Disabato: Trinity Christian College making history on baseball diamond
By Pat Disabato email@example.com Twitter: @disabato May 8, 2013 9:14PM
Trinity Christian baseball coach Justin Huisman. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Southland players on Trinity’s Roster
Drew Chibe (Stagg), Junior, Pitcher
Benny Collesano (Lockport), Junior, Pitcher
Pete Krygsheld (Illiana Christian), Junior, Infielder
John Pikes (St. Laurence), Senior, Outfielder
Rick Tilquist (Lincoln-Way Central), Senior, Pitcher
Vince VanSchouwen (Illiana Christian), Junior, Pitcher
Updated: June 10, 2013 2:01PM
When Rick Tilquist was a freshman in 2009 at Trinity Christian College, there were 15 players in the baseball program.
That’s not enough players to have a scrimmage game against one another.
“Most of them, basically, were all freshman,” Tilquist said.
In other words, the baseball program was going through a rebuilding process.
The lack of numbers, however, didn’t prevent that group from making a bold prediction.
“We said, ‘We’re going to put Trinity on the map,’ ” Tilquist said.
It may have taken a little longer than expected, but the young men have lived up to their word.
Trinity baseball indeed is on the local collegiate baseball map.
The Trolls — now that’s a cool name — qualified (along with 45 other teams from around the country) for the NAIA National Championship opening round that begins Thursday.
It’s the first time Trinity, which set a school-record with 25 wins this season, can boast of such an accomplishment.
The Trolls qualified for the double-elimination tournament after a runner-up finish in the Chicago Collegiate Athletic Conference, ahead of perennial local powers St. Xavier and St. Francis.
That’s quite a distinction for tiny Trinity, a Reformed Christian faith college boasting 1,400 students on its Palos Heights campus.
“It’s been an exciting ride, that’s for sure,” said Tilquist, a 2009 Lincoln-Way Central graduate. “All four years. To get to this point is unbelievably gratifying.”
No one knows this better than Justin Huisman, Trinity’s coach.
If the name rings a bell, it should. Huisman and his brothers Jason and Josh were part of the powerhouse Thornwood teams of the 1990s.
Yes, boys and girls, Thornwood’s baseball program ranked among the elite not long ago.
Jason, in fact, was Trinity’s coach until three years ago and Justin was his assistant. The two swapped titles in 2011, with the program continuing its ascent toward its high-water mark today. The Trolls roster has grown to 26 players, up from 15 four years ago.
“We’ve been trying to take this program to another level,” said Justin Huisman, a 1997 Thornwood grad. “This (NAIA bid) shows the school and the recruits that our program is headed in the right direction. We’re not just talking a big game, we’re backing it up.”
That’s something those Thornwood teams often excelled at under then coach John Dunlop: talking the talk and walking the walk. Few local high school programs boast the major league pedigree of Thornwood, which saw alums Cliff Floyd and Mark Mulder go on to enjoy All-Star careers.
Justin Huisman also is part of the list of Thornwood grads who made it to the big leagues.
After an outstanding career as a closer at the University of Mississippi, Huisman was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 15th round of the 2000 draft. He had ERAs of 1.86, 1.70, 1.57 and 1.75 his first four minor league seasons, along with nearly 100 saves.
Huisman eventually was traded to Kansas City and made his major league debut in 2004. He pitched 25 innings that season, shuffling between the Royals and Triple A. An arm injury eventually ended his career.
“I was looking to be a head coach full-time,” said Justin, who has another Thornwood alum, Wally Widelski, on staff. “My brother had a career opportunity outside of baseball he just couldn’t pass up. He didn’t want to leave the program entirely. So I took over as head coach and he’s an assistant.”
Trinity opens its national championship bid at 10 a.m. Thursday against Mayville State (N.D.) at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
If the Trolls win, they’ll play again at 6 p.m. Thursday against No. 1 seed York (Neb.). If they lose to Mayville State, they won’t play again until 10 a.m. Friday.
One thing Huisman made clear during our conversation: Trinity is in it to win it.
“This team, if it goes out there and plays to its potential, can beat anyone,” said Huisman, a married father of two daughters, Isabella and Summer. “It took us longer than I expected to break out. During the (conference) tourney, there were a couple of days where it just all clicked.”
After losing to conference champion Judson in the first round, the Trolls bounced back to hammer Robert Morris 16-8 and St. Francis 11-5. Trinity again lost to Judson in the title game, but the runner-up finish garnered a national tournament bid.
“It’s a great feeling,” said John Pikes, a senior outfielder and St. Laurence graduate. “We put in a lot of time and did everything together, which is a credit to coach (Huisman). He knows so much about the game. As a player, you know what he’s telling you is going to work. He lets us be ourselves. We’re a confident team.”
One that’s on a mission.