The Rantoul Eagles baseball team finished in second place with a 5-2 record in the Illinois Valley Conference and 14-10 overall. The Eagles defeated Bloomington Central last Wednesday 10-5. Then on Thursday the team took care of business against Pontiac Indians with a 7-4 victory. The Eagles now are preparing for regional competition this week with its first game against Mt. Zion. Allen Jones Jr. has been with Eagles head coach Jon Donovan as assistant coach for six years. Sports Editor Ben Theobald caught up with Jones to talk about the Eagles’ season and going into the regional:

BT: What do you have to say about how your team did this season considering your team finished in second place with a 6-3 conference record?

CONTINUED IMPROVEMENT

AJ: We are extremely pleased with the way our boys have continued to improve as the season progresses. Our goal was to finish atop the leaderboard and did everything within our power to put ourselves in that position, including a win over Olympia, who tied for second place with us at 6-3. This is the highest conference finish for the RTHS baseball program since the Corn Belt Conference champion team of 2012 and shows the players’ commitment and buy-in to the standards of our program.

BT: Why do you think your team was able to get second in a tough conference?

AJ: Continued improvement from the seniors and leaders in our program. We were specifically happy to see increased offensive production from Hunter Hoffman, William Wake and Chad Vermillion during conference play. Entering the last half of the season we were 2-3, facing traditionally strong baseball programs from Unity, Prairie Central, Bloomington Central and Pontiac. We focused on one game at a time, and the team responded wonderfully to complete a four-game conference winning streak.

BT: Are there any games or moments this past season that stuck out to you? Also were there any key moments during the season that showed how the team improved?

VALUABLE WEEK

AJ: For us, the week we played Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and Illinois Valley Central seemed to be a valuable teaching and motivating week for the coaching staff. Against PBL, we fight back late in a game to get a road win. With GCMS, the table was turned on us and lose a close one late in the game. Against IVC, a conference game, we couldn’t push anything across. These games allowed us to demonstrate the ups and downs of baseball and the importance of confidence and energy to compete pitch for pitch the entire game.

BT: What do you have to say about your player performances this season?

AJ: Adam Crites and Nolan Roseman have taken this team upon their shoulders both offensively and on the mound as pitchers and offensively at the plate. Hayden Cargo, Hunter Hoffman and Chad Vermillion have performed admirably in the challenging and difficult defensive positions in the middle of our defense at short, second and center field. Emmanuel Lutes and Will Wake provide a steady defensive presence on the edges of our outfield in left and right field. Our success to this point is certainly tied to the fact that we have had senior confidence and leadership on the mound throughout with Nory Stewart, Crites, Roseman, Wake, Hoffman, Cargo and Vermillion all being pitchers. The seniors deserve and receive a lot of credit and recognition for our success thus far. However, it’s important to recognize the improvement and contributions of two underclassmen to this season. Sophomore catcher Jake Lykins has performed admirably as the anchor of the team as he continues to learn the game and the leadership role of a catcher. Junior Nolan Riddle is quite the utility player capable of use in the outfield and infield, but as of late he has anchored the infield at third base. 

BT: In terms of things to improve going into the regionals, is there anything that comes to mind? 

AJ: As we enter regionals we recognize that there are no easy games, but as we take our resume of battle this year we expect to be ready for our round one game at Mt. Zion. We have confidence in our senior pitchers and leadership. The players expect to perform at a high level, and it should be a good time to witness Eagle baseball. We will continue to work to improve our offensive production and mindset over this remaining week before we depart for Mt. Zion.

Contact Ben Theobald at btheobald@rantoulpress.com