The Timothy Christian High School baseball team not only became the first team in program history to play in the State Finals, but finished second in Class 2A and returned to Elmhurst with the state runner-up trophy.
Timothy Christian, under the direction of head coach Brian Whartnaby, at one point during the 2021 season sat with a good, but not great 9-7 mark. Fourteen games later, the Trojans sat at the Illinois State University baseball field in downstate Normal with a 21-9 final record, the product of a spectacular 12-2 late-season run that included a 6-1 mark in the Class 2A playoffs.
Timothy defeated the top ranked team in the state, Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin (who had an impressive 33-1 record) 7-6 in the Class 2A State Semifinals. The Trojans scored four runs in the top of the seventh and in the bottom of the seventh, pitcher Donald Tober retired Sacred Heart’s 3-4-5 hitters in order to secure the win. The Trojans then lost 12-0 to Freeburg in the State Championship.
So what exactly fueled this team and allowed it to catch fire down the stretch, doing what no other baseball team in the history of the Timothy program had been able to do?
Whartnaby points to several contributing factors.
“They are an instinctual baseball group that plays with confidence,” he said.
Roster makeup also played a key role. Whartnaby almost always had five underclassmen in the starting lineup and sometimes six — four sophomores (Donald Tober, Ethan Munk, Myles Foy and Evan Montella) and a pair of freshmen (Casey Folkerts and Jake Armstrong).
“We have a combination of solid senior leadership contributing and a lot of young guys hungry to try and win spots and that has done well for our development,” Whartnaby said.
Offensively, Timothy benefited from a lineup that could produce out of all nine spots. Whartnaby referenced the team’s Class 2A Super-Sectional win at Rivets Stadium in Rockford against Winnebago where the Trojans’ No. 9 hitter (Stephen Kwasigroch) led off the inning with a triple, which was followed up by Ben Jones’ deep sacrifice fly to get Timothy on the board.
“It’s that type of thing that has helped us,” Whartnaby said. “We have no big drop-offs in our lineup from 1 through 5 and 6 through 9. We have a deep lineup.”
In the Sectional championship victory, Whartnaby pointed out the team’s five, six and seven hitters went a combined 7-for-10.
“We have had great performances from everybody,” said Jones, a senior. “Everybody has been hitting great, the pitchers do a great job and our fielding has picked up throughout the year.”
Jones, who is headed to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix for academics, was a key cog in the Timothy pitching machine. Jones, who struck out 13 batters in the Super-Sectional win against Winnebago in Rockford, at one point in the season had 74 strikeouts against only five walks and earlier was at 52 strikeouts against only one free pass.
“Ben Jones isn’t a bragger, but he’s a big story,” Whartnaby said. “This is a guy who doesn’t play travel ball and lost his junior season due to COVID. He’s a grinder.”
Sophomore Tober combined with Jones to give the Trojans a highly formidable 1-2 punch on the mound. “Ben and Donald are both way up there for us,” said Whartnaby, who lauded the entire Timothy pitching staff for their contributions throughout the season.
Timothy junior Fletcher Roemmich agrees talent was part of the success recipe, but so too was the team’s chemistry.
“It’s definitely our team chemistry,” he said. “We bond really well and that’s something that is huge. I have known the upperclassmen my whole high school baseball career and in sports that’s huge to have that familiarity, and then our underclassmen are learning from the upperclassmen.”
Jones added: “We all love playing together. We all have an excitement for the game.”
Whartnaby gave a special shout out to Roemmich for his contributions on and off the field. “Fletcher has high standards for excellence,” he said. “He works hard at it, but he also works hard to make his teammates better. He will stay after practice and work with a teammate off on the side. You can’t teach that and it’s really rare to see that in a high school kid.”
Throughout the season, the Trojans had another ace up their sleeve and weren’t afraid to embrace it.
“We have a common factor where we can openly talk about our faith with each other,” Roemmich explained. “Baseball is not the biggest thing in the world, it’s just something we do. At the end of the day it’s how we respect each other and the opposing team and how we honor God through our play. That’s the most important thing for us.”
Whartnaby added: “We talk about what it means to play the game with an eternal perspective. It’s about how we obey the Lord and how we carry ourselves. We have been created in God’s image and we have an opportunity to honor God when we go out there and compete.”
Roemmich was thrilled the team finished the season on the grandest stage — for the benefit of the present and the future.
“This is huge for the seniors. They missed last year,” he said. “(The state finals) will likely be their last day playing baseball. It’s huge for them to go out with a bang and it’s huge for the underclassmen to see what our baseball program is capable of going forward.”