Written by Bob Kelley, retired Sports Information Director
INA, Ill. (March 30, 2017) – Winning baseball and Rend Lake College have been synonymous for the better part of a 50-year relationship. Which should tell you, the Warrior program has been in pretty good hands during that stretch.
Consider some of the “managers” calling the shots from the dugout.
RLC Sports Hall of Fame Charter Member Mike McClure earned his status and established the program’s reputation with nine consecutive winning seasons, mostly in the 1970s, 312 victories and a .638 winning percentage.
He was succeeded by Head Coach Kirk Champion, whose fourth and final team was 40-19; “Champ” for many seasons was a AA and AAA Minor League Pitching Coach for the Chicago White Sox and today is Director of Instruction for Player Development, responsible for overseeing how the entire organization he has been a part of for 29 years teaches defense, hitting and pitching. He was the Pitching Coach for Team USA in 2001, 2009 and 2011 World Cup competitions.
In three seasons, Paul Evans guided Warrior squads to 201 wins, winning 67.9 percent of the time, and within one victory of an elusive berth in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) World Series; he left to become Assistant Coach for Missouri State University, née Southwest Missouri. The Bears have made nine post-season NCAA D-I Tournament appearances, including eight in the last two decades and a 2003 World Series berth, in his 29 seasons there. He was named National Assistant “Coach of the Year” in 2015 by D1Baseball.com.
Jim McGuire continued the tradition at a .655 winning clip over four seasons before leaving to become an Assistant Coach at Middle Tennessee State. Today he is in his fifth season as the Blue Raiders Head Coach, recognized in 2015 with Conference USA Keith LeClair “Coach of the Year” laurels after a 32-win campaign.
There have been many other success stories.
But only one Head Coach of 10 total has guided the Warrior Nine to a pair of Region XXIV Championships. Only one individual has three Sectional titles to his RLC coaching credit.
And for those accomplishments and more, former Head Coach Rich Campbell will be joining McClure in the RLC Sports Hall of Fame. Induction Ceremonies for the 18th Class will be Saturday, April 22, at 5:30 p.m. in James “Hummer” Waugh Gymnasium on the Ina campus.
Campbell will share the spotlight with All-America Women’s Golfer Danielle Kaufman (2003-05) and the record-setting 1983-84 Men’s Basketball Team (25-7).
Had he stuck around for one more year before being lured away by the business world, “Soup” could have become the program’s biggest winner as well. His 302-225 record (.573) covering nine seasons – 1992-2001 – ranks second to the 10-year slate of McClure.
Campbell was named Louisville Slugger Region XXIV “Coach of the Year” following championship seasons in Spring 1997 and 1999 and an American Baseball Coaches Association / Diamond Sports Company NJCAA D-I Regional “Coach of the Year” in 1999.
During his stay, he recruited and coached at least 64 players who continued their careers at the four-year level, and signed 11 professional contracts. Among those standouts: Second Baseman Dan DeMent (1996-98) and First Sacker Mike Breyman (2000-02), both of whom preceded him into the Hall of Fame in Spring 2009 and Fall 2009, respectively.
Yet another inductee, this time from the Class of 2013, Pitcher Craig Sands (1987-89), served as Campbell’s Assistant Coach the first two seasons.
According to the profile of the 30-year-old mentor in the Spring 1997 Warrior Program, “His fifth season… brings with it high hopes, considering perhaps his deepest pitching staff yet, several key returnees off last spring’s 35-14 squad ranked 30th in the country at season’s end and a promising recruiting class.”
Campbell’s fifth Warrior club did not disappoint with a 39-19 record capped by his second Sectional crown and his first Region championship. RLC started the spring 7-0, then ran off eight straight wins to improve to 16-3 and climbed to 31-11 before dropping a couple of one-run decisions, another by two runs and five in a row altogether before ending the sudden skid with a 16-run outburst in its regular-season finale.
It seemed the late-season slump might have been a precursor of things to come when the Warriors dropped their Sectional Tournament opener, 8-6. But then the bats woke up and the hurlers rose to the occasion.
Home runs by sophomore first baseman Chris Hargett and freshman outfielder Jeff Houston powered a 10-hit attack and freshman Eric Asbury (10-1) tossed a two-hitter in a game reduced to six innings by the 10-run rule, 11-1 over host Wabash Valley College (WVC). It was more of the same in a rematch with first-game conqueror Southeastern Illinois – 13 RLC hits, including three-run homers by Hargett and freshman second baseman Jacob Wallace, who also had three runs batted in (RBIs) in the rout of WVC; sophomore southpaw Ryan Spille gave up four singles in his complete game cut to just five innings by the margin of victory.
In the winner-take-all game four showdown, after WVC inched to within 9-8, DeMent bashed a two-run home run in the eighth and Wallace and sophomore outfielder Chris Beggs turned it into a 16-8 celebration rout with a two-run single and three-run dinger in the ninth; sophomore Adam Biggs pick up the save with three innings of one-hit relief.
Soup’s team was Mmm Mmm Good in the Region Tournament, considering the 3-0 route it took to the title. Game one was anything but easy, however.
Homestanding John A. Logan scored four times and took a 6-4 lead in the eighth of the opener, before RLC tied it in the ninth and won thanks to Hargett’s leadoff round-tripper in the 11th. Beggs went 4-6 with three RBIs and Hargett was 3-5 with three runs scored in an 18-hit attack; Sophomore Greg Sprehn worked five innings in middle-relief for the win, his eighth, and Spille got the final out with a strikeout for the save in a 7-6 verdict.
Great Rivers Athletic Conference (GRAC) Champion Belleville Area College (BAC, now Southwestern Illinois College), 11-3 during the regular-season against league foes and 46-14 overall, was a 9-5 and 25-9 victim the next two days. Sophomore catcher Mike Thompson and freshman third baseman Corey Cinnamon divided six of the 11 Warrior hits and Biggs went the distance for the 9-5 win; the victors were up, 5-3 after six, before scoring four more times in the seventh. The third game was no contest as RLC clubbed a season-best 28 hits and scored in every inning but the ninth, including nine in the third and six in the sixth; Thompson was 5-8 with three extra-base hits and six RBI, while Wallace, DeMent and freshman shortstop Dan Firlit enjoyed four-hit games and both Cinnamon and freshman outfielder Beau Parton had three safeties.
The Warriors upped their post-season winning streak to seven by traveling to the Chicago suburbs of River Grove and defeating Triton, 8-2 in the second game of the Great Lake District Tournament to eliminate the hosts. The Region XXIV reps, who finished with 10 hits, led 2-0 before adding five runs in the sixth. Biggs threw a shutout until the seventh and ran his record to 8-3 with the complete-game.
Indian Hills (Iowa), a 10-2 winner earlier versus Triton, awaited in the final game of the day. Spille faced just five batters over the minimum over eight innings, whiffing eight and allowing just five hits and one earned run. But a team that had averaged better than 15 hits per game in eight post-season outings was stymied on four hits and struck out 13 times, in a 2-1 setback. RLC scored after two were out in the ninth but left the tying run on third and the potential winning run on first.
Revenge against the same Indian Hills foe the next day was not to be, despite holding the Iowans to one hit for five innings. Hargett supplied a two-run homer in the first, his 10th, Parton led off the fourth with another blast and DeMent made it 4-0 with a home run in the fifth, only to let Indian Hills break loose with six unearned runs in the sixth.
All-Region pick DeMent boasted a record 16 triples and batted .408 en route to career records of 29 and .415. Biggs posted a 1.73 earned run average, a forerunner to his career ERA (earned run average) record low of 1.99.
The team hit .329 that spring, .319 overall (team scores were not counted in the fall, but individual statistics were). Behind DeMent were Beggs, .368; Cinnamon, .361; Hargett (50 bases on balls), .336; Houston (12 HR), .321; Wallace, .320; Firlit, .310; and Parton, .291.
How good were the 1997 Region champions? Good enough for their 1997-98 successors to be ranked No. 4 in the country in the NJCAA Division I Pre-Season Baseball Rankings “on the strength of seven returning everyday players and two veteran starting pitchers.”
That team carried the weight of high expectations to a 33-17 mark in 1997-98, settling for second behind GRAC Champion BAC for the second time in three seasons, before failing to advance out of Section play. Leave it to the 1998-99 gang, loaded with first-year collegians, to win the Warriors’ fifth Sectional and third Regional.
That team likewise featured outstanding pitching behind Freshman Neal Frendling, a 16th-round draft pick the previous summer by the Devil Rays, and Zack Brinson. All-GRAC / All-Region Tourney honoree Frendling took care of business before signing with Tampa Bay with a record of 11-3, 3.35 ERA and 136 strikeouts (Ks) in 118 1/3 innings; Brinson was 7-2, including the Region Tournament ”Most Valuable Player.”
A robust offense could count on third baseman Tommy Pearce, lone Warrior on the regular-season All-Region squad, and All-GRAC with his .429 batting average (BA), 15 homeruns (HR), 66 RBIs, with 27 multiple-hit games, including three or more on 13 occasions, and .732 slugging percentage; pitcher and first baseman Luke Miller, .391, with 20 multiple-hit games to go along with three complete games on the mound; catcher Joe Flick, .323, 15 HR, 65 RBI, .617 slugging percentage; right fielder Dan Albers, .358; designated hitter Derrick Langfels, .351; left fielder Matt Eldridge, .331; outfielder Matt Davis, .289; and center fielder Dustin Vugteveen, .287 (.299 spring).
The first three batters to face Frendling in the post-season scored, but he settled down for a nine-inning, complete-game victory over Lincoln Trail College (LTC), 8-5, behind a 12-hit attack by his teammates. Host Logan smacked RLC, 14-3 in five innings, but the Warriors went up 4-2 in game three against LTC and held on for an 8-7 win to wrap up Sectional honors. Freshman Jimmy Linder, the lone lefty on the hill staff, got the save by retiring all five batters he faced, four on strikeouts. Defensive specialist Corey Alsop went 3-4 for the second time in a six-game span.
In similar fashion in the Region XXIV Tournament, RLC defeated GRAC Co-Champions Southeastern Illinois College (SIC), 9-3, and BAC, 2-1, before getting thumped by BAC, 14-4.
Frendling won the opener, per usual, backed by three hits each from Pearce, Miller and Eldridge, among 16 hits. In game two, the Warriors left the bases loaded in the first off an all-conference pitcher and immediately trailed 1-0 when BAC‘s leadoff batter was hit by a pitch and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly. It stayed that way until the ninth, when Albers reached on a one-out walk and Davis crushed his second home run of the spring.
Unfortunately, the crush of the celebration at home plate following the game-winner damaged the knee of our hero. Davis was finished for the remainder of the festivities.
BAC took advantage the following day to force an extra game, scoring in six of eight innings against the unbeaten Warriors. No sweat. Campbell & Co. rolled into the NJCAA Interregional as MVP Brinson picked up his second Regional triumph, 6-3, thanks to a save from Frendling (1 2/3 innings, no hits) and 15 hits. Back-to-back home runs by Flick and Vugteveen in the second gave the champs a 2-0 lead, which they expanded to 6-1 four innings later when the first four batters hit safely and all scored. Flick and Miller joined the two hurlers on the all-tourney team.
A first-ever trip to the Juco (Junior College) World Series depended on a happy homestand for a Warrior team hosting the Northern District Tournament for the first time. It seemed even more probable after Frendling took care of business, striking out 13, scattering nine singles and winning, 3-2. Run-producing singles by Miller and Flick followed two bases on balls to start the third and gave their team a 2-1 lead; tied at 2, Vugteveen won it with a lead-off homer to left-center in the bottom of the sixth. Easy with the home plate celebration.
End of road, though, as the homebodies could not improve on win No. 37, falling to Muscatine (Iowa), 7-3, and Triton, 7-2, despite 11 hits, including three by Shortstop Simon Auter. Muscatine advanced with a 5-2 verdict over Triton.
About the only accomplishment to elude Campbell’s teams was a GRAC crown. Campbell & Friends boasted three runner-up finishes – 12-4 in 1993-94, one game behind John A. Logan; 8-4 in the rain-shortened 1995-96 season, behind BAC at 11-3, and 9-5 (tied with Olney Central) in 1997-98, trailing BAC by one.
McGuire was responsible for bringing Campbell to RLC as his Assistant Coach in 1991-92. He succeeded McGuire a couple of weeks before the start of the 1992 Fall campaign.
Prior to that, he was a Warrior nemesis. Campbell was a two-time All-GRAC pitcher for rival John A. Logan, highlighted by a 10-1 sophomore season. Surrounding his introduction to the league, he was an undefeated junior hurler for the Hamilton (Ohio) Class 3A State Champions and capped two seasons under Coach Itchy Jones for the Southern Illinois University Salukis with 8-3 credentials as a senior.
His coaching career got its start with two years at Eastern Illinois University as Pitching Coach for Dan Callahan.
Campbell met his match while at Rend Lake College. Mrs. Campbell is the former Karen Liggett, a former Lady Warrior softball player. They were married November 1, 1997. Daughter Hannah Nicole joined the family October 2, 1998; Madison, now 15, completed the family three years later.
He left coaching to become a Financial Representative for Country Mutual Insurance Co. in Monroe County. For the past 11 “seasons” he has been the award-winning Agency Manager in Carterville for Country Financial, with a team of 23 representatives in a six-county Southern Illinois radius.