Throughout his baseball career, Alex Crinigan admits he didn’t always follow the advice of his coaches
“All of my coaches have stressed conditioning in the past, but I never believed them,” he said.
That is until he pitched 56 1/3 innings as a freshman last season at Oakton Community College, when he finished 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA. The Hampshire graduate knew he could do better.
“I had a hard time staying long into games,” Crinigan said. “This year, it was all about conditioning to improve my stamina.”
After last season, he worked out five to six days a week, focusing on plenty of cardio and also spent much more time running outdoors.
The payoff turned out to be staggering.
Last week, Crinigan pitched the final two innings of Oakton’s 14-11, 13-inning victory against Tyler (Texas) Junior College to win the NJCAA Division III national baseball title in Greeneville, Tennessee.
Crinigan (12-3) finished the season by leading the nation in wins, strikeouts (107) and innings pitched (98 1/3).
“It paid off for me,” he said. “I had a decent year last year. It was a huge jump (in innings), but physically, I feel good right now.”
Oakton (44-17) started the national tournament 3-0, including a 3-2 victory May 29 against Tyler, the four-time defending national champ, which had won 28 consecutive NJCAA World Series games.
The following day, Crinigan was the losing pitcher in a 12-2 Tyler victory.
“We got back to the hotel and we had a team meeting,” Oakton coach Bill Fratto said. “I told them, ‘This wasn’t my team today, guys. Tomorrow, you’re gonna feel no pressure and enjoy the moment.’”
When his team gave up leads in the championship game in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings, Fratto’s team responded with a mantra.
“They just kept repeating, ‘No pressure, enjoy the moment,’” Fratto said.
As the 12th inning neared, Crinigan approached his coach with a request.
“He came up to me in the dugout and said, ‘Give me the ball,’” Fratto said. “He has a lot of heart and desire. I needed a guy in there with some experience. I know his character and his makeup, and I knew he was going to get the job done.”
Crinigan tossed two hitless innings, allowing one walk, to earn a win and Oakton’s first national championship.
“We were starting to run a little bit low on pitching,” Crinigan said of his relief appearance. “I’m not gonna lie. I was tired. But I had the adrenaline going. I was ready. I wanted it.”
Crinigan said he relied greatly on a revamped curveball this season, which made his slider much more effective. He also credited the team’s offense, which hit 45 homers and finished second in the nation with 503 runs scored, for making his life easier.
The victory also provided Crinigan’s family with a special memory.
“Right before the last pitch, I blew a kiss to my mom (Kim Adams),” he said. “My dad (Dan) passed away two years ago, so my mom has been a huge influence in my life. To make that last out with her there was unbelievable.”
This summer, Crinigan will pitch for the Waukegan-based Homestead Ranchers of the Chicago Suburban Baseball League while deciding his next step.
Crinigan said he has two NAIA offers but is wide open on where he will attend school this fall. He expects to make a final decision next month.
“He’s a big-game pitcher,” Fratto said. “He doesn’t shy away from challenges. When schools call about him, I tell them, ‘If you’re looking for a guy who throws 90 (mph), that’s not Alex. But he’s got a major desire to be successful and a big heart.’ He’s a smart pitcher.”
Schneider stars at TSU: Junior pitcher Peyton Schneider (Harvard) threw the second-most innings this season for D-I Texas Southern’s baseball team, helping the Tigers make their third NCAA tournament appearance in the past four seasons.
Schneider, a right-hander who also pitched at McHenry County College, logged 70 2/3 innings for TSU (27-28), which won the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament title for the second year in a row.
Schneider was the Tigers’ starting pitcher in the team’s NCAA regional opener against Texas. TSU went 0-2 in the Austin Regional.
Over the last five weeks of the season, Schneider (4-7) went 4-1. He struck out four in 6 1/3 innings to beat Jackson State, 8-4, in the SWAC tournament.
Miller shines at nationals: Huntley grad Tess Miller, a junior at Wisconsin-La Crosse, finished 11th last month in the triple jump at the NCAA D-III outdoor track and field championships in La Crosse.
Miller leaped 38 feet on her final attempt of the meet to claim her top-12 finish.
Her effort at nationals was only 5 inches short of her season-best mark of 38-5, which ranked No. 21 nationally this spring.
Distance achiever: Luke Beattie, a sophomore at D-I Utah State, ran the team’s second-best 5,000- and 10,000-meter times this spring for the Aggies. Both times cracked the top 10 in school history and were career bests for Beattie, a Woodstock grad.
In the 10K, Beattie ran the fifth-best time in school history (29:34.37) at the Mt. SAC Relays in late April.
Beattie posted the school’s eighth-fastest 5K time (14:22.27) in March at the San Francisco Distance Carnival.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.