What a difference six months can make.
Late last year Carthage first baseman Jason Acevado wasn't even on a team. He was attending classes at Northern Illinois after transferring from Bradley, but a failed tryout with the Huskies left Acevado without a baseball home.
"I would just sit there holding a bat in my hands for hours," remembers Acevado, a 2004 Vernon Hills High School graduate. "There were days I'd go out to a random field with a tee in my trunk and just hit. I practiced and lifted like I was going to play, but I really didn't know."
Acevado ended up at Carthage at the semester break and enjoyed one of the best hitting seasons in that school's history. The Red Men's season ended last Friday in the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional but it's safe to say that the squad's season-long national ranking and its 36-10 final record wouldn't have occurred without adding Acevado.
Acevado paced the squad in almost every offensive category in 2008, led by his.464 batting average. He also was tops in home runs (13), RBIs (66), hits (83), doubles (19), triples (six), runs (60), total bases (153), walks (27), at-bats (179), on-base percentage (.531) and slugging percentage (.855). He didn't lead the team in stolen bases, but he was still successful on all four of his attempts.
His season average is the fourth-highest in school history and he ended up in the school record books in several other statistical areas. His 150 total bases are second in school history for a season and his six triples tied for second all-time. The 81 hits are fourth-best for a single season, the 66 RBIs are fourth and the 60 runs and 18 doubles are sixth.
"It was kind of a last-minute thing but it was a great fit," said Acevado. "I went from not playing anywhere to being asked how I could help win games."
Despite Acevado not making it at Northern Illinois, Carthage head coach Augie Schmidt got a favorable recommendation from the Huskie staff, which led to Schmidt reaching out to Acevado. There were two other candidates for time at first base and the only guarantee given was that all three were told they'd see some action.
That changed very early in the 2008 season. During the team's season-opening win against Mt. Aloysius, the left-handed-hitting Acevado rifled a double to left field and felt something click. The swing he had always enjoyed was back.
The next day Acevado was moved up three spots in the batting order to No. 3 and the rest is history.
"The switch just turned on that day (in the season-opener) and I started really seeing the ball well," said Acevado. "I've always driven the ball to the opposite field when I'm going at my best. It felt like I had gone back to being the hitter I used to be."
Carthage was the last of four stops in Acevado's college baseball odyssey. He initially attended Lake County Community College for two years, where he hit .400 with four home runs and 63 RBIs during his sophomore season in 2006. That led to a scholarship offer at Bradley, where he played during the '07 campaign before his subsequent move to NIU. He received most of his playing time with the Braves at first base at the season's onset but only against right-handers.
Acevado finished the season batting .231 with no homers, nine driven in and only two extra-base hits. He played in 35 games, with 25 starts, but didn't face a left-handed pitcher the entire year.
He traces his struggles at Bradley not to physical shortcomings but to an altered mental approach.
"They tried to change my swing a bit and they had me trying to pull everything," recalls Acevado. "I didn't have any confidence at all. After changing my swing, I was thinking too much. You can't do that in baseball -- you just have to react and there were a lot of games where I didn't have a chance."
When Acevado got to Carthage, the staff told him there was nothing wrong with his swing and to simply hit like he always had.
Besides this return to normalcy, Acevado also cherished the looser team atmosphere he encountered at Carthage. There's more pressure on Division I teams to win and the top players have their minds set on playing professionally. Those elements, according to Acevado, can take a toll on team chemistry.
"Here, as long as the team wins, everyone is happy," he said. "At Bradley, if you had one bad game, you weren't sure you'd play the next day. We started the year with 24 straight wins (in 2008) and you never saw anyone in a bad mood, regardless of whether they were playing or not."
With Carthage's season over, when and if Acevado plays again is a real question. The Division III level isn't fertile ground for major league baseball scouts, so the future is murky at best. If he has played his last game, though, Acevado can look back on his college experience without a hint of disappointment.
"I learned something from every coach I had," said Acevado. "If the end of this season is the end of my career, I couldn't think of a better place to end it."
The Big Ten held its Outdoor Track and Field Championships over the weekend in Champaign, with Michigan claiming its first men's team title in 25 years and Penn State taking home top honors on the women's side.
A big part of the Wolverine men's winning formula was junior Adam Harris (Wheaton North).
The 2008 indoor All-American won the 200 meters in a regional qualifying time of 20.75, was second in the long jump with a best leap of 25-4¾ and came in third in the 100 meters in 10.36. He also ran the anchor leg of the winning 4x100 meter relay. Also helping Michigan was sophomore Sean McNamara (York), sixth in the 1,500 in 4:06.02.
Helping Wisconsin to its second-place finish was sophomore Nate Larkin (Glenbard West), third in the 100-meter hurdles in 14.04, freshman Evan Jager Jacobs), fifth in the 1,500 (4:05.65) and senior Peter Dykstra (New Trier), eighth in the decathlon with 6,711 points.
Illinois had several local products score, led by sophomore Jacob Nachel (Lyons Township), who was third in the 5,000 meters in 14:31.34 and eighth in Friday's 10,000 meters in 31:11.86. Also for Illinois, senior Nick Brown (Proviso East) was sixth in the long jump (24-4½) and sophomore Rob Pykosz (Conant) was seventh in the 3,000-meter steeplechase (9:04.81), which qualified him for regionals.
Purdue sophomore Adetayo Adesanya (Naperville North) was second in Saturday's high jump, with a best effort of 6-10¾. He won the event at the indoor conference meet this winter and was fourth outdoors as a freshman last May.
Iowa junior Andy Napier (Antioch) was second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, with a time (8:58.21) that was less two seconds off the lead.
Iowa sophomore Ray Varner (Warren) was eighth in the 400-meter hurdles.
Evans' winning mark of 55-10½ set a personal, facility, meet and school record, while Taylor was also fourth in Saturday's long jump (with a best effort of 20-10) and seventh in the 100 meters in 11.81.
Taylor's teammate, senior Serita Williams (Crete-Monee) was fifth in the 400 meters in 55.12.
Minnesota sophomore Amy Laskowske (Palatine) was seventh in Friday's 10,000 meters in 34:57.21.
The Mid-American Conference also held its Outdoor Track and Field Championships over the weekend, with the University of Akron winning the men's and women's team titles.
Former Chicagoans made more of an impact on the women's side.
Northern Illinois senior Coretta Evans (Evanston) was fifth in the 200 meters in 24.54 and seventh in the 400 meters in 56.25 in addition to running a leg on the eighth-place 4x400 meter relay. The 24.17 she clocked in Friday's 200-meter preliminary broke the school record.
Also for the Huskies, who finished 12th in the team race, sophomore Cora Caulfield (Grant) was seventh in the discus with a top throw of 152-2, a personal record that was a single centimeter away from qualifying for regionals.
Coming in one place ahead of Caulfield in the discus was her high school teammate, Western Michigan senior Kari Richards. Despite fouls on four of her six throws, she was able to muster a best toss of 159-4, good for sixth.
Miami (Ohio) also had a sizable contingent of local products making a mark. The Redhawk women finished third and their top finisher with Chicago-area ties was sophomore Amanda Mirochna (Neuqua Valley), second in the 1,500 meters with a time of 4:43.0.
Also for Miami, sophomore Nicki Mitchell (Lake Forest) was seventh in the heptathlon with 4,589 points. Her best events were the high jump, long jump and 800 meters, as she finished third in each.
And sophomore Brittney Bernardoni (Batavia) helped her team's cause with a seventh in the pole vault. Her best leap was 11-11¾. Bernardoni was the Class AA state champion as a senior in 2006 and has placed at all four MAC conference meets in college, including a seventh-place finish at this year's indoor meet.
Bringing in one point for the Redhawks was senior Erin Frazer (Benet Academy), who was eighth in the javelin with a top toss of 123-2. She was seventh in the same event last year.
Bowling Green sophomore Carly Bates (Palatine) was among the Falcons' top point scorers with her fourth-place finish in the 1,500 meters. Her time of 4:45.84 was only three seconds behind the winner in a tight finish.
Miami (Ohio) redshirt junior Kevin Dwyer (Hersey) was one of only two local products to score individual points on the men's side. He claimed the decathlon title with 6,706 points, more than 200 points ahead of the runner-up. Dwyer also took second in the individual javelin competition with a best throw of 207-11.
Dwyer's teammate, freshman John Gausmann (Naperville Central), was eighth in the discus with a best throw of 156-4. Gausmann also was ninth in the hammer throw with a best effort of 149-6.
Finishing just out of point-scoring territory was Miami junior Eric Horvath (Grant), who was one slot shy of advancing into the 400 meter hurdles final.
Akron freshman James Seale (Bolingbrook) helped the Zips to their team title by running a leg on the third-place 4x400 meter relay team.
Three local softball players recently received all-conference accolades from the Atlantic 10.
Being named to the league's first-team was St. Joseph's junior outfielder Erika Rosenwinkel (Oak Park). She finished the 2008 season second on the squad with a .354 batting average and led the team in doubles (19) and triples (two) while tying for the top spot in runs scored (32). The .354 average this year was a big leap upward over her previous two seasons, when she hit .270 and .278, respectively. Rosenwinkel has started every game she's played in since her freshman year, including 37 starts at catcher as a freshman in 2006.
Being named to the all-rookie team was St. Louis freshman outfielder Caitlin Trevillyan (Carmel). Her first college season came to an end with her batting .268 with three home runs (tied for team lead) and 13 RBIs. She started 49 of the 53 games she played in for the Billikens (23-33-1, 11-9 in conference) and also tied for the team lead with 19 walks.
Earning honorable mention all-Atlantic 10 recognition was Dayton sophomore outfielder Molly Meyer (Elk Grove). She finished 2008 second on the Flyers with a .339 average; 46 of her 58 hits were singles. Meyer led the team with 171 at-bats and started 50 of 51 games. As a freshman in 2007, Meyer led Dayton by hitting .329 and was second on the squad with 16 runs despite starting in only 20 of the 34 games she appeared in.
Maryland senior golfer Kelly Calkin (St. Charles East) was recently named first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference for the second straight season. When she earned that accolade as a junior in 2007, Calkin became only the second women's golfer in program history to be so honored.
Calkin finished in the top 10 in three of the five tournaments she competed in this spring, culminating with a tie for ninth at the ACC Women's Golf Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla., in late April. In that event, she finished 10 strokes off the lead with a 6-over-par 222; her best round was a 71 in the second of three rounds.
Calkin's 75.8 strokes per round average this spring was almost two strokes lower than her next teammate. She tied for eighth at last year's conference meet and ends her career having started in every tournament for the Terrapins.
Also in golf, Carthage junior Tyler Wollberg (Mundelein) earned second-team All-America honors for the second straight year last week with his tie for 15th at the NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championships at the Chateau Elon Resort in Braselton, Georgia. Wollberg's four-round score of 16-over-par 300 was 15 strokes off the pace of individual medalist Scott Harris Jr. of St. John Fisher College. Wollberg tied for 13th in the same event as a sophomore in 2007.
In this year's tournament, Wollberg gained ground on the field during Friday's final round, shooting a 74 on the par-71 course after his first three rounds resulted in scores of 76-73-77. The All-America designation wraps up a successful year for Wollberg, which saw him led the Red Men with a 73.3 stroke per round average, more than two strokes better than it was last season.
After winning the top prize at the CCIW Tournament as a freshman in 2006, Wollberg has come up just short in his bid for another title the last two springs. His runner-up finish in 2007 was two strokes shy of the leader and this spring, he lost in a four-hole playoff to Illinois Wesleyan junior Chris Green (Cary-Grove).