CLINTON — Tuesday’s tilt featured a number of dazzling infield plays all starting with flair from two local boys.
Rock Island’s Jake Scudder, the fourth batter in the Iowa-Illinois Senior All-Star Classic, scorched a liner to the left side. Not only was Scudder robbed by the glove of shortstop Cody Nolan, but it caught baserunner Connor Whan off guard. The Illinois squad was doubled up when Nolan sidearmed it back to five-year teammate and fellow All-Conferenceman Cody Collender before Whan could get back to safety, ending the first inning.
The play may have wowed some, but for hometown fans at Ashford University Field it was a pleasurable and familiar sight from two of Clinton’s standout ballplayers this summer.
Nolan and Collender joined teammate Ryan Driscoll and coach Kevin Cunningham as members of the Iowa squad for the annual MAC versus Big Western Six (Illinois) bout of upper classmen. And while the Iowa team was on the losing side twice — 2-0 and 7-2 — players said Tuesday was more about getting to wear the high school cap one last time.
“It’s not the same as running out with your home team,” Nolan said. “But it was really fun meeting all these guys and playing one more time.”
Unlike Collender, who will play junior college ball at Ellsworth Community College, these were likely the last organized games for Nolan and Driscoll.
“I just wanted to come in, play some good baseball and have fun. I was really happy that I got to finish my career here with both Codys and at Ashford Stadium,” Driscoll said.
The Iowa roster featured seven players who were under two weeks removed from playing in the state baseball tournament in Des Moines. Both squads boasted athletes moving on to bigger stages.
Muscatine’s Derek Burkamper was drafted in the 20th round by the Boston Red Sox in Junes but has chose to continue his education/career at the University of Nebraska. During the nightcap, Burkamper clocked in the high 80s and was on the mound against a future Big Ten foe in Rock Island Alleman’s Cody Sedlock, an Illinois recruit.
Davenport North’s Zach Fries, fresh off a Class 4A state berth, saw plenty of action as Game 1’s starting pitcher for Iowa and Game 2’s catcher. He echoed the sentiments of many.
“I just really wanted to come out here and have fun. It’s nice to be on a team like this full of great players,” Fries, a soon-to-be freshman at Grandview University, said. “It’s our last game together and most of us won’t play baseball.”
The solid fielding continued throughout the series. In the bottom of the second, Illinois catcher Jake Viaene (Moline) blocked a pitch in the dirt and sniped a stealing Brandon Engler (North Scott) for the first out. A frame later, Fries returned the favor by picking off Alleman’s Tanner Ledezma at first to end the side.
Viaene and Nolan teamed to throw out United Township’s Connor Gunneman on a steal in the fourth, and in the fifth, second baseman Eric Huber (North Scott) turned a misplayed grounder into a leaping throw from the fringe to first. In a late twist of irony, Illinois forced out both Nolan and Collender during the nightcap on a 5-3 sixth inning double play by the Rock Island duo of Scudder and Mitch Erickson.
In the end, the Prairie State proved to have the timely hitting and controlled pitching for the sweep. Whan advanced two bags on a wild pitch then swiped home on a fielder’s choice for the series’ first run, all the Illinois side needed in the shutout.
In Game 2, Sedlock opened the first inning with an RBI infield single and Scudder scored on a wild pitch. Illinois plated two more in the third on an error and a sac-fly by Ledezma, another in the fourth on a sac-fly by Connor Gunneman (United Township) and two more in the sixth with an RBI single by Drew Knall (Galesburg) who scored later on a wild pitch.
Fries had the biggest Iowa hit of the day with a two-RBI triple to deep center in the fifth inning of Game 2. Nobody, including Fries, seemed disappointed with the losses.
“Sure we lost, but it was really nice meeting all these guys,” Fries said.
It was also a special day for Cunningham and co-coaches Joe Vaccaro (Bettendorf) and Bob Leech (Muscatine).
“We played to win, but some of them saw this as a chance to play one last game,” Cunningham said. “Coaching against these kids, you don’t really get a chance to know them. You get to know them a bit and appreciate all the hard work they put in. I saw it as an opportunity to coach my three seniors one last time.”
Driscoll said he gained new friendships with former rivals from the experience.
“They mostly go from being your enemy to being your best friends,” he added.
2013 Iowa vs. Illinois Senior All-Star Classic
Ashford University Field
ILLINOIS 2, IOWA 0
Illinois 001 001 0 — 2 4 0
Iowa 000 000 0 — 0 6 1
ILLINOIS 7, IOWA 2
Iowa 000 020 0 — 2 5 2
Illinois 202 102 X — 7 10 1