Busy summer concludes for Illini baseball

By Nicholas Fortin

The Illinois baseball team has been busy this summer.

After being knocked out by Vanderbilt in Illinois’ first-ever NCAA Super Regional appearance, the Illini had nine players selected in the 2015 MLB draft. Illinois’ eventful summer didn’t stop there as 18 current Illini traded in their orange and blue for the team colors of 11 different summer collegiate league teams across six different leagues.

As is usually the case, the majority of Illini playing summer ball wound up in the Northwoods league, with 10 Illini playing among five Northwoods league teams this summer.

The Waterloo Bucks added four Illini to their roster for the summer in junior outfielder Ryan Nagle and pitcher Charlie Naso Jr., as well as sophomore infielder Matthew James and redshirt freshman pitcher Doug Hayes.

Junior pitcher J.D. Nielsen and sophomore outfielder Pat McInerney also found themselves in the Northwoods league as the pair played for the Kenosha Kingfish. Nielsen recorded 24 strikeouts and posted a 2.73 ERA in 23 innings pitched while the team went on to win the Northwoods League Summer Collegiate World Series.

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Like their Illinois teammates, Ryne Roper and Adam Walton also played in the Northwoods league as the two competed for the Rochester Honkers.

Junior catcher Jason Goldstein, like Walton, decided to forgo playing for an MLB-affiliated minor league team after being drafted over the summer and instead played for the Madison Mallards. Goldstein hit .323 with 41 hits and 17 RBIs in 37 games.

Nick Blackburn rounded out the Illini in the Northwoods league as the junior pitcher played for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.

Along with the Northwoods league, there were also Illini that played in the Chicago, Kansas, Prospect, Cape Cod and Great Lakes leagues.

Anthony Drago and Ryan Huff represented Illinois in the Chicago league as members of the Lombard Orioles while Zack Kolakowski was the lone player in the Kansas league as he competed for the Hutchinson Monarchs.

Quinten Sefcik and Mark Skonieczny rounded out the Illini in the Midwest as the two played for the Terre Haute Rex and the Lake Erie Monarchs in the Prospect and Great Lakes leagues, respectively.

Cody Sedlock was the only Illinois player to leave the Midwest, playing for the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod league. The sophomore pitcher compiled 26 strikeouts and a 3.41 ERA over 29 innings of work in the country’s top collegiate summer league.

While most of the Illini playing summer ball stuck to the collegiate circuit, Nagle was the lone Illini who jumped between the two. After playing in 18 games, batting .275 and being honored as player of the night for a 3-for-5, four RBI performance that included a home run for Waterloo, Nagle joined six other former-Illini and 2015 Illinois draftees in the MLB minor leagues by signing with the short season class-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the West Virginia Black Bears. In 18 games with the Bears, Nagle has hit .250 with 16 hits, six runs and 10 RBIs in 64 at-bats.

Former Illini first baseman David Kerian, No. 6 overall pick pitcher Tyler Jay and fellow pitchers Kevin Duchene, Drasen Johnson, John Kravetz and John McDonnell also spent their summer in the minor leagues, with varying degrees of success.

Of the pitchers, Johnson performed the best posting a 3.46 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 26 innings of work for the Boise Hawks, the short season class-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. Kerian also played well, tallying 32 hits and 18 RBIs in 142 plate appearances over 38 games with the Auburn Doubledays.

After going undrafted, former Illini outfielder Casey Fletcher also spent his summer playing ball. Fletcher competed for the Joliet Slammers in the independent Frontier League.

Although both Blackburn and Walton were drafted along with their fellow Illini, the summer will end with the pair and Goldstein coming back to Champaign-Urbana to compete once again for Illinois.

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