When Nick Day and Brandon Shulista team up on the baseball diamond, the end result is usually wins.
Lots and lots of wins.
During their prep days at Solon, Day and Shulista helped the Spartans to four consecutive state semifinal appearances and two state titles.
Day and Shulista have joined forces again this season with the intent of continuing those winning ways at Iowa under first-year coach Rick Heller.
“Those guys set the standard for Solon baseball with the accomplishments that they did on the field,” Solon baseball coach Keith McSweeney said. “Nick and Brandon are two of the best baseball players that came through our doors, so to watch them play at Iowa is extra special.”
Shulista and Day were both all-state picks as preps at Solon, leading the Spartans to the Class 2A state title in 2010 and a Class 3A crown in 2011.
Day continued his career at Iowa, while Shulista spent two seasons at Iowa Central Community College before joining the Hawkeyes this season.
Another former Solon prep, Ben Bergman, was a senior on the Iowa roster last year.
“We had Ben Bergman on the team last year and he was at Solon too, so it’s been great having those guys here,” Day said. “I’ve know Brandon my whole life and he’s a great player, so I’m excited he’s here.”
After starting eight games two years ago as a freshman, Day found a home at third base last season, starting 37 games at third for the Hawkeyes.
Heller has been impressed with Day’s improvement entering the 2014 season that got underway with Iowa’s doubleheader sweep of Austin Peay on Saturday.
“First of all, he plays hard every day,” Heller said of Day. “He’s a guy that doesn’t say much, but he is there every day dialed in, great effort every day and his defense is outstanding.”
It is Day’s defensive ability that has drawn the most praise from Heller.
A shortstop and pitcher at Solon, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Day has made a smooth transition to third base in college.
“His instincts and first step are as good, probably, as anybody I have coached up to this point, just his reactions at third base,” Heller said. “From my point of view, he could be one of the better third basemen in the conference, a really plus defender.”
After hitting .200 last year at Iowa, Day spent the summer playing 70 games in 75 days for the LaCrosse Loggers in the Northwoods League, a summer league for collegiate baseball players.
That experience of playing against top competition on a daily basis has Day’s confidence at an all-time high entering his junior season.
“It was great competition, it’s one of the best leagues there is,” Day said. “Every day you are playing against some of the best players in the country, so playing in that league will help you develop.”
Shulista set school records at Solon for career wins (48) and ERA in a season (0.89) as he went 22-0 in his final two prep seasons.
The right-hander is expected to be a key piece of the Hawkeyes’ bullpen in his first season of Big Ten baseball.
Heller said Shulista could be used as a setup man in the seventh and eighth innings but also could see work as a closer.
“He will definitely be in the mix,” Heller said. “He’s a tough kid, gritty kid, not afraid of anything. He just goes in and competes.”
At 5-11 and 195 pounds, Shulista doesn’t fit the imposing physical role of a closer. But both Heller and McSweeney agreed that handing the ball to Shulista in tough situations is an easy decision for a coach.
“The bottom line is that Brandon Shulista gets people out,” McSweeney said. “He isn’t your prototypical body, he’s not going to throw the ball by people, but he’s going to get ground balls, he’s going to get the occasional strikeout, and he is going to play situation baseball on the mound. Brandon, I’m not worried about him. He’s going to find a way to win baseball games.”