Wichita State baseball player Mitch Caster was killed in a car accident early Monday morning in West Des Moines, Iowa.
Lt. Jeff Miller of the West Des Moines police department said Caster, 21, was driving south on I-35 in an SUV at about 12:15 a.m. when it crossed the median and hit a northbound semi. The driver of the truck was not injured.
"At this point, the crash remains under investigation," Miller said. "It's a tragic accident."
The team met Monday afternoon at Eck Stadium. Wichita State athletic director Eric Sexton made players off-limits to the media, citing a desire to give them time to grieve privately.
"We are all deeply saddened over the tragic loss of Mitch Caster," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said in a statement. "Our entire team is devastated. Mitch was a fine young man and great teammate. The memories that every team member and coach has of him will always be cherished."
Caster, who attended Goddard High, played the outfield and pitched for the Shockers for three seasons.
"I loved Mitch," WSU pitching coach Brent Kemnitz said. "He was a guy that was fun to be around. It takes the air out of all of us."
Caster was returning to Wichita from his summer team in the Northwoods League. He pitched two innings for Rochester (Minn.) in Sunday afternoon's Northwoods League championship game in Eau Claire, Wis. Eau Claire defeated Rochester to win the best-of-3 series.
According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, teammate Jimmy Waters was driving in front of Caster and witnessed the crash in his rear-view mirror. Waters plays at Kansas and is from Iowa.
"Jimmy was pretty distraught," Kevin Lash, a Rochester resident who was in Des Moines at the time of the accident, told the newspaper. "It's just so tragic. Jimmy was saying 'We weren't out drinking and doing drugs and driving. We were just trying to get back to school.' "
Rochester teammate Chris Elder said he and several others plan to come to Wichita for Caster's funeral.
"I'm going to try to be there," Elder told the Post-Bulletin. "I think a lot of us will be."
Ryan Jones, a senior on last season's team, described Caster as a player who played hard and kept a good attitude even in tough times.
"He was a great teammate to have," Jones said. "He would make fun of himself if he had a bad game. And, of course, he would be super excited if he had a good game."
Goddard baseball coach Tom Campa met Caster at age 12. Caster made an impression with his hustle and fight even at that age. He told people Caster would play as a freshman at Goddard, and was proven correct.
"I remember a little fireball, a guy that wanted to go out there and play every position," Campa said. "He was definitely a good role model for everyone on the team."
At WSU, Caster started his career as an outfielder and picked up pitching duties as a sophomore and junior. As a junior, he made eight appearances and went 0-1. He started 32 games as a sophomore, mostly in the outfield, and hit .231. He also made five relief appearances. He started nine games as a freshman.
"I'll always remember he had one of the biggest smiles you could ever have," Jones said. "It is definitely hard to lose somebody like that."
Caster pitched well this summer for Rochester, leading Kemnitz to believe he would finish his college career on a strong note.
"Mitch was very competitive, very driven," Kemnitz said. "He had a great arm, and I think he had a bright future. I was really excited to get him back and get to work."
Caster was the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Player of the Year and an All-Metro pick in 2006 at Goddard.
Funeral arrangements are pending.