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Huntley grad Andre Sopena helps Heartland baseball team

For a player who led Heartland Community College’s baseball team in doubles last season, Andre Sopena is thinking small this summer.

“I’m trying to bunt more and get out of the (batter’s) box quicker,” said Sopena, a Huntley graduate who is playing with the Crystal Lake Cardinals summer team. “I only had five bunts last season.”

Despite the lack of bunts, Sopena and Heartland enjoyed impressive seasons.

The school in Normal placed fourth in last month’s NJCAA Division II World Series with Sopena leading the team in doubles (19), runs scored (59) and stolen bases (37). Sopena, who also batted .328 with 38 RBIs, ranked sixth nationally in stolen bases and seventh in doubles.

“He’s a speed guy who was everything for us at the top of our order,” Heartland coach Nate Metzger said. “He set the table for us all year long.”

Batting leadoff, Sopena was the team’s regular designated hitter, but spent time at second base and in the outfield.

He made the biggest impact, however, with his feet.

“Speed is very big for me,” he said. “I’m only 5-8, but I tell people I’m 5-9 in cleats. If I can make a single into a double, that’s great. If I can get on base, I can help my team by stealing second and third. That changes the tone of a game.”

Playing the past two seasons at Heartland helped Sopena improve his knowledge of the game and earn an NCAA Division I opportunity at Oakland (Mich.) University.

“The (Heartland) coaching staff has a lot of experience,” Sopena said. “They helped me gain a lot of wisdom. They taught me what to do in certain situations and when to run. I learned to love the game.”

Metzger credited Sopena for a positive attitude throughout his career.

“We’ll be able to replace Andre the player, but replacing Andre the person is going to be a lot harder,” he said. “As good of a player as he was, he was a better character and leadership guy.”

Sopena said he appreciated his relationships and honesty with teammates.

“That’s the most important thing to me as a player, to be a good teammate,” he said. “I told my guys that if we have a conflict, we need to settle it right now. And if I get on you for something, it’s not because I hate you. It’s because I’m trying to make you better, and I want you to do the same for me.”

Sopena hopes to compete for the second base job at Oakland this fall when he arrives on campus.

“Second base is my passion, but if I’m in the lineup somewhere, that’s OK,” he said.

Hammer star: Prairie Ridge grad Lina Baker earned NCAA Division III All-America honors last month by placing seventh in the hammer throw at the outdoor track and field nationals in LaCrosse, Wis.

Baker, a sophomore at Naperville’s North Central College, bested her own school record with a throw of 173 feet to become the Cardinals’ first All-American in the event.

Appearing at her first national meet, Baker was seeded 21st in a field of 22 competitors at nationals. This season, she improved her personal-best throw by almost 40 feet.

Golf accolades: Illinois Wesleyan senior Stefan Johnson (Marian Central) was named this week to the NCAA Division III PING All-America second team by the Golf Coaches Association of America.

Johnson ranked second on the team with a 74.8 stroke average and finished second as an individual at the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin meet, helping IWU to the team title. He posted five top-10 finishes this season, including the individual title at the Jekyll Island Collegiate Invitational in March, where he posted a 1-over-par total of 217 (72-74-71) in the three-round event.

Carthage College senior Donnie Langland (Jacobs) was chosen to the All-Central Region team.

This season, Langland qualified as an individual for the D-III Men’s Golf Championship in Destin, Fla., where he posted rounds of 85 and 88. He tied for 16th at the CCIW meet.

Langland led Carthage this season with a 73.8 stroke average and 12 top-10 finishes in 14 events. He was the individual champion at four events, including the Marian (Wis.) Invitational and the Elmhurst Bluejay Classic in April.

Augustana honor: Richmond-Burton grad Josh Eisenberg has been named one of four captains for the D-III Augustana College men’s track and field team for 2014.

Eisenberg, who will be a senior next season, posted a season-best score of 5,915 points in the Augustana Meet of Champions on April 20.

Eisenberg’s season-best total ranked second on his team. He placed fourth in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin outdoor meet this spring.

On June 1, Eisenberg was named to the Capital One Men’s Track and Field/Cross Country Academic All-District Seven Team. Eisenberg, a double major in biology and pre-medicine, has a 3.97 GPA.

• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryOnCampus.

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