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A dream is realized

Courtesy Photo Saginaw Valley State University senior pitcher Kyle Henigan throws a pitch during a collegiate baseball game this past season. Henigan fulfilled a lifelong dream of playing college baseball when he tried out and made the SVSU baseball team during his senior year.

In a few weeks, senior athletes will graduate and compete in their respective sports for what may be the final time.

For many athletes who do not get the opportunity of being recruited to play a sport at the next level, they are content with continuing their education or searching for a job.

For former Hillman athlete Kyle Henigan, there was no settling and his journey to fulfilling a lifelong dream was completed this year as he tried out and made the Saginaw Valley State University baseball team as a senior.

Henigan was a standout on the diamond during his time with the Tigers and was a pivotal part of Hillman’s success during his high school career. Henigan was a top of the rotation starting pitcher for the Tigers, but his athletic career was far from easy.

Despite being a standout, Henigan was never recruited, but that wasn’t the biggest challenge he had to face.

The biggest obstacle came while Henigan was still in high school when he lost his father. Not only did Henigan lose his dad at a young age, but he lost a coach and his biggest supporter.

Sports played an important role in helping Henigan deal with the loss of his dad and as his career went on, he always remembered that his father believed in him.

“I believe playing sports helped me cope with the loss of my father. He was always my biggest supporter when it came to sports, especially baseball,” Henigan said. “He coached me throughout my childhood and the reason I continued to play baseball was because he always believed that I had collegiate talent. He told me time and time again if I kept working, one day I would play at the next level.”

The one day came this year during Henigan’s senior season.

After not being recruited, Henigan chose to attend SVSU because of its Masters Program of Occupational Therapy. Henigan arrived on campus with the passion for baseball and goal to continue playing.

He once again experienced some challenges as he tried out for the SVSU baseball team, but was cut and decided to play for SVSU’s club baseball team.

During his freshman year, Henigan tore his Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) and Tommy John surgery was required to his right throwing arm in May 2016.

“I attended the tryouts my freshman year and was told I was not in good enough shape to play at the collegiate level. After I had the Tommy John surgery, I worked out and did therapy to recover my mechanics and strengthen my body back up,” Henigan said. “I chose not to play my sophomore season and decided not to try out for the varsity team my junior year because of school.”

It appeared as if Henigan was going to miss out on the dream he had, but rather than giving up he decided to try one last time.

“I had an easy senior year coming up as far as classes and school workload and I was in the best shape of my life so I decided why not try again and give it one last shot,” Henigan said.

This time around, Henigan impressed an assistant coach at the tryout and the coaching staff decided to bring Henigan onto the team under new coach Steve Jaksa.

“When I came to the tryout this year, I figured why not me? What was holding me back from making the team? I went in thinking this is my last chance to give it everything I have left to play and if it didn’t work then I wasn’t going to regret trying out,” Henigan said. “I have to admit, the biggest thing that allowed me to change my life around was weight lifting. By getting into the gym and lifting, along with running, I was able to transform my body. I was able to get my endurance up and build up a strong lower half. This allowed me to produce more drive, which helped increase my overall velocity and with the added velocity, it also helped produce more spin on my off speed pitches which allowed them to get significantly better. If it was not for the weight room there would be no chance of playing at this level and there is a reason that every college program has a strength and conditioning aspect to it.”

Henigan had early hopes of just getting some innings and was ready to help the team wherever he could.

Henigan began the season in the bullpen and had a strong relief appearance in his collegiate debut. Pitching against No. 15 ranked University of Illinois-Springfield, Henigan pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing three hits, no earned runs and striking out six.

His second relief appearance came in the sixth game of the season when he entered with SVSU trailing 4-0 after one inning.

Henigan came on and lit a spark, pitching six innings of one run ball, allowing just three hits and striking out three to earn his first collegiate win over McKendree University.

After that outing, Henigan’s role transitioned to starting pitcher and he went on to make 10 starts for the Cardinals, finishing with a 4-3 record.

“I never once thought of getting a chance to be a starter until I came in and threw two very balanced games against nationally ranked UIS and McKendree. After these two games, I saw the potential and confidence my coaches had in me and realized I may be a very important piece in our talented pitching staff,” Henigan said. “My first start didn’t go the best, but those jitters suddenly went away. All of the starts after that just felt normal, like back in high school where I went on the mound and just felt as if I could get any person out when I wanted to. It was nice having such a talented team behind me which allowed me to pitch to contact and allow my defense to get outs and allow me to go deeper in the game.”

Henigan appeared in 13 games this season and pitched 51 1/3 innings, striking out 30 batters and finishing with a 5.26 Earned Run Average. Henigan was third on the team in innings pitched, third among pitchers in games started, tied four fourth among pitcher in appearances, fourth in strikeouts and tied for first in wins.

The Cardinals finished the season 21-29-1 and came up just short of winning a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Association (GLIAC) championship. SVSU lost a first round matchup to No. 11 ranked Ashland University before rallying to win the next three games to make it back to the championship game, but the Cardinals once again fell to Ashland.

Henigan started two games in the GLIAC tournament, but earned a no-decision in both games.

With one dream fulfilled, Henigan will now focus on completing another goal: earning his Master’s degree through SVSU’s Masters of Occupational Therapy Program.

“I took every day as something new and exciting. I loved going to practice and being able to play game of baseball. Just the opportunity to play college baseball is an amazing experience that many never get to experience,” Henigan said. “My goals were always to just go out and give it everything I had left to give. It feels great to know that I did everything in my power to help my team win every time I stepped onto the mound.”