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Fielding his way to legacy

Freshman hasn’t let inexperience affect his play on field, hopes to bring championships to Pullman

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Freshman infielder Mason De La Cruz discusses leading the Cougars in the future and his aspirations for the team this season.

Freshman infielder Mason De La Cruz discusses leading the Cougars in the future and his aspirations for the team this season.

BONNIE JAMES | The Daily Evergreen

BONNIE JAMES | The Daily Evergreen

Freshman infielder Mason De La Cruz discusses leading the Cougars in the future and his aspirations for the team this season.

AVERY COOPER, Evergreen reporter

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After a game or a long practice, freshman infielder Mason De La Cruz goes to his locker, where he is surrounded with experience.

On his left are junior infielder Justin Harrer and senior outfielder JJ Hancock. To his right are junior catcher Cory Meyer and senior infielder and senior infielder Ryan Ramsower.

“It’s great having a lot of older guys this year on the team,” Mason said. “[They’re] big mentors to me …  they’ve been helping me through my whole freshman year.”

The Cougars’ roster features 16 upperclassmen on a 34-man roster, and the game day lineup is consistently filled with well-tested veterans.

Mason has started the 15 games this season alongside these experienced players. To understand why the coaching staff has so much faith in him, one must go back to his high school days.

His father, Nick, loved baseball and played for Oregon State University in the 1990s. The Cleveland Indians drafted him after his collegiate career concluded.

For Mason, football was his passion early in life. He was a four-time letter winner and quarterback at Thomas Jefferson High School in Auburn.

Mason said it was his father who influenced him to play baseball. They used to go out to the field with his older brother Niko and practice drills.

Niko played two years of collegiate baseball at Bellevue College. Mason said having an older brother who played collegiately helped him in the long run.

Late in Mason’s sophomore season, he realized baseball, not football, was the route he would take in life. He started receiving offers from Seattle University and even University of Washington. In the end, he chose WSU.

“It was definitely the coaches,” Mason said. “I really felt like they could make me the best baseball player I’m going to be.”

In his junior season of high school he found his stride on the diamond. He hit .400 and received All-North Puget Sound League and first-team All-City honors.

In his senior season of high school, he was named to the 4A All-State team.

While his high school days have come and gone, he has embraced his role at second base this season. In 55 opportunities for an out, Mason has converted 54 of them.

Assistant Coach Jim Horner said Mason makes the tough plays look easy.

“He makes us a lot better defensively when he plays,” Horner said. “He’s got a really good ticker defensively. Nothing is too quick for him.”

Mason said he has always been either a shortstop or second baseman.

Perhaps nobody has had a bigger impact on Mason early in his collegiate career than junior shortstop Andres Alvarez, who transferred to WSU from Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado in 2016.

Mason said he established a relationship early in the fall with Alvarez, and he continues to be a role model.

“I’ve really been learning a lot from him fielding-wise, hitting-wise,” Mason said. “He’s a really good mentor.”

Something Mason struggled with when he arrived was the quick footwork required of a collegiate middle infielder.

“In high school, the game is not as fast,” Mason said. “The footwork was really different when I came here and [Alvarez] really helped me with that.”

Mason said he hopes to move into the role of shortstop and become a team leader later in his career.

“Every year someone else has stepped up,” he said. “I plan on doing that when those guys leave.”

In 42 at-bats this season, Mason is hitting .190. However, he posted a season-high three hits against Santa Clara University this past weekend.

Horner predicted Mason will continue to improve with more chances at the plate.

“It’s more just getting at-bats under his belt,” Horner said, “and understanding the way his swing works and what he’s good at and what he’s not good at.”

When it comes to baseball, Mason takes a perfectionist approach. He said his goal while on the team is to win titles and even go to the College World Series.

“I want to win. I want to host a super-regional here, I want to have a winning season,” Mason said. “That’s obviously the main goal for every team, but that’s what I plan on doing.”

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Fielding his way to legacy