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McFarland’s busy Nick Herbst hopes to end his prep baseball career on a high note

May 28, 2018

McFarland centerfielder Nick Herbst had to wake up at the crack of dawn on Memorial Day.

The Spartans had an 8 a.m. practice in preparation for their WIAA Division 2 sectional game Tuesday afternoon.

But after the early morning practice, Herbst didn’t have the option of going home and climbing back into bed: He had to hustle off to practice with the McFarland pep band.

Herbst has played trombone in both the pep and concert bands all four years of high school, despite wanting to quit before he was a freshman.

“My parents talked me out of it. I’m glad they did, because it’s nice to have something other than sports that I do, to keep a well-rounded lifestyle,” Herbst said.

“It’s nice to be around a different group of people sometimes, especially because band isn’t really like a class. So it’s a nice break in your day to be able to sit and play music for an hour and a half.”

On top of the band, Herbst also was the point guard for the Spartans’ basketball team and a standout wide receiver on the football squad.

“Sometimes it was difficult to find time to sleep. There would be some late nights,” Herbst said. “But through the years, you learn to manage that stuff as best you can.”

Herbst’s busy high school career is winding down to a rapid end. He had his graduation party Sunday and is in the final stretch of a four-year stint on the varsity baseball team.

But while he said the trombone will probably go in the attic after he graduates, his cleats will remain laced up. Herbst will head to NCAA Division I Illinois State University in Bloomington this fall to continue his baseball career.

There’s still some baseball to be played in Spartans blue, though. McFarland rolled past Monroe 14-1 in the opening round of the WIAA Division 2 regional tournament and next faces a tough semifinal challenge at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday at Evansville. The Blue Devils beat the Spartans twice during the Rock Valley Conference season.

“The first game was close, but then they blew us out in our worst game of the year,” McFarland head coach John Feldner said. “But we’ve improved in all aspects of the game, and we’re hoping to show everybody that this run we’re on isn’t just a fluke.”

The Spartans have won their last six games and have outscored their opponents 40-1 in their last three.

The big difference? Confidence. Feldner said that’s the most important intangible that Herbst brings to the squad — a quiet confidence that improves the play of everyone around him.

Herbst echoed this, saying that the players feel they can beat anybody right now.

Regardless, in just a few short weeks, Herbst will leave behind the McFarland baseball program. It marks the end of an era for the Spartans.

Nick’s older brother, Chad, who graduated in 2015 and now plays at NCAA Division II Winona (Minn.) State University, also was a standout for the Spartans. Their father, Jerry, organizes the baseball booster club and is the public announcer at the McFarland games.

“The whole family has meant a great deal to our program,” Feldner said. “So yeah, it’s definitely tough. We’d love to have more players like Nick Herbst. All coaches would love to have him.”

Herbst is hoping that he has a few more games left to patrol center field in his navy-and-white Spartans uniform before switching to Illinois State’s Cardinal red.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s definitely been a lot of fun. I’m really glad that we’ve been able to make a good run here at the end of my senior year. I’ll remember that,” Herbst said. “I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to go to a place like McFarland.”