Jason Hague was determined not to have a repeat of his freshman season.
His numbers were good -- hitting .313 for the Merced College baseball in 43 games -- but he didn't do much to distinguish himself.
"I wasn't disappointed, but my freshman year I just got a little lost," Hague said. "I struggled to find myself as person and a ball player."
Like many athletes before him, Hague's path to discovery was paved with hard work.
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"I spent as much time at the gym as I could," Hague said. "I got the freshmen to come out and run stairs with me.
"I always showed up an hour before and stayed an hour after practice just to try and get a few swings in -- basically anything I could to try and give me an edge this year."
Hague's dedication paid major dividends.
The sophomore center fielder not only became one of the Blue Devils' most potent offensive weapons, he became one of the best in the state.
Hague turned into a prototypical lead-off hitter, leading MC with a .408 average, 73 hits, 58 runs, a school-record 43 stolen bases, a .478 on-base percentage and a 11 sacrifices, all while playing a sensational center field.
He helped the Blue Devils to a record 36-win season, their first conference title in more than 20 years and was named the Central Valley Conference MVP, assuring him a spot on the All-American list.
NorCal coaches did Hague one better over the weekend, naming him the Northern California Player of the Year.
Hague's the first NorCal MVP from Merced since Brad Arnsberg in 1983.
"My goal when the season started was to be the CVC MVP," Hague said. "To get NorCal MVP is just unbelievable.
"The San Jose City loss is still pretty tough to take, but this shows that even though we got knocked out of the first round, people acknowledge we had a really great season."
That was further reaffirmed with Blue Devils coach Chris Pedretti being named the NorCal coach of the year.
"I was shocked," Pedretti said. "It's a tremendous honor.
"It's one of those things where it couldn't have happened without the coaches and the effort of the players.
"I think it just reflects well on our program in general."
While Pedretti humbly accepted the honor, assistant coach David Cardoza said it was long overdue.
"I've been with him 17 years and he understands the game probably better than anybody I've met," Cardoza said. "Chris is respected amongst his peers and his players.
"I don't know that he gets his due, but I think this season shows what kind of program he runs."
Two more of Pedretti's players earned post-season accolades, with pitcher Bradin Hagens and shortstop Kory Vitato both named to the all-NorCal team.
Hagens went 9-1 on the season with a 3.77 ERA and Vitato hit .322 with a team-high eight home runs and 17 doubles.
"All three of our guys were definitely amongst the best in the state," Pedretti said. "They worked hard and were very deserving."