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Hometown Hero Leads MSU Billings To The Top Of The GNAC
Luke Reinschmidt led Montana State Billings to the program's first 30-win season and finished as an All-West Region selection.
Luke Reinschmidt led Montana State Billings to the program's first 30-win season and finished as an All-West Region selection.

Friday, June 3, 2016
by Evan O'Kelly, Montana State Billings Sports Information

BILLINGS, Mont. – Luke Reinschmidt only tried to hit a home run one time in his 545 career at bats with the Montana State University Billings baseball team. Normally, his smooth, focused right-handed swing effortlessly drove the ball into the power alley in right-center field, his natural power reflected in his 22 career home runs.
 
The one time the senior from Billings did try to swing for the fences, he crushed a ball off of the flag pole beyond the fence in right field at Dehler Park in a home series against Central Washington University his junior year in 2015.
 
After game two in MSUB’s home series against the Wildcats this season, Reinschmidt couldn’t have felt further from the big swing of the bat almost exactly one year prior. His batting average had sunk to a season-low .305, and it had been seven games since his last extra-base hit – the longest streak without power since the beginning of his sophomore year.
 
Though anything above .300 is a mark most every hitter would gladly take without question, for a player who batted .370 as a junior in 2015 the hitting woes began to ware on the Billings Senior High School graduate and former Billings Royals American Legion star.
 
His one-of-a-kind swing, and knack for driving the ball the other way into right-center field for power was evading him, and the outlook for he and his MSUB teammates looked bleak. The Yellowjackets had lost four of their last six games, and with three weeks left to play in the 2016 Great Northwest Athletic Conference season MSUB stood on the outside looking in with a fourth-place record of 12-13 in league games.
 
The team had been in the same situation before, embarking on a remarkable run of 20 wins in its last 25 games to close the 2015 season and capture its first-ever regular-season GNAC title. But the prospects of repeating as champions felt out of reach for MSUB, and the storybook senior season Reinschmidt had in his plans didn’t appear to be materializing.
 
A nine-game road trip to Oregon lay ahead on the schedule, and the ‘Jackets had eight days to figure out how they would emerge victorious at Concordia University and then down the road at 14-time reigning GNAC champion Western Oregon University.
 
The trend continued in the opener against the Cavaliers, as MSUB fell 4-2, and though the team salvaged the second game of the doubleheader, Reinschmidt had gone just 1-for-7 at the plate in his new position atop the lineup in the leadoff spot.
 
Luke’s father Keven Reinschmidt was the first to recognize his son’s struggles, and his phone call awaited Luke upon arriving at the hotel in Portland, Ore., after the game. “What is the one thing I have always told you?” Keven said.
 
Reinschmidt swallowed his frustration and thought back to what his coach from Day 1 had embedded into his hitting philosophy. “That the first pitch is the best one to hit, and if it’s there, swing at it,” Luke replied.
 
The next day started the run that came to define MSUB’s season. The ‘Jackets won 11 of their final 12 games to climb all the way to the top of the conference standings and earn a share of the GNAC title, repeating as champions.
 
After the conversation with his father, Reinschmidt finished the year by hitting .364 with eight doubles and four home runs in his final 14 games. Overall on the year he hit .328 with 10 long balls, 11 stolen bases, and led all NCAA Division II west region outfielders with 44 RBIs. He was a first-team all-region selection for the second year in-a-row, and became just the seventh player in conference history to earn all-GNAC honors three times.
 
Perhaps the single-most important RBI of the year came directly after the call with his father. Standing in to leadoff MSUB’s doubleheader with the ‘Cavs on April 24, the cavernous alleys of Porter Park expanding into the soccer field-turned outfield before him, Reinschmidt did something he hadn’t done in any of his times up the day before: he swung at the first pitch.
 
“Concordia’s coach told me he had only ever seen one player hit a home run to straightaway right field at their park,” said MSUB head coach Rob Bishop, referring to the 6-foot-3, 220-pound left-handed power-hitting first baseman Seth Brown from NAIA national powerhouse Lewis-Clark State. “Nobody hits home runs to that part of the park, especially not right-handed batters.”
 
Reinschmidt knew off the bat he had gotten ahold of the first-pitch fastball, and Keven smiled as he saw his son’s 19th career home run sail out of the park from his home in Billings. “I pulled the gamecast up and saw that the score was 1-0 with (Kyle) Durbin up in the first,” Keven said regarding seeing MSUB’s second hitter in the lineup at the plate. “I figured Luke must have hit a home run, but didn’t know it was on the first pitch until the next time he came up when the announcer mentioned he hit the first pitch of the game out of the park.”
 
BILLINGS ROYALTY
The ping pong table Keven brought home one day came to occupy him and his son for hours at a time. Luke was determined to win against his unrelenting father to the point where he folded up half the table to practice and learn how to put different kinds of spin on the ball.
 
“My dad instilled a lot of competitiveness in me, and taught me that if you want to be good at something you have to work hard for it,” Reinschmidt said. “I never liked to lose, but he would never let me win. I had to earn it.”
 
Luke’s eventual triumph at the table is something he and his father can laugh about now, but the work ethic that has been instilled in the 22-year-old has stuck since his days as a little leaguer with Keven as a coach.
 
Spending many nights growing up watching the Billings Mustangs and the classic legion rivalry of the Scarlets and Royals at Cobb Field, Reinschmidt idolized the ballplayers under the lights and aspired to follow in their footsteps.
 
Naturally taking to the position of shortstop as an infielder, it wasn’t until Reinschmidt’s sophomore year at Senior High that his blistering speed pushed him to try his hand in the outfield. “I always wanted to be more of an infielder, and I thought that outfield was boring when I was younger,” the center fielder said with a smile. “It took me three years to really like outfield.”
 
By the time Reinschmidt manned center field for the Royals, Cobb Field had been transformed into Dehler Park, a place Reinschmidt would call home for the better part of the next eight seasons. Leading his team to a state championship as a senior, Reinschmidt claimed the legion batting title with an average of .458 and quickly became a top college prospect.
 
THE ROAD BACK
“A lot of Montana kids want to get out and try something different. I understand because that’s what I wanted to do, but if you want to play competitive baseball, MSUB is a great place to do that.” – Luke Reinschmidt on returning to MSUB as a sophomore after one season at Wayland Baptist University.
 
When Bishop finished his third season in charge in 2013, there were hints the program was headed in the right direction with back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since baseball returned to MSUB in 2006. The talent within the program had jumped up a level, namely built around Montana recruits like Miller and left-handed pitcher Brady Muller. The Yellowjackets had even made their first-ever GNAC tournament, losing the first two postseason games in program history to end the year.
 
Still, Bishop knew there was a glaring vacancy preventing his team from taking its next step, and he had to continue to be diligent in pursuing his team’s next superstar. “I knew that Luke was the kind of person who would do well here and who we would like to have in our program,” said Bishop, indicating he expected Reinschmidt could be an all-conference player for MSUB. “We would have loved to have gotten him out of high school, but when a guy comes back and transfers in it almost makes you appreciate the experience of having him here more.”
 
Reinschmidt showed no signs of ill effects after transferring from Wayland Baptist University (Texas), slotting into the lineup and batting .359 in 42 starts to earn first-team all-league honors as a sophomore. Showing that he was a complete player, Reinschmidt also hit for power with a .569 slugging percentage and 27 RBIs, stole nine bases, and had 101 catches in center field.
 
The fleet-footed sophomore got away with his pure athleticism alone, but he and Coach Bishop knew that he needed to refine his swing and work on small details to take the next step. “My sophomore year I didn’t know how to hit, and Coach Bishop helped me make an adjustment,” Reinschmidt said. “He encouraged me to keep being aggressive, but made me realize that if I didn’t get something to drive then I shouldn’t waste an at bat.”
 
After countless hours spent in the hitting cages through the offseason, the transformation occurred before Bishop’s eyes leading into the 2015 season. “I saw it more in the fall of his junior year that he was much more disciplined at the plate,” Bishop said. “He was showing a lot of explosiveness in the way of power and being able to steal bases. He had turned into a really dynamic player overall.”
 
Bishop’s instinct was on the money, as Reinschmidt led the GNAC with 74 hits, and ranked second in the league in runs (47), triples (4), RBIs (56), stolen bases (11), and total bases (125). After hitting two home runs as a sophomore, the power numbers took off as well, as Reinschmidt was second only to Miller in home runs with 10 his junior season.
 
Most importantly, Reinschmidt was in the thick of a roster that willed itself to breaking the school record for wins in a season, finishing the year 27-23 and hosting the conference tournament for the first time ever. “That was a fun team to be a part of, because we just had the confidence that we were going to win games even when we were behind,” said Reinschmidt. “Being on the bottom of that dogpile is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
 
LIFE CYCLE
“Luke plays the game with no ego, and he is going to give one hundred percent all the time. He is a very good overall athlete, but he turned himself into a great baseball player through his commitment to the game and his hard work.” – MSUB head coach Rob Bishop on senior Luke Reinschmidt.
 
In Reinschmidt’s second career at bat with the ‘Jackets, he hit the first of 12 triples in his three seasons, tying him for fourth-most in GNAC history. He was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle in that game, a feat he achieved later that season in a road game at Northwest Nazarene on March 28, 2014.
 
After doubling in the first inning, singling in the third, and homering in the fifth, Reinschmidt popped out in the seventh before earning one final plate appearance in the bottom of the ninth. By the time the dust settled after his slide into third base, the reality of Reinschmidt’s achievement began to sink in. “The triple was the last hit I needed, but I hadn’t thought much about it until it happened,” Reinschmidt remembered. “I just remember sliding into third and realizing along with Coach Bishop that I had done it.”
 
Reinschmidt’s five other games in which he has been one hit shy of hitting for the cycle further support his claim as one of the most dynamic players in school and conference history. Two of his near misses, as well as his cycle, came at Vail Baseball Field in Nampa, Idaho, which proved to be the slugger’s favorite park to hit in. In 13 career games at NNU, Reinschmidt batted .462 (24-for-52) with five home runs, 13 RBIs, four stolen bases, an on-base percentage of .491, and a slugging percentage of .904.
 
In exactly half of his 142 career games played, Reinschmidt has had multiple hits (71), and he had multiple RBIs in 30 of his games. Among his top individual game performances are eight games with four or more RBIs, four games with four or more hits, and two multi-home run games.
 
Through just three seasons, Reinschmidt finished his career in the top-three in MSUB history in 10 major offensive categories, and in the top-10 in GNAC history in six of those categories.
 
While his abilities at the plate have defined his versatility as a player, his father notes that his stellar glove work in center field oftentimes goes unnoticed. “He has always taken a lot of pride in his defense, and I think that’s where he really shines,” Keven said. “His mother and I are just terribly proud of what he’s done, and most of all that he came back to MSUB. When he decided to return to Billings, he gave it his full attention and full effort, and I’m just proud of him for that.”
 
Reinschmidt amassed 306 putouts in center field, and holds a career fielding percentage of .975. In each season, Reinschmidt has progressively cut down on errors and increased his assists from the outfield, capping off his senior year with a career-best six assists and career-low one error.
 
“It makes me wish that I would have come here out of high school sometimes,” Reinschmidt reflected on his achievements in three seasons. “But I couldn’t be happier about my experience here. I have made a lot of friends and I just hope to leave the returning players with the work ethic it takes to have success at this level. The whole team this year and last put in the work it took to be a winning program.”
 
HOMETOWN HERO
“So it’s gonna be forever, or it’s gonna go down in flames. You can tell me when it’s over, if the high was worth the pain.” – Lyrics from Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space,’ Reinschmidt’s walk-up song preceding each of his at bats at Dehler Park.
 
Baseballs scream through the air in the lower gym in the Physical Education building on MSUB’s campus, as Reinschmidt’s powerful swing threatens to rip the seams of the netting holding the batting cages together. Not even the most dynamic player in MSUB history knows how many hours he has spent hitting baseballs on the Teraflex floor surface.
 
This time his hitting partner is the lanky, 6-foot-3 sophomore Adam Cox, a year removed from surgery on his left shoulder that had prevented him from picking up a bat until the fall before the 2016 season. Every day, Reinschmidt commanded the respect of perhaps the only player on the team more athletically gifted than himself. The senior saw the talent in Cox more than anyone else, and was determined to instill his own work ethic into the budding star.
 
Reinschmidt had aspirations to be one of the statistical leaders in the conference in every offensive category, setting the bar higher than ever in an attempt to somehow further fuel his already undying competitive flame. If Reinschmidt were informed he’d finish the year second in the league in RBIs, he would have accepted it as a solid performance. He never could have imagined it would be Cox that he finished second to, and that it would take three home runs in the final stretch of the year to fight off Cox for the team lead in that category.
 
Cox homered in his first career at bat this season, and never looked back en route to second-team all-region honors as the team’s designated hitter and closer. “What a lot of people don’t know is that Adam was in there with Luke every day for extra hitting,” Bishop said. “If it weren’t for the work Luke pushed Adam to put in, he wouldn’t have had a chance to have the kind of season he did.”
 
The dedication to his teammate and recognition of Cox’s potential is a tribute to what Reinschmidt has learned from Bishop as a coach, and it has inspired him to pursue the path when his playing career is over. “The influence Coach Bishop has had on me the last three years is something I will always remember,” Reinschmidt said. “The way he has influenced young men, been a part of their lives, and taught them about the game has made me want to become a coach myself.”
 
When Reinschmidt was 10 years old his little league team lost in the city championship, provoking tears of frustration from the eventual MSUB star. The fear of failure and unacceptability of losing became habits that Reinschmidt would never be able to shake.
 
On Friday, May 13, 2016, the Yellowjackets lost badly. The season ended with an 18-1 defeat at the hands of Western Oregon University in the GNAC Championships, a tournament the team had reached for the third time in the last four seasons.
 
The final pitch of the season was a called third strike, freezing Reinschmidt as his career and the best season in MSUB history concluded in one, breathtaking moment. Reality had not sunk in for the team, and especially not the 10 talented seniors, as the ‘Jackets gathered around Bishop outside the dugout after the game.
 
Emotion washed over the faces of the group, the team’s skipper fighting back tears as he addressed the best baseball team he had ever coached for a final time. The tears Reinschmidt shed as a little leaguer returned, but this time they represented a greater meaning.
 
They represented the close of the career of a Yellowjacket legend. They represented the drive of a player who, at 5-foot-11 had no business having the eighth-most home runs in GNAC history but did it anyway. They represented the bruised ribs he carried with him all year long after being drilled by a pitch in the second week of the season, and finishing the year on a 21-game reached base streak despite a pulled groin.
 
They represented Reinschmidt giving the entirety of his heart to the game of baseball, and leading the transformation into a winning culture at MSUB.

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