Jake Tegeler, J.J. Johnston and Jake Randall are each key components of the Sauk Valley Community College baseball team.
Next year, they will play the sport at 4-year colleges. Each of their paths to get to that level were vastly different.
Tegeler played his high school ball at Morrison. After graduating in 2012, he didn't plan on playing baseball in college, and would instead focus on academics.
As a freshman at SVCC, he also coached at the fresh-soph level in Morrison, to keep himself active in the sport. That involvement led him to play last summer for the Fulton American Legion baseball team, which was in need of a catcher.
"I came out last summer and batted .480 with 80 at-bats, so I felt like I picked up right where I left off," Tegeler said. "I was surprised. The summer went well, so I decided to pick up my career again."
Tegeler has been the Skyhawks' catcher this season, with spot duty at first base and designated hitter. He's batting .200 (3-for-15) with a double.
"I know my bat's starting off a little slow," Tegeler said, "but I'm starting to see the ball better. I'm starting to drive the baseball, and I just need the ball to find the gaps. It seems like I'm hitting a lot right at everybody."
When Tegeler comes to the plate, he hopes to find one of his teammates on base, and more often than not, it is Johnston, a sophomore from Sterling. He takes pride in doing whatever he can to set the table for his teammates.
"I've been a leadoff hitter since my freshman year of high school," Johnston said. "I love leading off, getting on, creating havoc on the basepaths, stealing bases – whatever I've got to do to get runs on the board for the team."
Johnston is batting .355 (11-for-31) with a double and four runs batted in. He also had two walks, has been hit by two pitches and has scored a team-high six runs.
Defense has been an adjustment for Johnston, who was a middle infielder at Sterling. At Sauk, he shared center field duties with Evan Davis a year ago. With Davis now at Chicago State, Johnston has the position to himself.
"Judging flyballs that first year, there was a little bit of a transition," Johnston said. "Now I love it."
Randall played four sports (football, basketball, baseball and hockey, which he played at the club level in Peoria) growing up in Canton, but his favorite sport was baseball. In the fall of 2012, that led him to SVCC, which showed the most interest in him in baseball.
His first order of business was to get bigger. He came to Sauk packing 185 pounds on a 6-foot-5 1/2 inch frame. He now stands 6-6 and weighs 195.
"I eat a lot," said Randall, who redshirted as a freshman, "but I eat healthy. Right now I have a high metabolism, which makes it hard for me to put on weight. Hopefully that will slow down in the next couple of years, and I can get up to 210, maybe 215 pounds."
Randall plays first base and bats third for the Skyhawks. He's batting .333 (11-for-33) with two doubles and five RBIs.
Next year, he will attend William Penn College in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and continue to play baseball.
"That's why I came to Sauk, to go to a bigger school after this," Randall said. "It's one of those things you work for your whole life. It's actually like a dream come true."
Tegeler (St. Ambrose) and Johnston (Robert Morris) will also attend 4-year universities next fall, to continue their athletic and academic careers. That brings a smile to the face of head baseball coach Noel Aponte.
"Giving them an opportunity at the college level, that's the biggest thing we've got going on here," Aponte said. "Yes, we want to win, but the big thing is to mature and move them on to the next level to play baseball and get an education."
High school: Morrison, 2012
FYI: Starting catcher for Skyhawks. ... Didn't play baseball freshman season. ... Will play at St. Ambrose next season
High school: Sterling, 2012
FYI: Starting center fielder for Skyhawks. ... Batting .355 this season. ... Will play at Robert Morris next season
High school: Canton, 2012
FYI: Starting first baseman for Skyhawks. ... Redshirted as freshman to gain weight. ... Batting .333 this season. ... Will play at William Penn next season