Pretty easy to hit on the high points with this club. After starting the season 6-7, the Eagles went on a scorching-hot run, winning nine of 10 games from April 28-May 14 (including winning seven straight). It was losing a game against Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, 10-3, on April 25 that was the final straw for Jon Donovan, who forced the team to endure a late-night practice immediately following the game. From then on, the Eagles caught fire, including a thrilling 6-5 walk-off win over Centennial in a first-round regional game.
If the Eagles had held that same locked-in, focused mentality all season that they had during their hot run that saw them finish 6-3 in the Illini Prairie Conference, they might have finished at 16-13. Instead, Rantoul limped to a below-.500 start early in the season. And though it rebounded with a long winning streak, Rantoul dropped its last four games of the regular season and was bounced in a regional semifinal matchup with Mt. Zion.
For a club that defeated one of the state’s top Class 2A teams, Monticello, and either took down or stayed neck-and-neck with other top-flight competition, including a close loss to Mt. Zion in a regional semifinal game, the future is bright. The Eagles return all of their top arms (Adam Crites, Nolan Roseman, Chad Vermillion, Hayden Cargo, Hunter Hoffman and Nolan Riddle), each of whom is a key offensive player. But Rantoul will need to replace the production of all-conference performers Luke Jones and John Frerichs.
Instead of closing up shop during a dismal 2-7 stretch in April, the Eagles rebounded and kept fighting. That was the praise head coach Travis Flesner gave once the season concluded, describing how rough the practices were during those days as Rantoul worked tirelessly on fundamentals instead of more intricate aspects of the game. The season ended at 15-19 but could have gotten worse if not for the squad’s resiliency.
Obviously, the stretch in April, which included five straight losses, was rough. And so was going 1-5 toward the end of the season, including a 25-10 loss to Herscher. But the lowest point came in the final game of the year, when Rantoul was headed straight for a regional championship date with Rochester. But leads of 4-0 and 5-3 against Mahomet-Seymour in the regional semifinals disappeared when the Bulldogs rallied for a walk-off win with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
The Eagles graduate senior captain Lindsay Jordahl, who will be next to impossible to replace, not just in terms of pitching, defense and offensive production but also her leadership. Rantoul does, however, return nearly its entire roster, with sophomores Lexi Sherrick, Jenna Sanford, Madisyn Walton and Kristen Fauser joining juniors Jada Mosley and Gillian Gawenda. Freshmen Bella Shields and Jerzie Grob also got some much-needed experience in 2018.
Track and Field
It was once again a historic year for Rantoul track, as the boys 1,600-meter team once again medaled at state, Jerry Harper took fifth in Class 2A state in the 400-meter dash, and Myejoi Williams became the first girl in Rantoul Township High School history to medal in a throwing event when she took fourth in Class 2A state in the shot put. Harper and Williams each won Illini Prairie Conference championships in their respective events as well.
The 1,600-meter relay team took a slight step back, taking eighth in state this year compared to last year’s seventh-place finish, though that’s hardly a lowlight. Also, Harper may have reached an even higher peak in his 400-meter race at state if not for his hamstring tightening up with about 120 meters left in the dash.
Harper and Williams, both sophomores, will be returning next spring to defend their conference championships and also attempt to make another run at medaling in state. Also, look for the boys 1,600-meter and 800-meter relay teams to make an impact once again.
Contact Zack Carpenter at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.