TJ McMillen hates to lose.
St. Francis’ baseball team recently was in the middle of its spring break trip for four games. A 12-0 shutout loss to Watertown, a program out of Wisconsin, on March 29, didn’t sit well with the star three-sport varsity athlete.
“I love winning,” McMillen said. “But I hate losing 10 times more than I love winning.”
St. Francis had a quick turnaround the following morning against Montini at 8 a.m.
“I walk out of my hotel room at 6:15, this is the honest to God truth,” Spartans coach Tom Ciombor said. “TJ is in his full uniform, with a bat in his hands, standing by the bus. By the way, the bus leaves at 7.”
St. Francis defeated Montini 8-5 a few hours later.
“Coach Ciombor said ‘I don’t think we’ve been shut out in years,’” McMillen said. “That kind of fueled me after that. I knew we were playing Montini, one of our rivals, and I was amped to go play them. I didn’t want another game like the day before, so I up and ready to go.”
McMillen, for his part, went 6-for-11 during the trip, drove in five runs and had three stolen bases.
At 6-foot-3, 270-pounds, McMillen perhaps doesn’t seem like the type to steal many bases, but it’s a facet of his game that has become deceptively important to him.
“They don’t expect me to go. I time up the pitcher’s read,” McMillen said. “I think I stole third a few times…one thing I’m really good at is having [very good timing]. I take a couple pitches and see how the pitcher does; look over…the pitcher will lift his leg and I’m halfway to second and third base because I timed it really well.”
Center fielder Adam Criter is an addition to the Spartans that could provide a significant boost.
“I was trying [to get] Adam to play last year,” McMillen said. “All the way probably until two weeks before the [season] he was like ‘I’m not playing’ and then finally, I asked him [and he decided to play].”
“He’s a blast to watch,” McMillen continued. “You don’t see many guys like him as well on the football field and just as good on the baseball field. That guy has speed in center; can cover left to right. He can hit the ball a mile and that’s all I got to say from practice. That kid can hit the ball. He’s going to surprise a lot of people this year coming out and i wouldn’t be surprised maybe if he hits in the double-digit home run numbers.”
St. Charles East staying busy during cancellations
Colder weather, for many area teams, has kept them from playing games in the early part of the season.
St. Charles East is no exception, having to postpone four games in the opening two weeks.
“Our team is always practicing. If we have a game get canceled, we’re always still out doing something,” St. Charles East junior third baseman Jake Zitella said. “We’re always doing something to keep us ready. We try and stay prepared because our first game was two weeks ago and then we had to wait a whole week for our second one.”
“We try and stay prepared for that [being ready to play] because we’re a really good team and we know how far we can go hopefully in the state playoffs and and we just really want to prove that we should have big [games].”
Zitella, an Illinois recruit, is already off to a hot start. In the Saints’ 9-7 victory over Downers Grove South on Saturday, Zitella was one of three Saints to hit home runs across 11 offensive hits as a team.
Zitella also smoked a double, while Seth Winkler proved steady on the mound over 4 2/3 innings, striking out six and allowing no runs.
“[Winkler] is definitely a really great player all around,” Zitella said. “He can hit. He can pitch. He can field. This is really someone that, as a college recruiter, I would want on my list if I were [them]. But we also got Gavin Sitarz who’s been really hard on the mound and Dom LeBlanc, same thing. He’s been really tough and at the plate, too.”