at that time. But then came Yoder, Del Rio, Denning, Barnson and Wendt. That’s not only made the decision more comforting for him, but for the others as well.
“I noticed that and that’s what kind of made me want to go there even more,” Freeman said.
Nobody from this group put up eye-popping statistics in the 2018 high school season, but the SWOCC coaches saw them play over the summer with various baseball clubs. That’s where they got a feel for their ability as well as something else.
“The culture is what we’re looking at building and we want to have good, solid human beings built within that — and we have found that these guys from Utah are a good fit for us,” Deutschman said.