The 2024 Times Baseball Player of the Year: Marquette’s Carson Zellers

Self-made senior helped lead Crusaders to Class 1A state title

Marquette Academy senior Carson Zellers is The Times 2024 Baseball Player of the Year.

Picking just one player from Marquette Academy baseball’s galaxy of stars to be the 2024 Times Baseball Player of the Year was no easy task. There were many that are deserving, especially from a team that rolled to the Class 1A state championship.

Could it be Sam Mitre, or perhaps Alec Novotney, both Illinois Coaches Association All-State first-teamers? Could it be Charlie Mullen, with multiple game-winning hits, including the title-game winner? Could it be Keaton Davis, the ultra-reliable catcher who drove in 23 runs, many in clutch situations?

All great choices, but in the end we selected senior Carson Zellers.

Ever steady and willing to do anything he can for the team, Zellers came up huge on the mound in the postseason, not allowing an earned run in 25 playoff innings – against Newark at the Serena Regional, North Shore Country Day at the Harvest Christian Sectional and East Dubuque at the Rockford Rivets Supersectional – before yielding a pair in the final inning of the state championship game against Altamont, a 6-2 victory.

For that, his dedication to improving at the plate, his steadfast senior leadership and the tireless work ethic that made him the player he was, Zellers has earned The 2024 Times Baseball Player of the Year award.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this. It’s awesome,” Zellers said. “We had a lot of good guys on this team. It could have been Alec, Sam, Charlie, Keaton and more, and any one of those guys and I would have been so happy for them, because they all deserve it.

“Knowing that such talented players could have won this, it’s an honor.”

At the plate, Zellers was no slouch, batting .345 with 38 runs scored and 19 RBIs. His move up from the No. 8 spot in the order to No. 2 necessitated his being willing to give himself up more. He did, leading the club in sacrifice bunts. In fact, he had two in the win over Altamont.

But on the mound, he truly shined. In spite of what he felt was a midseason slump, he ended the year with a 9-1 record and a minuscule ERA of 1.27. In his 71 1/3 innings pitched, he finished with 90 strikeouts and just 15 walks, for a WHIP of 0.981.

Marquette pitcher Carson Zellers fires a pitch to St. Bede at Masinelli Field on Thursday, April 18, 2024

“I was kind of struggling to figure things out, my location, hitting my spots. I know teams will hit the ball, but I wasn’t doing the things I needed to do,” Zellers said. “I didn’t feel I threw that well against Newark, either.

“But in the first game of the sectional, something just clicked in me. I don’t know what, but during my bullpen I just suddenly felt like I couldn’t be stopped. I’d like to think it was the big-game atmosphere that brought out my best, but I don’t know. My arm was not worn.

“Seeing Alec do the 17-strikeout game [against the host Huskers in the Serena Regional title game], I knew I had to try and do better. Not more strikeouts, because that’s insane, but we were feeding off each other. Neither of us wanted to lose and be the reason our team went home. That motivated us to be at our best.”

Having a red-hot one-two like Zellers and Novotney is something not many coaches can claim.

“On the mound, he was lights-out,” MA coach Todd Hopkins said, “especially in the regional, the sectional and the super, and [he] was able to finish it off in the last one. He had a great year and a great career.

“The thing about Carson is that he’s had to work his butt off to be good. He’s dedicated and just got better and better, got stronger and stronger, especially velo[city]-wise. He’s always been around the plate, but he know he needed that to be successful, and that’s what he did. … He’s a self-made player, athletic, but he didn’t have some of the tools that other players have. He just worked at his craft and made himself a solid all-around ballplayer.

“He’s an old-school, Pete Rose-type of player – a grinder – and nowadays you don’t see many of those.”

Zellers is no stranger to honors, as a decorated and successful golfer for the Crusaders. His score of 159 tied him for 25th in Class 1A at the State Meet in Bloomington.

But he’s had his share of successes on the diamond, too. Back in 2018, he collected a hit and two RBIs as Marquette Junior High defeated Normal Metcalf 10-0 for the IESA 1A title.

As a sophomore post COVID-19, he was a solid starter for a Marquette club that captured third place in 1A with a 12-0 romp over LeRoy. He returned his junior season to start at third base and as the No. 4 starter for the Cru as they rolled to the Elgin Harvest Christian Sectional final, only to have the heart-breaking loss to Hope Academy.

The loss of talent via graduation from that team led many to believe this would be a rebuilding year for the Cru. Even Zellers had his doubts at first.

“At the start of the season when we went down to Jacksonville and won every game there, I went in a little skeptical,” Zellers said, “not knowing what we could do. Because last year’s team, look at all the talent it had, and it wasn’t able to get it done.

“But this year, we made our own luck. That’s how the cards played out.

“It was great.”

Marquette's Carson Zellers, winning pitcher in the Class 1A state championship game on Saturday, and his teammates show the Crusaders fans the title trophy.
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