CHAMPAIGN – What does it take to receive high-fives from opposing baseball players during a game?
Ask Champaign Central Junior Jake Munroe.
He had Hoopeston-area athletes applauding his striking prowess last Saturday at Spalding Park in Champaign after hitting three home runs in the first half of a double.
Central beat the Cornjerkers 12-2 in Game 1 and 18-8 in Game 2, with the Maroons now sitting at 17-5 before a 4:30 p.m. first pitch Thursday at opponent Big 12 of the Normal Community.
Munroe stole the show with his powerful performance in Game 1, which he followed up with, recording a triple, double, single and four runs scored in Game 2.
Munroe also finished with eight RBIs on the day.
“It’s surreal because I feel like a year ago I was a freshman,” Munroe said. “Then COVID hit and I lost my second season. I just want to make my mark on this team. It felt like my time had come, and I got to do it last Saturday.
Munroe’s three-way game is the fourth in Champaign High / Central history, joining the previous achievements of Leon Shoaf in 1937, Marc Funkhouser in 1989 and Connor Mapes in 2015.
“The fact that I was Central’s history at the time didn’t really hit home. It wasn’t really like three home runs in this game, ”Munroe said. “It was a surreal event.”
Munroe’s two-time title started with him evaluating a hitting call made on Maroons header Nate Allen at the bottom of the first inning. Munroe wondered if the bottom of the area could stretch a bit lower throughout the game.
Munroe therefore offered a split-finger fastball on the first pitch and crossed the fence of Spalding’s outfield for a solo shot.
Munroe called his second at the hardest of the three in which he hit a homerun. But with Allen on second base, Munroe drove a high fastball out of the court.
Could Munroe really go 3 for 3 with three homers?
“I was just nervous because… I didn’t want to hit and make it seem like it was some sort of thing by chance,” Munroe said.
Adding to the pressure, Munroe walked over to the plate with the bases loaded. Munroe dismissed a curve ball, then hit a fastball that had home run distance, but fouled.
“I knew the next pitch was going to be a curve ball because (the pitcher) was going to try to mess up my pace,” Munroe said, “and he kind of hooked a curve ball and I was able to grab it. . “
Start with both teams and a place in Central’s history book.
Longtime Maroons coach John Staab probably didn’t anticipate that sort of one-game Munroe outing, but he’s known about Munroe’s potential since the 6-foot-2, 205-pound fielder was entered high school.
“We had high expectations of him,” Staab said. “Last year he was probably going to start for us in third place to start the season.”
It is an important vote of confidence.
The 2020 Maroons, who have been unable to play a game due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have double-digit seniors on their roster.
“He was probably going to be the only subclass that was going to crack this starting lineup,” Staab continued. “He pretty much won (the third baseman) as we got ready to play our first game. We pushed him short this year because we felt like we had a hole there and needed our best defender there.
Strong batting and defense are part of Munroe’s “great skill set,” according to Staab, along with strong hand-eye coordination.
Munroe made further strides in improving his game earlier in the pandemic. He joined the 17U Rake City Travel Team, which operates outside the Chicagoland region. The program was previously called Team Demarini and at one point included the product Maroons Cam Robinson, which is currently a launcher in Louisville.
“Delroy Robinson (Cam’s dad), he’s helped me so much with my shots over the years,” Munroe said, “and he’s just been a good support system.”
With Rake City, Munroe plays alongside people like Notre Dame hires Owen Murphy and Estevan Moreno, who are juniors at Riverside-Brookfield and Montini respectively.
“Just spending time in the cage with them and watching them on the pitch just made my game even higher,” Munroe said. “It was great to see top players play, their pre-game routines and how they interact with the game of baseball. And I can just take part of it and copy it to my game. ”
Munroe said he has found more consistency in his strikes since arriving at Rake City, making contacts with increasing regularity.
After feeling a little uncomfortable in Central 2021’s opener – a 9-0 loss to Saint-Joseph-Ogden on April 15 – Munroe said he has regained that offensive consistency.
And the Maroons follow suit. After a 0-3 start, they lost just two games while also pulling in separate nine- and six-game winning streaks. The latter is still in progress.
“At the start of the season, as a team, we just weren’t so sure about our chances… because we’re such a young team,” said Munroe. Central’s roster is filled with six seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and one freshman.
“After those first (three) games, being on that roll, everyone clicks at the same level,” Munroe continued, “and it’s just fun.”
Munroe has said he wants to fight for the Maroons’ one-season batting average title, which is held by current Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguer Jake Snider. Staab said Munroe hit .559 ahead of a 5-3 win on Tuesday over Peoria Richwoods.
If Munroe keeps hitting the ball – he now has five homers in the season – opposing teams could choose to let Munroe’s batting average stay where it is.
“(Hoopeston Area) couldn’t intentionally walk it,” Staab said of the third at bat in charge of Munroe’s bases. “I guess they could have. Maybe they should have.