North Central Baseball Season Recap

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The Standards of North Central Baseball

As five-time defending College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin regular season champions and looking to start a new streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances after the pandemic snapped a twelve year run, North Central College baseball began this year like they do every year: building on the program’s existing culture and aiming for nothing less than tremendous success.

“When you come to North Central you expect it,” said senior first baseman Paul Beverly. “It’s the standard and you come here to win. It’s kind of instilled upon you the minute you come in and the minute we start practicing in the fall and the winter, it’s for that ultimate goal and that is make a deep run, win the conference. That’s the first thing we talk about is win the regular season, get the number-one seed in the playoffs. And then after that it’s just go from there.”

“I think it starts with the players that you recruit and that you bring in,” said head coach Ed Mathey, who is in his 17th season leading the program. “And it’s the culture that’s been established. We’ve got some kids that when they get to be juniors and seniors they lead this program and they make certain that the new guys coming in understand how we go about doing things.”

“The way we look at it is every day’s a new day,” said senior pitcher Jason Shanner. “Gotta come to the ballpark with the same attitude and energy, keep the same focus. Sometimes that can be hard.

Season Success and Broken Records

But, as they so often do, the Cardinals made it look easy. A 30-10 regular season record saw them capture yet another regular season CCIW Championship and secure the top seed and hosting privileges for the conference tournament. Four Cardinals, Charlie Klemm, Justin Rios, Paul Beverly and Dom Listi, were named to the All CCIW First Team, with Luke Lamm and Jason Shanner making the Second Team.

Klemm and Listi also secured places in the North Central history books, as Klemm set the program’s career strikeout record and Listi the career triples record in just his second season. 

“It’s kind of a really surreal feel just coming into a school that has as much respect in the area for baseball and being able to accomplish something like that,” said Listi. “It kind of just crept up on me and I really didn’t know it was happening until right before. It’s just something that, you don’t really get acknowledgement like that that much in the game of baseball, and being able to get that is a very amazing feeling.”

“That says a lot for those guys and the caliber of guys that are coming in,” Mathey said. “This program goes back a long ways and we’ve had many All Americans, we’ve had a National Player of the Year here. So to be in that echelon, number one you’ve gotta be a pretty good player coming in with where the program’s at, and two we’ve gotta be able to attract those guys.”

Tournament Time

With the regular season in the rear-view, the Cardinals were looking to add another CCIW tournament title to their resume en route to what they hoped would be a deep postseason run.

“We’ve kind of been getting into our groove,” said senior pitcher Luke Lamm. “We started out a little slow but found a good groove.”

“You just take it literally one pitch at a time and you bring the energy and focus that you need because anything could happen in the tournament and we know that from last year so we’ve just gotta come focused every day and compete,” Beverly said. “Doesn’t matter what happened before.”

“Everybody wants to be a champion, everybody wants to get into regionals, everybody wants those opportunities but the processes matter and having those processes established and showing that they work and guys believing in them, I think those things all add to what goes on on a daily basis here that puts us in a position to have a chance at those goals,” said Mathey.

“Coming in and it being the year before that they went to the World Series, it’s kind of living up to that team and an expectation that was made for us,” said Shanner, who is in his fifth season on the team. “We’ve always been a great team and we always seem to never kind of get that last step…so winning that regional would be the piece that puts it all together… we’re here to win a trophy and we’re here to win the last game of the season.”

The Cardinals would fall in the CCIW title game to Augustana, a heartbreaker in 14 innings, but were selected as an at-large bid for the regionals, where they traveled to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. After wins over both the Pointers and Coe College, the Cardinals unfortunately were knocked out by the hosts who won back-to-back games to win the regional championship and advance. But the Cardinals did return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019, and with that success the program’s legacy continues to grow. When the team re-convenes next season, the goals  won’t have changed at all.

“I think it’s really important to try and take the next step to the national level, I think that’s the next big goal for us,” said Listi, looking forward. “We’ve been dominating the conference for almost a decade, and now it’s about taking the next step and constantly making deep runs in the college world series and making sure we can get there in the first place is winning our conference.”

“Just the want,” Lamm said of what makes the team special. “Wanting to win. I feel like the times when we want to win we really show the kind of team we are, and there have been times where we haven’t shown that but luckily that’s been in the minority this year and we’ve all been ready to go.”

“I think taking a step back sometimes and just realizing the things that you’ve done personally and the things you’ve done with your team, it keeps you grounded and that’s what keeps you going,” said Listi. “I think realizing the good that comes with the bad, it just makes it so much better in this game.”