In all his discussions with Illinois-Chicago assistant baseball coach Sean McDermott, Prairie Ridge catcher Alex Powers remembers one comment in particular.
"‘It seems like what you do at PR and what we do [at UIC] is very similar,'” Powers recalled McDermott telling him.
“That was something that was really comforting," Powers said. "It was just another thing that really made it a good fit for me.”
Powers committed to play baseball at UIC last week, announcing his decision via Twitter. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Powers will be a senior at Prairie Ridge once school starts in a couple of weeks.
It should come as little surprise that the UIC and Prairie Ridge baseball programs are run in a similar fashion. Wolves coach Glen Pecoraro played at UIC for two seasons in 1989 and 1990 after playing two years at McHenry County College.
“Coach Pec just told me all about his experience there and kind of what the campus is like,” Powers said. “He said he really enjoyed his time there and the athletics have come a long way. He thinks it would be a really good fit for me.”
Powers chose UIC over opportunities at Eastern Illinois and Indiana State.
Current UIC coach Mike Dee has been in charge of the Flames baseball program since 1999. The Flames have reached the NCAA tournament five times during Dee's tenure.
Their home ballpark, Curtis Granderson Stadium, opened in 2014 and was partially funded by a $5 million donation from former UIC player Curtis Granderson, who is currently an outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays.
“What Mike Dee has done in the past 10 or 15 years has put it on a whole other level now,” Pecoraro said. “Not to mention their facilities. Granderson donated a ton of money and their facilities – their clubhouse, field, indoor clubhouse – their facilities now are second to none.”
Powers helped Prairie Ridge reach an IHSA Class 3A sectional championship game this spring. The Wolves then finished as the runner-up in the Phil Lawler Summer Classic state tournament earlier this month.
Pecoraro praised Powers’ abilities at the catcher position.
“Defensively, as a catcher, he’s outstanding,” Pecoraro said. “He has all the skills: blocking, receiving, throwing, not afraid to back-pick. We’ve had a lot of good catchers with a lot of good defensive skills over the years, but Alex is definitely in the top group.”
Pecoraro said Powers is going to have to continue to work on his offensive game.
"To be able to hit at that level, Alex is going to have to work at it," Pecoraro said. “It’s something he’s going to have to put time in and invest in, But with Alex’s work ethic, I know he can do it.”
Powers plans to study mechanical engineering, and UIC’s engineering program was another important factor for him.
The Flames were an NCAA tournament team in 2017, and had six players drafted that same June. The program has a proven track record in recent years. UIC has had at least one player selected in the draft every year since 2013.
“That’s pretty exciting,” Powers said. “Regardless if I make it to where those guys did or not, I think UIC can bring out all the potential I have. They can bring out the best of me academically and on the field.”