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HHS' Bittel inks with William Jewell

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

If it weren't for a growth spurt, Hays High School senior Daniel Bittel might not have had as much success as he has had.

Bittel played in the infield as a seventh grader, but after growing in middle school, he switched to the outfield.

"As I matured, I got tall and lanky, which isn't as much an infielder's body," Bittel said. "Then with my speed, the outfield seemed like a good choice for me."

There was an opening on varsity at center field his freshman year, and Bittel filled it.

He's been there ever since, and he could be there in the future as well.

Bittel signed his letter of intent to compete for William Jewell College on Friday in the HHS cafeteria.

Bittel, an honor roll student who scored a 32 on his ACT, said the decision was based upon his academic opportunities as much as his athletic opportunities.

"Academics have always been my biggest strengths since I was young," he said. "I've always wanted to go to a college that would meet those standards that I have, and also athletically, I liked Coach (Mike) Stockton a lot. I can't wait to play for him."

William Jewell College is a private four-year college in Liberty, Mo., that competes at the NCAA Division II level in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

"You don't have these kinds of opportunities unless you work hard at it," said Hays High coach Frank Leo. "Dan has done that. He made a decision his sophomore year to try and take baseball to the next level and try to play after high school. Once you make that decision, you have to go out and put in the work and the effort to do it both on the field and off."

On the field, Bittel has been solid.

Defensively, he has committed just one error this year. At the plate, he hasn't been at his best, but he still is hitting .277 with a .370 on-base percentage. He also has scored 14 runs and swiped a team-high nine bases.

"He is more of a veteran-type player," Leo said. "He understands the game, and consequently, when he gets on base he does score. That's why we need to get him on base, because he has a knack of trying to find a way to get home."

When Bittel first stepped into the starting spot as a freshman, he said he was nervous but he also had an aggressive mindset.

"As a freshman, you go into it with nothing to lose because you really don't as a freshman," he said. "You just have to go out there and prove yourself a little bit."

In his time at Hays, he has been a part of multiple championship teams, helping them along the way with acrobatic catches, long throws, solid contributions with his bat and speed on the base paths.

"I am glad I had the opportunity," he said.

Bittel is undecided about what he wants to major in, but he said he is excited for the upcoming academic and athletic experiences.

"It's been a dream since I was a little boy," Bittel said.