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LHS grad, JD Kirchner, concludes stellar college career and joins Badlands Big Sticks

JD Kirchner, a 2019 Lennox High School graduate and recent graduate of Dakota State University (DSU), has signed with the Badlands Big Sticks out of Dickinson, ND for the upcoming season. The announcement marks a significant milestone in Kirchner’s baseball journey, which has been characterized by perseverance, remarkable achievements, and a deep love for the game.

Kirchner’s college career at Dakota State University, a member of the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA), has been nothing short of extraordinary. But prior to his success at DSU, Kirchner began his college career at Mount Marty before leaving after his freshman season to enroll at DSU. The transition brought some challenges for Kirchner. 

“The biggest challenges I faced were finding myself, finding a place to call home, then finding my role and how I fit in a pitching staff. I had to drastically change the way I pitch after my year at Mount Marty. I was an okay pitcher, but I knew something had to change to make a big impact on the field. The summer after my year there is when I really started to find myself, and the changes I had made were paying off,” said Kirchner. “Finding a place to call home was an interesting challenge. I left Mount Marty after my freshman season for a few different reasons, but I had to start over in my college search. That summer, the Lennox amateur team had the Dakota State pitching coach and two Dakota State players on the team. I formed great relationships with those three guys and decided that was where I wanted to continue my career. I got in contact with head coach Derrion Hardie at Dakota State, he offered me a scholarship and I immediately accepted. Finding my role and how I fit in a pitching staff was very difficult,” Kirchner continued. “My first year at Dakota State I was a reliever, didn’t throw very much, and had an okay year. Second year I was the number one starting pitcher, had a great year, and was awarded second team all-conference for the first time. Third year I began the season as a starter, really struggled those first two games, and ended up losing my starting spot. I spent the rest of the year as a reliever, excelled in that role, and was awarded first team all-conference, as well as being named an all-American. In my final season, I stayed in the bullpen, and was awarded second team all-conference again. To me, it didn’t matter what I did, starting or relieving. I wanted to make an impact, and do whatever I could do to help the team win, at any cost.”

Over his three years with the Trojans, Kirchner established himself as one of the premier pitchers in the conference and the nation. In his senior season, Kirchner set career records at DSU for strikeouts (222), saves (13), and appearances (64), a testament to his durability on the mound.

“I think the records are awesome, and really solidify the work I have put in during my college career. They are awesome moments that I will forever cherish, but my favorite memories don’t come from those moments. I think we have one of the best cultures in the country here at DSU. We bring in guys from so many different places and backgrounds, but every year we find a way to become brothers,” said Kirchner, reflecting on his college career. “My favorite memories come from the bus rides, team dinners, and the free time spent with my brothers. The goofing around, jokes, pranks, and memories made from those moments are more important to me than anything I personally did on the field. Another favorite moment for me was last spring when we went on a 21-game win streak after really struggling to start the year. That gave us some much needed confidence, and we grew so much as a team during that time.”

In 2022, while at DSU, Kirchner was named NSAA Pitcher of the Week and earned a spot on the NSAA Second Team All-Conference. His resilience was showcased during the conference championship game, where he pitched a nine-inning gem against the fifth-ranked team in the country, losing narrowly by 1-0. That summer, he pitched for the Spearfish Sasquatch in the Independence League, helping his team reach the league championship series and then came home and pitched his team into the semi-finals of the South Dakota State Amateur Tournament. 

The following year, Kirchner’s dominance continued as he was named NSAA Pitcher of the Week three times and earned First Team All-Conference honors. He also received national recognition as an Honorable Mention NAIA All-American and was named to the South Dakota Amateur Baseball All-Tournament Team.

In his final season at DSU, Kirchner was again named NSAA Pitcher of the Week and secured a spot on the NSAA Second Team All-Conference. 

Kirchner’s next chapter takes him to the Badlands Big Sticks, a team in the prestigious Northwoods League, known for producing professional baseball talent. The Big Sticks signed Kirchner for the 2024 season, recognizing his potential to excel at a higher level of competition. This opportunity allows Kirchner to showcase his skills in one of the premier collegiate wood bat leagues in the country.

“I am most excited about the challenge that the Northwoods league will bring. This could be some of the best competition that I will ever see. I’m not sure on the adjustments side of things,” said Kirchner. “I don’t anticipate making any major adjustments, and the minor ones that may come along will be made on the fly. I just plan on going with the flow and seeing how things play out.”

Reflecting on his journey, Kirchner credits his early exposure to baseball and the support of his family and coaches for his success. “I vaguely remember being around the baseball field every summer growing up. My dad was the legion coach in Lennox, so we were always chasing them around watching them play. I think that’s where my love for the game really solidified itself,” Kirchner shared.

Despite initially disliking pitching, Kirchner’s persistence paid off. 

“Becoming a pitcher was an interesting process. I grew up catching and playing outfield. We had travel team tryouts and Todd Anderson asked if I wanted to try pitching. Right away I hated it because I would have just rather played the field, but I decided to try it anyways,” said Kirchner. “Through high school, legion, and even my first year of college at Mount Marty, I was still doing both pitching and playing the field. When I got to Dakota State the plan was to have me do both as well. The second day of practice I ran face first into the outfield wall while catching a fly ball. I suffered a concussion from the collision, and it sidelined me for a couple weeks. During that time I made the decision that I didn’t want to play the field anymore and just wanted to pitch.”

Kirchner offers valuable advice for young athletes aspiring to follow in his footsteps: “My biggest piece of advice I would give is to not give up. Baseball is a game of failure, and it is unavoidable,” said Kirchner. “It is the only game where you can be successful 30% of the time and be considered great. Don’t let the failure push you back, but instead, lean into it. Take it as an opportunity to grow and improve as a baseball player.”

He also emphasizes the importance of remembering it’s just a game. 

“Games are meant to be fun. Always stay loose, have fun, and enjoy it, because some day you won’t be able to play anymore,” said Kirchner. “I learned an acronym about baseball from a coach on an opposing team we played this spring that really put it into perspective for me. He said it’s only a G.A.M.E. (Gathering All Men Enjoy.) Enjoy it while it lasts.”

Kirchner is continuing to enjoy the game. He has already been on the mound this season for the Badlands Big Sticks. But even while competing at high level on the field, Kirchner continues to remain focused on his future off the field as well. Having earned his degree in Finance & Management at DSU, he has applied for a graduate assistant position to pursue a master’s degree. Balancing academic and baseball commitments is a challenge that he is ready to embrace.

“It comes down to good time management. My classes would all be online, so I would have to prioritize those during the day, and then take care of my coaching duties in the afternoon,” said Kirchner. “It could be a great experience, and prepare me for life after baseball, because it won’t last forever.”

JD Kirchner’s journey from Lennox High School to Dakota State University and now the Northwoods League is a testament to his hard work, resilience, and passion for baseball. As he steps onto the mound for the Badlands Big Sticks, Kirchner’s hometown of Lennox and the DSU community will undoubtedly be cheering him on, eager to see what the future holds for this talented pitcher.

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