On Campus: Huntley alums help Heartland Community College baseball to national championship

Pitchers Jake Jakubowski, Michael Vitellaro enjoy Hawks’ run to NJCAA Division II World Series

The Heartland Community College baseball team celebrates winning the 2023 NJCAA Division II World Series last weekend in Enid, Oklahoma.

When Jake Jakubowski was just a grade schooler, he met a freshman baseball player at Huntley High School, where his father, Andy, is the longtime head coach.

“He was one of the guys I looked up to,” Jakubowksi said of Tyler Albright. “He was always one of the hardest workers. That’s what my dad always said about him, and he says it to this day.”

Thirteen years later, Albright had the opportunity to look up to Jakubowski and his teammates on the Heartland Community College baseball team in Normal.

Last weekend in Enid, Okla., the Heartland Hawks – with Jakubowski as a sophomore relief pitcher and Albright as the hitting coach – celebrated their first national championship with an 8-6 victory against Southeastern Iowa in the NJCAA Division II World Series.

Seeing the dogpile at the end was a rewarding and exciting feeling.”

—  Tyler Albright, Heartland hitting coach

“Seeing the dogpile at the end was a rewarding and exciting feeling,” said Albright, who is in his fourth season on Heartland staff. “I was just happy. Happy for our guys. Excited for our guys. Happy for the school.”

The Huntley connection at Heartland also included sophomore relief pitcher Michael Vitellaro, along with fellow grads Jakubowski and Albright.

Jakubowski (2-0) pitched in 19 games for the Hawks (57-5), recording 26 strikeouts in 24.2 innings and holding opposing batters to a .202 batting average. Vitellaro pitched in seven games, collecting nine strikeouts.

“We always said J.J. was the ‘Hey, we need to get out of this’ guy,” Heartland head coach Chris Razo said. “He was the most reliable guy we had.”

Jakubowski embraced his role of being available at all times in a game.

“That was the role I wanted to be in,” he said. “It was to come in for any situation, whether it was the first or the ninth to close a game out or just to stop some bleeding that was going on.”

Razo said he welcomes Vitellaro’s return next season when the Hawks defend their title.

“He was getting adjusted to the college game (this season),” Razo said. “His talent is on par with J.J.’s, and we expect a whole bunch out of him. We’re excited that he’s coming back next year.”

As the son of two coaches – mom Michelle is Barrington High School’s head volleyball coach – Jakubowski also played another valuable role.

“J.J. is the coach/player that every coach wishes they had,” Razo said. “We could shoot him a text and we know it’s going to get taken care of. It could literally be anything. I could say, ‘We need more game balls,’ and he’d say, ‘I already did it and filled the bag.’ I could say, ‘Make sure the guys are on time tomorrow,’ and he’d say, ‘I already communicated it, and they will be.’”

Jakubowski leaves this week to pitch for the Burlington (Iowa) Bees of the summer Prospect League and will join the Valparaiso University baseball program in the fall. But his long-term goal is to follow in his parents’ footsteps.

“They set the standard for me wanting to be a coach,” he said. “Learning and being around it and observing everything really helped me.”

Albright’s contributions included guiding an offense that batted .382 this season and scored 739 runs, an average of 11.9 a game.

“He’s definitely the unsung hero of what we do here,” Razo said.

For Albright, his own playing experience at Oakton Community College and Tennessee-Martin forged his approach to hitting.

“My big philosophy is I let my guys be themselves,” he said. “It’s not a cookie cutter program that we have. We like to bring athletic kids in and work with their strengths.”

Garden named all-region: The National Fastpitch Coaches Association has named Lewis University sophomore Delaney Garden (Jacobs) to its NCAA Division II All-Midwest Region first team.

Garden was 17-8 as a pitcher this season and batted .358 for the Flyers, who advanced to the D-II Midwest Regional. She pitched 21 complete games this season and posted 151 strikeouts in 169.2 innings.

Garden helped Lewis (38-20) win its 11th Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament championship, and an automatic postseason bid, last month as the No. 6 seed. She also earned first-team All-GLVC honors this season.

Harris lands head coaching job: Ryan Harris, a Prairie Ridge baseball alum, was hired Wednesday as the head baseball coach at NAIA Corban University in Salem, Ore.

Harris takes over a Corban program that last has a winning season in 2018. The Warriors are members of the Cascade Collegiate Conference, which include baseball programs in Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia.

Harris most recently served as the associate head coach at NAIA Brewton-Parker College in Georgia, and he played collegiately at Cornerstone University in Michigan.

Harris will begin his duties remotely, recruiting and building a schedule for 2024, before moving to Oregon. “I am incredibly honored to have the opportunity to serve as the head baseball coach at Corban,” he told CorbanWarriors.com.

On a roll at Maryville: Jacobs grad Brianna Schmidt, a junior on Maryville University’s women’s bowling team, helped the St. Louis school to its first NCAA tournament appearance in April while earning honorable mention All-Great Lakes Valley Conference honors.

Schmidt earned her third career conference honor this season and earned all-tournament honors at the Valpo Bowling Classic, helping the team to a second-place finish. At the Valpo event, Schmidt placed third individually with a 204.8 average in a field of 109 bowlers.

• Barry Bottino writes about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at barryoncampus@hotmail.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.

Have a Question about this article?