Learning from Failure: Koestler finds path to redemption at Southeastern

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Carlisle Koestler
(Photo: Randy Bergeron, Southeastern Louisiana University)

HAMMOND, La. – As preparations for the 2018 baseball season got underway in early January, Southeastern Louisiana pitching coach Daniel Latham knew that his group carried some of the team’s highest expectations.

The departure of junior right-hander Mac Sceroler, taken by the Cincinnati Reds in the fifth round of the 2017 MLB Draft, left the Lions in desperate need of a staff ace to lead their weekend rotation. He and Southeastern head coach Matt Riser each had their own ideas about who ‒ and what message – they wanted to send out against the toughest competition every Friday night.

Each sought a player who had flourished in tight situations, someone with the right amount of composure to handle business on the mound but also enough humility to stand before his teammates and readily acknowledge his mistakes, if the opportunity presented itself.

Riser ultimately chose Josh Green, a senior reliever who had garnered All-Alaska League honors for his dominant performance with the Mat-Su Miners over the summer.

Though, under different circumstances, Latham might have advocated for another player.

Redshirt junior Carlisle Koestler first showed his true potential to be an intimidating starter during the 2017 Heart of a Lion Fall World Series, striking out nine batters and allowing only three hits through seven innings in Game 2. After the weekend, he was named the Fall World Series MVP.

Such an award may have been earned against his own teammates, but it still signaled the end of Koestler’s journey towards physical, mental and personal transformation. During the fall, he had split time between working in the weight room to get stronger and sitting in Latham’s office trying to focus his mind on the mechanics of baseball.

Latham had mentored quite a few successful pitchers as an assistant at Southeastern and he foresaw that Koestler could become his next big project, even if he wasn’t going to take the bump on Fridays.

But that doesn’t mean Latham would expect any less of him.

“[We worked on] just having a really good line of communication back and forth ‒ what
I’m seeing, what he’s feeling, what he needs to do better, what I think he’s doing well, what we need to build on,” Latham explained. “He came into my office one time this fall and I told him, ‘Hey, man, I’m going to treat you like a Friday night starter. I’m going to hold you to a really high standard, and you tell me if that’s what you want.’ And he said, ‘Absolutely, Coach.’”

Needless to say, Latham was impressed with the young man’s eagerness to cooperate.

Gone, it seemed, was the former Hinds Community College infielder who struggled to adjust to the fast-paced world of Division I pitching. He had left behind his rough 2017 season, in which he surrendered 60 hits and 38 earned runs, and he was ready to move forward.

However, he would have to wait for a while to show the Southeastern baseball fandom that he had indeed gotten better.

Riser announced before the season started that Corey Gaconi would reprise his role as the Saturday starter, with junior-college transfer Mason Knopp set to anchor the weekend rotation on Sundays.

That he wasn’t mentioned in the weekend conversation proved disheartening for Koestler ‒ but the coaching staff had a master plan.

As if it were a promise of things in store, Latham offered some simple advice: stay the course.

“I told him, “Dude, just trust what we’re doing right now. Trust what we’re doing to set this thing up,” Latham said.

Opportunity finally knocked during the season’s initial midweek contest against the UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, and Koestler was given his first starting nod of 2018. In 8.1 innings pitched, he allowed three hits and struck out 11 of the 29 batters he faced. He earned the win, as well as the coveted starting role against LSU in Hammond the next week.

And he gave much the same effort versus the Fighting Tigers, quickly becoming the difference maker in a tough game. Surrendering five hits in seven innings, he gave up a single run and struck out six men en route to receiving his second win of the season.

“I just focused on getting ahead in the count and getting soft contact [from their hitters],” Koestler said of his memorable night.

Due to his accomplishments in those two starts, Koestler was honored by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association as their Pitcher of the Month for February. Also, in time for the beginning of Southland Conference play, he acquired Gaconi’s spot in the Lions’ weekend rotation; it had been decided that Gaconi would instead take over the midweek role.

What did this moment signify to Koestler, a tangible reward for trusting his coaches’ judgment? In a word, yes.

Through the opening month of conference play, Koestler has been nearly as lights out as advertised in his midweek starts. His lone hiccup came during a game on March 24 against Houston Baptist, when the Huskies touched him for five hits and as many earned runs ‒ including a pair of homers.

Still, his pitching coach has seen Koestler grow after suffering similar setbacks last season.

“I think he’s owning everything that he does,” said Latham. “The good pitches, the bad pitches, the hits, the strikeouts. Every situation that comes up, he has taken full ownership of that. That’s something that a very mature guy handles.”

Koestler likewise admits that, as far as attitude, he has witnessed a change in himself. He doesn’t try to hide from those failures anymore, instead choosing to embrace the wisdom they gave him. For example, he currently holds the lowest ERA (2.23) and opposing batting average in the Southland Conference (.184).

The Vicksburg, Mississippi, native now understands that those months of hard work haven’t been for naught. Rather, he has almost completed his conversion into the prodigy that Latham expected him to be. And he even credits his pitfalls for leading him to where he is today.

“I’m a lot more mature, since I know how to handle failure and things like that,” Koestler said. “I think it was experience in pitching and going through those ups and downs that helped me get through it.”

But it would almost be unrealistic to mention Koestler’s progress without giving a bit of recognition to Southeastern’s interim Director of Sport Performance, Gerry Pacitti. When he came to Hammond in August 2017, Pacitti developed a special connection with Koestler and took him under his wing.

He quickly recognized some areas where Koestler could use a little tweaking to bring his game to the next level, like his reaction to being off the mound.

“He understands that his role is once a week but, even on the bench when he’s not playing, he’s doing charts, taking care of things, and rooting on his teammates,” Pacitti said. “When he’s pulled from an outing, he’s the first one on the rail cheering on the next guy to do a good job.”

And his teammates certainly benefit from the support.

“He just stays behind the whole team through it all,” senior infielder Taylor Schwaner said. “Good or bad, he’s right there for you, and vice versa with us. When he’s on the bump, we’re right there next to him.”

Koestler and the Lions return to Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field this Friday for an important Southland Conference series against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and is tentatively scheduled to oppose the Islanders’ ace right-hander Aaron Hernandez in one of the conference’s marquee pitching matchups this season.

Single game tickets for Lion home games can be purchased online at www.LionSports.net/Tickets or by contacting the athletics ticket office at (985) 549-5466.

General Admission tickets are $9 for adults and $6 for children (ages 3-12). Tax is included in the price of admission. Southeastern students are admitted free with a valid university ID card.

Students, campus organizations and fans can earn points toward their Lion Up Loyalty account at any home game by checking in on the mobile app while in attendance.

Fans interested in becoming active supporters of the baseball program are encouraged to join the Diamond Club. All membership fees and donations to the Diamond Club are available for the exclusive use of the Southeastern baseball program.

Membership information is available by contacting the Lion Athletics Association at (985) 549-5091.

For more information on Lions Baseball, follow @Lions_Baseball on Twitter, @SLU_LionsBaseball on Instagram, like /SLUathletics on Facebook and subscribe to the SLUathletics YouTube channel.

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