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Chiefs’ Baseball Receives Post-season Honors

Nine Chiefs Recognized with Post-Season Awards

Waubonsee Community College’s record-setting baseball season may have come to a halt in the finals of the Region IV Division III Tournament, but the honors for the Chiefs continue to roll in. The Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference (ISCC) and the NJCAA’s Region IV Committee recognized nine members of the Chiefs’ program for their outstanding performances this past spring.

Shortstop Nate Strusz, designated hitter Cory Walden and pitcher Dan Okapal were each named All-ISCC First Team, with Strusz tabbed as the league’s Most Valuable Player. Outfielder Nolan Craig, second baseman Tony Gaffino, pitcher Steve Lewis, first baseman Brandon Lawrence and third baseman Tim Brann were each chosen to the All-ISCC Second Team. Long-time head coach Dave Randall was selected the ISCC’s Coach of the Year after leading the Chiefs to the league championship for the second straight season. In addition, Strusz, Walden, Okapal, Craig, Lewis, Lawrence and Brann were all selected to the NJCAA All-Region IV Division III First Team.  

Strusz, a slick fielding shortstop from Aurora West High School, batted .395 in ISCC contests in helping lead the Chiefs to a 10-4 league mark. The speedy right-handed hitter finished sixth in the nation among all NJCAA Division III players by swiping 34 bases in 38 attempts. Strusz also scored a team-leading 50 runs, which tied him for sixth nationally in that category. He additionally registered 54 hits, knocked in 26 runs, and smacked four triples.

Walden, a sophomore from Aurora West High School, batted .445 in conference games. The slugger had a record-setting spring as the Chiefs’ clean-up hitter, finishing second nationally in home runs (12) and runs batted in (67), both new single-season Waubonsee records. Walden ended the season with a .422 batting average to place him 20th among NJCAA Division III hitters. He smacked 65 hits, tying him for fifth nationally in that category. The 6’0” 205-pounder ripped 14 doubles and three triples on the way to compiling a lofty .786 slugging percentage and tallying 121 total bases. Walden was named the NJCAA Division III Player of the Week the second week of April after drilling seven home runs and driving in an astounding 24 runs over an eight-game stretch. The right-hander also went 3-2 on the mound for the Chiefs with a 3.49 earned-run-average (ERA) in 56 and two-thirds innings pitched.   

Okapal, a right-handed pitcher from Aurora East High School, went 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA in ISCC action. Overall on the season, the 6’4” sophomore compiled a 6-2 record to go along with a 2.67 ERA, striking out 73 and walking only 9 in 70 and two-thirds innings pitched. Okapal was selected the NJCAA Division III Pitcher of the Week for the second week of April after two dominating performances. He yielded no earned runs, struck out 16, walked none and allowed just eight hits over 14 innings of work that week.

Craig hit .359 in ISCC contests to help lead the Chiefs to the title. On the season the Hinckley-Big Rock alumnus batted .374 with 58 hits, 42 runs scored and 31 driven in. The left-handed hitting outfielder also stole 23 bases in 28 tries, drew 23 walks and had a .470 on-base percentage. Craig was flawless in the field with no errors in 69 chances, while striking out only 15 times in 188 plate appearances, an average of one every 12.5 times to the dish.

Gaffino batted .280 in league action, and helped anchor the Chiefs’ record-setting defense. The Aurora West High School graduate made only five errors in 191 chances at second base, registering 84 putouts and 102 assists. His .974 fielding percentage is the second highest for a second baseman in Waubonsee history. Gaffino also swiped 14 bases in 15 attempts, and had a .358 on-base percentage. 

Lewis, from Chicago’s St. Laurence High School, went 3-1 on the hill against conference competition after having elbow surgery in 2010. Overall the sophomore finished 7-3 with a 3.19 ERA in 62 innings pitched with five complete games. The seven wins the right-hander posted tied him for sixth among NJCAA Division III hurlers.  

Lawrence, another graduate of Aurora West High School, batted .340 in ISCC play. The 6’4” first baseman posted a .991 fielding percentage to place him 10th in the nation defensively among NJCAA Division III players. The right-hander made only three errors in 321 chances, tying him for fourth all-time in Waubonsee history for Chiefs’ first basemen. Overall Lawrence batted .326 with 43 hits, including a dozen doubles and 23 runs batted in.

A Sandwich High School graduate, Brann batted .310 in conference games. The sophomore smacked 47 hits including a dozen two-baggers, a pair of triples and four home runs. The Chiefs’ third baseman also drove in 31 runs, drew a team-leading 24 walks and had a .416 on-base percentage.

Despite several key injuries along the way, the Chiefs won the ISCC title for the second straight year despite being the lone (Division III) non-scholarship baseball program in the conference. It was the fifth time Randall has guided the Chiefs to the ISCC title and sixth overall for Waubonsee. Randall ended his 34th season at the helm of the Chiefs’ program with 799 career coaching victories. With Waubonsee’s first win next spring, Randall will become the 21st active NJCAA baseball coach and only the second Division III level coach to have 800 or more wins.

After posting the best 30-game record in school history at 23-7, the Chiefs finished the season 37-20 overall and were ranked eighth in the final regular season NJCAA Division III poll. The 37 wins eclipsed the Chiefs’ single-season mark of 36 wins set in 2005. Waubonsee recorded a stellar 24-4 mark in home games, and additionally went 6-0 against non-junior college opponents. The Chiefs won 77 games the last two springs, the best two-year span in the program’s history. Waubonsee finished second nationally in defense with a .955 team fielding percentage, the best mark in school history. The Chiefs also stole 165 bases on the season compared to just 41 for their opponents.