Top ten moment, lifetime achievement for Troike

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Top ten moment, lifetime achievement for Troike

Illinois shortstop Ben Troike makes a throw to first during the game against Milwaukee at the Illinois Field on March 14. When playing Northwestern this weekend, Troike made a play that gained him the No. 5 slot on SportsCenter’s Top 10.

Illinois shortstop Ben Troike makes a throw to first during the game against Milwaukee at the Illinois Field on March 14. When playing Northwestern this weekend, Troike made a play that gained him the No. 5 slot on SportsCenter’s Top 10.

Illinois shortstop Ben Troike makes a throw to first during the game against Milwaukee at the Illinois Field on March 14. When playing Northwestern this weekend, Troike made a play that gained him the No. 5 slot on SportsCenter’s Top 10.

Illinois shortstop Ben Troike makes a throw to first during the game against Milwaukee at the Illinois Field on March 14. When playing Northwestern this weekend, Troike made a play that gained him the No. 5 slot on SportsCenter’s Top 10.

By Gavin Good, Staff writer

As a longtime SportsCenter viewer, the top ten plays of each day were an awe-inspiring part of Illinois shortstop Ben Troike’s childhood. Hearing the likes of Scott Van Pelt or John Anderson give the rundown of sports’ most impressive highlights was a part of everyday life.

As a 20-year-old, Troike was able to experience his former inspiration. 

In the bottom of the sixth inning while tied 1-1, a Northwestern batter hit a strange, bouncing ball in the infield that careened over the glove of charging third baseman Grant Van Scoy. Troike had backed Van Scoy up, reacting quickly to snag the ball barehanded, and whipped it into the glove of first baseman Bren Spillane for the out.

The sequence earned Troike the No. 5 slot on SportsCenter’s Top 10.

“First thing I saw was Bren at first,” Troike said. “He caught it and he looked at me with wide eyes and he was smiling and laughing. The dugout got real loud; it was pretty cool.”

The immediate reaction in Evanston paled in comparison to seeing the play on SportsCenter, which picked up the nomination after Illinois baseball’s Twitter account tweeted the play at the ESPN Assignment Desk, an account that allows for Top 10 play submissions.

Troike watched it for himself when he was hanging out with his roommates on Sunday night, fulfilling his childhood dream.

“I’ve been watching SportsCenter’s top plays since I was five years old; it’s always something that’s like, ‘Oh, what if I was on there one day?’”

Troike, a sophomore, was swamped with a multitude of congratulatory texts and calls throughout Sunday evening and Monday.

“My phone was blowing up that night, and then the next day when it was on again in the morning,” Troike said. “Family, friends, (were) just like, ‘Oh my God, I saw you on SportsCenter.’”

Head coach Dan Hartleb was happy to see Troike get recognition. He credited Troike’s hard work and focused mindset as qualities that have led him to be able to make such eye-popping plays. For Hartleb, Troike’s play and his humble demeanor surrounding his accomplishment are part of the model for his team’s triumphs.

“Ben’s a great team player and he’ll give credit to all of the people around him for the play,” Hartleb said. “That’s why we’re so successful; there’s not a person on this team who cares who gets all the accolades. It’s all about what we’re doing as a group to be successful, and these guys are fun to be around because you don’t have selfish people.”

The play was rather indicative of the Illini’s season so far. In its first 20 games, the team has gone 15-5 and has put together the seventh-best fielding percentage in the NCAA (.984). The Illini are also tied for 36th in double plays per game, averaging just under one per contest at 0.95.

The team is poised and relaxed in the field, according to Troike, who believes that attitude has helped them start the season so well — the Illini are now ranked in most of the major polls and are up to No. 12 in the Collegiate Baseball rankings.

“Ty Weber was on the mound and he’s not a very vocal guy, and after I made that play I heard him yelling and going nuts on the mound,” Troike said. “This year, I feel like the pitchers really have that confidence with the defense behind them. I think they’re really comfortable just pitching in contact, throwing strikes and knowing that we’ll make plays behind them.”

A lot of the team’s success also comes down to trust, according to Troike. 

“Everybody, whether it’s in the dugout, coaches, pitchers on the mound, everybody has that confidence that in a big spot everybody can be loose and relaxed because pitchers just have to throw a strike and we’re going to make a play for them,” Troike said.

No matter the team’s successes going forward, Troike won’t soon forget the play he made.

“I called my parents and I had them record it on the TV, so we have that saved at home,” Troike said. “It’s definitely something I’ll look back on in the future and everything. It’s really, really exciting to see that.”

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