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FARGO, North Dakota — Somewhere between taking a break after the athletic shutdown in the spring of 2020 until this baseball season, North Dakota State shortstop Bennett Hostetler discovered what really works at the plate. He didn’t have to return this year, but the extra year of eligibility for the senior has been historic for him.

He got in 51 at-bats last season, and the result was a .216 average. Assuming he would have heated up as the temperatures warmed in the spring, it was probably around the .279, .225 and .250 he hit his first three years.

This season has been nothing close to that. On Wednesday, the Bozeman native was named the Summit League’s player of the year.

“Starting the season, if you would have asked me what I am hitting now, I would have said maybe you’re a little bit crazy but maybe you’re not,” Hostetler said. “You can never tell with the game of baseball and how things go.”

Hostetler has been flirting with .400 all season and his .394 average is leading a team that went into the Summit League tournament with the look of competing for a title. The Bison (38-16) were scheduled to play host Nebraska Omaha on Thursday in the four-team double-elimination format.

Hostetler said maturity and development are two of the biggest factors for his improvement. Ironically, and going against the grain of most college players in the offseason, he didn’t play last summer. Neither did teammate Jake Malec, with both spending the summer in Duluth, Minnesota.

“They were doing logging stuff up there,” said Bison assistant coach David Pearson.

They were also dedicating themselves to strength and conditioning, Pearson said. Both returned this spring along with three other seniors who got an extra year of eligibility to produce one of the finest seasons in NDSU history.

So far, anyway.

“Of course, you never want to take stuff for granted because of what happened last year,” Hostetler said. “We feel lucky to play.”

Hostetler said he’ll never take Pearson’s hitting advice for granted. Pearson returned to the program in 2019 after a stint as head coach at Des Moines Area Community College (Iowa). He was with the Bison for nine years before that.

“One thing coach Pearson is big on is to feel out your swing,” Hostetler said. “When you go to the park every day and take (batting practice), you’re not going to feel 100% every day and not hit every ball everywhere. And you’ll never be the perfect hitter, ever. One thing he preaches is to grind out at-bats, making the pitcher work as much as possible.”

Pearson will say the technicalities of why Hostetler has worked himself into a pro prospect. There’s also the mental side of it that veteran players are better at handling.

“I certainly think frustration is our whole game,” Pearson said. “What we talk to him about, and all of our guys, is we don’t visualize past failures. We talk about the three most successful at-bats. You need to visualize those at-bats and see how big the ball is. Smell the air. Feel the sun. And go in-depth visually in having a lot of success.”

Hostetler led the Summit League in RBIs with 31 and was second in home runs with seven and batting average. He had a stretch of seven straight multiple-hit games in leading NDSU to a school-record 20 conference wins.

Hostetler is the second player in Bison history to win the Summit League player of the year award, joining Tim Colwell in 2014.

Hostetler said he’s uncertain of his future. He wants to see how the MLB draft in June goes.

“That’s another thing I’m not too worried about. It’s out of my control,” he said. “Right now we’re focused on the Summit tournament.”

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Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

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