(WCIA) — Dan Hartleb is in his 14th season with Illinois baseball. He says this freshman class is the best he’s ever had.
“Well you always hope that your freshman can come in and play right away,” says Hartleb. “They’ve done an outstanding job. Early on there was a little bit of the deer in the headlight look and some apprehension a little bit I would say on their part but it’s a group that’s extremely talented.”
Branden Comia and Cam McDonald have started every game for the orange and blue. Throw in Jacob Campbell, who’s played in 15 of the 27, and you have three true freshman in the starting nine.
“You don’t get game experience until you get into games,” says Hartleb. “These guys have earned it. They weren’t given anything. I didn’t stick them out there because I just thought we should stick somebody out there.”
Injuries to key players have given both Comia and McDonald every day playing time.
2018 Gold Glove second baseman Michael Massey has yet to play the field because of an injured back.
Comia has handled the keystone for all 27 games.
“It’s been a really good learning experience for me,” says Branden Comia. “Especially with Michael being my roommate, there’s been countless nights we’ve probably talked for two hours just about the game and how we approach every day and every pitch so it’s been a really good learning experience for me.”
For McDonald, he started at third base for the first 13 games of the season. But when starting center fielder Zac Taylor went down with an injury, McDonald shifted to center.
“I played center in Aruba a little bit and I kind of surprised myself and made some plays and when Zac went down coach was like ‘Do you think you can play center?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, I think I can play center. I got you’,” says Cam McDonald. “Even thought I didn’t know but it’s worked out alright and everything is going good out there.”
Comia is batting .250 on the season. He’s been batting second hole for most of the season. While McDonald is hitting an even .300, holding down the five spot in the order.