The York College baseball team began its 2019 season with its annual trip to the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the Spartans would play four games in as many days. Among them was an extremely apprehensive Austin Denlinger, an Elizabethtown Area High School graduate preparing to play in his first college contest.
“Not going to lie, I was nervous when I first stepped on the field in Myrtle Beach,” Denlinger said. “The speed of the game was faster than high school, but I tried to overcompensate by moving 110 percent faster. This led to errors and the nerves building so I realized, with the help from my coaches, that I needed to slow my game down and play the way I know how. Once I moved at the pace I was used to, the nerves went away, and I got to play the way I normally do.”
Those adjustments paid off. Denlinger, a freshman starter at shortstop, finished the four-game stretch with 6 hits, including matching pairs of doubles and triples, and 5 runs, helping York go 3-1 overall and kickstart a 10-game winning streak for the Spartans. From there, he never looked back.
Denlinger finished the year as an extremely dependable player for York, ranking highly in nearly every major offensive statistic. He was second on the team with 62 hits, 45 runs, 12 stolen bases and a .358 batting average. He also tied for the lead with 14 doubles and finished first in triples with 5.
The previously mentioned nerves took longer to go away on defense. Denlinger ended up with the most fielding errors on the team at 19. However, he notably got better with the glove down the stretch, committing just 3 errors in York’s final 10 regular season games. He ultimately led the team with 101 assists and was second with 17 double plays.
Most importantly, however, Denlinger started every game for the Spartans, a rarity for a first-year player and even more rare for a position like shortstop. His efforts paid dividends by the end of the year; Denlinger was named to the Captial Area Conference second team and additionally won the Rookie of the Year award, the ninth player in school history to receive the honor.
“I just knew I had to work hard right as I got to York,” he said. “My main goal was to fight for a starting spot and go from there. The CAC is full of good competition, and I just focused on playing my game and let the people determine who got the rewards.”
As terrific as Denlinger’s accomplishments are, it’s also not surprising to see him do so well considering his accolades at Elizabethtown. A two-year starter for the Bears, he finished his high school career with 45 hits, 42 runs, 30 RBIs and a .328 batting average, twice making the Section Two All-Star team in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. On the other hand, the jump for high school to college is often tough for any athlete, especially when it comes to baseball.
“The speed of the game and the aggressiveness from both teams on the field (is a lot different),” Denlinger said. “Play, pitches, batted balls and runners all (get faster) at the college level. That speed increase leads to aggressiveness on the field and in the dugout. You must learn to keep a cool head and stay locked in on the field.”
While noting that the atmosphere at York is amazing, Denlinger admitted to missing playing for Elizabethtown, noting that it was difficult to leave behind the consistent interaction with his teammates and coaches. He does have some important advice for the current crop of Bears on the baseball team, wisdom that’s sorely needed for a group that saw its win total get cut in half from Denlinger’s senior season.
“Start working hard now and keep working hard,” he said. “You guys have a lot of talent and can achieve great things, but you need to stay locked in both on and off the field. Our number one rule for being a Spartan is to be aggressive, so I think the Bears should adopt that rule.”
With a spot in York’s lineup locked down, Denlinger plans to keep up the good work both on the field and in the classroom as he simultaneously suits up for the Spartans and pursues a degree in engineering. Hopefully, for him and his team, 2020 will be better than 2019; York had its best season since 2014 with a 25-16 record but also missed out on opportunities to do more. After seven straight victories in April, the Spartans lost eight of their last nine games, including two in CAC Tournament. Still, only five seniors graduated at the end of the year, leaving behind a hungry group looking to take the next step.
“I think we are done rebuilding,” Denlinger said. “This team has more heart and talent than I can express. All our guys are hungry for a CAC title and more. I think we can accomplish great things in 2020. It all starts in the offseason so we need to get mentally and physically prepared now.”