College Baseball: It’s been quite the season for Prairie State College
Bill Storrs Jr. said he’s not one to get emotional often. After his team clinched at least a share of its first conference title in program history, though, the Prairie State College baseball coach couldn’t help it.
“It was a great feeling,” he said. “Just knowing where we came from as a program and where we were five years ago. Back then, playing teams like Oakton and Waubonsee in our conference, there was like an aura of invincibility that they had. To be able to be the champs, I got emotional. It was special.”
Prairie State will bring a 27-16 record into the NJCAA Region IV Tournament, with sectionals scheduled for Friday through Sunday at Triton College. The NJCAA Division II World Series is May 25 through June 1 in Enid, Okla.
The Pioneers finished 11-3 in the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference, claiming the league crown. After securing a share of the conference title with a doubleheader sweep April 20 against McHenry County College, Prairie State clinched the conference title with a 4-3 victory four days later over Morton College.
The league title not only is the first for the baseball program, it’s the first men’s conference title in the history of Prairie State athletics.
“We came in after a 40-win season last year and had high expectations,” said shortstop Bobby Sheppard, an Oak Forest High School product. “We just kept working hard. It feels amazing to make a mark on school history.”
Storrs said the team was unaware the school never had won a men’s conference title until after the doubleheader sweep of McHenry was complete.
“It was pretty eye-opening,” he said. “We knew it was the first baseball title, but I had no idea about the school until (athletic director Ed Schaffer) told us after the game. It was kind of shocking. Our guys were excited to hear it.”
The Pioneers went 40-13 last season, but were fourth in conference with a 9-5 record.
This year, conference foes have been unable to contain the Pioneers offense as Prairie State averaged just under seven runs a game in league play.
Sheppard is hitting .386 with 40 RBI, both team-bests. Homewood-Flossmoor alum Ryan Rasmas (.319 average, 29 RBI), St. Laurence product Joe Sadowski (.389, 38 RBI), Brother Rice alum Dan Ohde (.338, 29 RBI) and Lincoln-Way North product Carter Bialka (.359, 22 RBI) are among the other hitting stars.
“The balance of our team has been huge,” Sadowski said. “Everyone is able to step up at a certain time, both with our hitters and our pitchers. We had good success last year, and it was big to take the next step for the program this year.”
The balanced pitching staff includes closer Joe Prete, a Stagg alum who’s 4-1 with five saves and a 3.02 ERA. Sam Cook (Lincoln-Way North) has a team-leading five wins, with three other pitchers — Eddie Nelson (Plainfield South), Dennis Beauregard (Reavis) and John Swisher (Peotone) — joining Prete with four wins.
With school history already made, the Pioneers are not satisfied. They are determined to make some noise in the postseason.
“The last three years, we’ve beaten the top seed in our regional, but then lost two other games to get eliminated,” Sadowski said. “We think this year can be different. We have the balance to go a long way.”
“We’ve really been coming together as a team,” he said. “We’re like a family.
“We want to keep this going and get all the way to the (NJCAA Division II) World Series.”