Huntley finished its amazing season at a school-best 33-7 record and one run short of Plainfield North in the Class 4A State Tournament championship game.
The Red Raiders lost to the Tigers, 4-3, after scoring two runs in the top of the seventh and putting the tying run at second base.
Raiders coach Andy Jakubowski, whose team repeated as Fox Valley Conference champion and won its third consecutive regional, is the Northwest Herald Baseball Coach of the Year for the third time overall, and the second time in three years.
Jakubowski joins a group with Cary-Grove’s Don Sutherland, former Dundee-Crown coach Fred Bencriscutto and Prairie Ridge’s Glen Pecoraro as three-time winners. Former Marian Central coach Gregg Wikierak won it four times.
Jakubowski is 299-181-1 in his 13 seasons at Huntley, and the Raiders are 89-28 over the last three years. Jakubowski, a huge Pete Rose fan, fields some questions from sports writer Joe Stevenson.
What is the best autograph you have?
Jakubowski: I have a Pete Rose autographed baseball, plus I have two Cincinnati newspapers framed when Rose got his 4,192nd hit off off Eric Show. He was my idol growing up for how he played the game on the field. I emulated everything he did by hustling to my position, to sliding head first, to switch hitting. Pete Rose got the most out of his talent and I tried to do the same since I was 5-9, 160 pounds. He played the game the right way and played with passion and I did everything in my power to be like him.
Did you wear No. 14 when you played for Pete Rose?
Jakubowski: I wore 14 at Fremd High School and for Rolling Meadows American Legion and in semi-professional ball with the Northbrook Hornets, but at Northeastern Illinois I wore 18 and 1.
What was that like being in such a dramatic and exciting championship game?
Jakubowski: I was nervous leading up to the game time, but I also knew that our guys were well prepared. We played errorless baseball, Nick Laxner gave us a chance to win and we outhit Plainfield North. It was a well-played game on both sides and unfortunately sometimes baseball is a game of inches. I am so proud of our players for leaving everything out on the field and our guys will share a special bond with one another for a lifetime.
What do you think it will be like coaching your son coming up the next couple years?
Jakubowski: Jake is an awesome kid who will be a great coach or umpire after his playing days are over. He grew up around Huntley baseball, so he knows what it takes to be a quality teammate and has had some great role models to look up to. As for coaching Jake, it is something that I look forward to but he understands that he will be treated just like any other player. It will be awkward at first because I was never his head coach, but we will both find a way to make it a positive experience for both of us.
How have you mellowed through the years?
Jakubowski: I still have that competitive fire inside of me each day, but I try to pick and choose when I question a call. When I first started coaching, I loved the Billy Martin or Earl Weaver style of arguing. I thought by arguing that it shows the coach was sticking up for his players. I still think that today, but getting thrown out of a high school game is not a good option. I could have used that advice 20 years ago. I could of been in the dugout for more games over my career. Ha-ha!
What do you want to accomplish when you are hitting pre-game fungos?
Jakubowski: Pregame is something that we take very seriously at Huntley. I want our guys to take care of the baseball, be efficient and to psyche out our opponent before the game starts. If we struggle during infield/outfield, then I have been known to pull our team off the field before the allotted time or break a fungo. I always have two to three fungos before the season starts, in case I break one during the season.
What are your three favorite baseball movies?
Jakubowski: “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams” and “The Final Season” or “The Rookie.”
Which sport that you did not play growing up would you have been good at?
Jakubowski: I played football, basketball and baseball. And I bowled. I was too small for basketball and football in high school, so I put all my energy into baseball. I love to play golf, but I can’t putt or chip, so that frustrates me. I am actually very good at ping pong. We had a table in our basement growing up and my dad was very good at it. He taught me and I became pretty good, even to this day.
Who is the best speaker you have ever heard at a coaches’ clinic?
Jakubowski: I attend clinics each year, looking to get better as a coach. The best speaker I heard was actually not even a baseball guy, it was retired U.S. Marine Platoon Commander Eric Kapitulik. He spoke for 38 minutes on leadership and you could hear a pin drop amongst 5,000-plus coaches. He is a motivational speaker who comes out to help teams develop a championship culture.
Is there a moment that stands out above every other from this season?
Jakubowski: We had some memorable wins this season, such as the state semifinal win against Lake Park with Kyle Morgan being dominant and giving us an opportunity to win a state championship. The supersectional win against Loyola where our outfielders were ball hawks and Eli Paplanus gave us a chance to get to state. We had the memorable comeback against McHenry in the sectional semifinals. A special moment that stands out to me was a rain delay when we were getting ready to play Dundee-Crown. As the coaching staff made its way from the field to the locker room, we came inside and found Joe Rosenthal, our senior lefty pitcher, who was re-enacting being a football coach to the D-C players and our players. I had no idea what was going on, but Joey looked like Nick Saban and the whole scene. That made me laugh.