College World Series champions have Wabash County ties

By Joseph Slacian

Southwood High School graduate Brennan Kelly pitched two innings of scoreless baseball on June 2 to help the Kankakee Community College baseball team capture the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association Division II World Series.

Kankakee defeated Mercer County 11-5 in the final game of the double-elimination tourney in Enid, Okla.

Kelly is one of two Wabash County ties on the Kankakee team.

Northfield High School graduate Bryce Shafer is in his second season as an assistant coach.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” Shafer said. “It was a lot of fun. It was unbelievable how our guys stepped up and just took their game to another level.

“We knew we had a good team, but we didn’t know how good we would be. It’s amazing how in certain situations guys will just step up and elevate their game.”

Kankakee lost its first game in the tourney, then won six straight to capture the title.

Along the way, the team set several records.

The Cavaliers scored 78 runs in the tourney, surpassing the previous mark of 70 set by Louisiana State University – Eunice in 2010.

Kankakee second baseman Mark Littrell – who won the MVP and Defensive Player honors for the series – averaged .500 at the plate while driving in 15 runs, including one home run. The 15 RBI broke a record set by Mesa’s Jordan Zimmerman’s mark of 14 set in 2010.

Along with serving as assistant coach, Shafer also is helping with recruiting, and said he helped slightly in getting Kelly to attend the college.

“He was a former Summit City Slugger, that’s who he played for in the summer, and that’s who I played for, so I had some contacts with their program, so I guess I had a little hand in it,” Shafer said. “But I wasn’t the only one.”

Kelly, a freshman, “had an unbelievable season,” Shafer continued. “Coming in, we weren’t really sure what he would do for us.

“He’s a left-handed kid who doesn’t have great velocity, but it has gotten a lot better.”

Kelly earned the nicknamed “The Sponge,” Shafer said, “because he just soaks up everything you tell him.”

“He’s an extremely hard working kid. He’s put on weight and his velocity has gone up. He works so much on his craft.”

He throws four different pitches for strikes, the coach continued, noting he will throw them on any count.

“He’s been unbelievable for us out of the bullpen,” Shafer continued. “He’s been a lifesaver for us.”

Shafer picked up two wins in the regional tourney, earning the MVP award for that.

A Valparaiso University graduate, Shafer spent five years in minor league baseball, including three with the Chicago Cubs system.

Kankakee coach Todd Post contacted him and asked if he would be interested in coaching with the team. In addition, Shafer coaches varsity boys basketball at Peotone High School.

Posted on 2017 Jun 13