FAIRMONT -- Fairmont High School graduate Jon Ellis had some of his biggest sports moments happen in Marshall - hitting a walk-off home run to win a sectional championship and a game-winning basket in the gym.
Those sucesses as a Cardinal helped Ellis to choose Southwest Minnesota State University to continue his baseball career.
At the start of his final collegiate baseball season for the Mustangs, the junior recently earned Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference player of the week honors.
SMOOTH SWING — Southwest Minnesota State University junior outfielder Jon Ellis connects on a hit during season-opening baseball action in Emporia, Kan., recently. Ellis, a former Fairmont High School athletic standout, earned NSIC player of the week honors for his performance during the four-game span. (Photo Courtesy of Jon Ellis)
"The reason I picked SMSU is kind of a funny story. I had made a game-winning basket during a basketball game in the gym here, and then I hit a walk-off home run on the baseball field," said Ellis, who earned all-State honors during his high school career. "When I thought about where I wanted to play, I just felt like all those good things were kind of telling me I should go here."
The Mustangs, who finished 17-23-1 last season, have started the 2014 baseball campaign with a 1-3 record.
"As a team, I think that we've been pretty inexperienced in the years that I've been here," said Ellis. "This year, we have a lot of guys that are seniors or juniors, and so we're hoping that we will be able to be successful."
Ellis is used to having success on the baseball diamond, and last weekend batted .583 in the Mustangs' first four games, smacking one home run and one double.
In the four games in Emporia, Kan., Ellis collected six RBIs, scored three runs, walked three times and posted a a .917 slugging percentage.
"My coach here has helped me to focus on the mental aspect of the game," said Ellis. "I try to treat each at-bat like it could be your last, and that has helped me to focus on one at-bat at a time."
Ellis, who is a two-year letterwinner at SMSU, went 3-for-4 in the Mustangs' 7-6 win over No. 17-ranked Missouri Western State University. The right fielder also scored a run and had one RBI in the victory.
"I have been blessed with the playing abilities that I have for baseball," said Ellis. "And I have always liked and been able to take control of the game when I have the opportunity."
With 72 starts in his 80 games as a Mustang, Ellis has swung the bat for a .333 batting average, including blasting four home runs and racing for 12 doubles.
His quick bat and strength at the plate also have helped the junior to drive in teammates, tallying 43 RBIs through his career.
"I try to lift everyday, I don't feel good if I don't," said Ellis. "I think that helps my game, and also we hit every day of practice. I think that trying to hit the ball hard in practice really helps in games."
The hard work demonstrated by the Mustang, who bats in the No. 3 or cleanup spot in the lineup, has been contagious, and Ellis is hoping that will mean added success in his final season.
"Already this season our practices are four hours per day. And in other years, you could tell players didn't want to be there and didn't work as hard," said Ellis. "This season, even the coaches have pointed out that our team is willing to do the work we need to, and that is going to pay off later."
The Mustangs have yet to make the NSIC Tournament with Ellis in the lineup, something that he is hoping changes this season.
"This season I think the guys are willing to put in the time and do the things that need to be done for us to do well," said Ellis. "I hope that we can have fun this season, but it'd be great if we could make the tournament, too."