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Baseball: North Central College teammates turn into summer stars

Waubonsie's #7 Kris Singh fires a pitch to East Aurora's Richard Jimenez on Monday Morning during Regional play at Waubonsie Valley High School
Waubonsie's #7 Kris Singh fires a pitch to East Aurora's Richard Jimenez on Monday Morning during Regional play at Waubonsie Valley High School

Four members of the North Central College baseball team are also teammates on the Wheaton White Sox in the Metro Collegiate Summer Baseball League.

Waubonsie Valley graduate Kris Singh, Burlington Central grad Sam Klein, Plainfield North alum Zac Pacanowski and Schaumburg grad Matt Brancato were all named to the MCBL’s All-Star team for their work this summer.

Little did they know that their reward would be an exhibition game against the Team USA Collegiate National Team. But that is exactly what the NCC foursome encountered in mid-July at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva.

While the 16-2 loss may have been hard to swallow, the memories will last.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Klein, an outfielder who just finished his sophomore season for North Central. “When I heard we were playing Team USA, I got a little jittery.

“It’s good competition. All the guys were hyped to play them. All we look forward to is good competition. We all know we have talent here. (We treated it like a) normal ballgame, just playing against some of the best competition around the country.”

Klein played center field for all nine innings and scored a run in his four at-bats. He hit .286 with four doubles and a homer in 21 starts in center for North Central this spring. That gives Wheaton White Sox coach Bill Slight, who is in his 29th season guiding the summer league team, hope for Klein’s future beyond college.

“I think he’s got a chance,” Slight said. “He’s got to work on some things, like all these guys do. He can do better offensively. His defense is excellent. His arm is excellent. He’s got a chance.

“He’s a young kid. Some good coaching, some professional hitting coaches to work with him; I would say he’s got a shot.”

Singh threw a scoreless inning against Team USA, which was rare on a day when the Americans plated 16 runs. He’s going into his senior season for the Cardinals, but the former Waubonsie Valley standout is not done learning the game. He went 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA in 53 1/3 innings for the Cardinals in the spring.

“I’ve been working on some key things,” Singh said. “People say I’m hiding the ball a lot better. It’s helping. I picked up a slider this summer, too. I’ll be working on that this fall. I’m still getting new stuff in there.”

Slight has coached Singh in the summer for a few years now and has noticed the difference.

“I can definitely see noticeable improvement,” Slight said. “He has enlarged his arsenal a little bit. He’s hitting his spots better, his command is better. In my opinion, he’s a really good college pitcher.”

Pacanowski earned one at-bat against Team USA after a spring in which he hit .352 as a junior catcher for North Central. Brancato just finished his freshman season for the Cardinals and went 1-for-2 against Team USA.

North Central went 18-19 overall last spring and failed to reach the CCIW tournament. But Klein feels like the program is headed in the right direction.

“We’re looking for a conference title,” Klein said. “We’re ready to go for next season. We have all of our starting pitching coming back, so this is the year to do it. Last year we were kind of streaky. As far as next year, we’re going to be competitive, that’s for sure.”

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