The parents of the McHenry Warriors 16U travel baseball team will have to forgive the team’s coaches if they were a little preoccupied last Saturday.
While the team played in a tournament in Elgin, there was a tablet turned on in the dugout with the computer feed of Louisville’s super regional game against East Carolina. Coach Brian Rockweiler and assistants Zach Badgley and Joe Kaminski were keeping an eye on McHenry graduate Bobby Miller, who was making the biggest start in his two seasons with the Cardinals.
Fortunately for the coaches, their game was over in time for them to head to Bennigan’s for lunch and watch, as Miller, in a game that would send Louisville to the College World Series in Omaha, worked on a no-hitter.
The Cardinals gave Miller a comfortable lead in what ended as a 12-0 victory at Louisville’s own Jim Patterson Stadium. The only drama that remained in the ninth inning, was whether Miller would complete the no-no. The 6-foot-5 sophomore right-hander allowed one hit and was replaced by Michael Kirian, who got the final three outs.
Rockweiler had Miller on McHenry’s varsity team for four years. Badgley was his pitching coach, and Kaminski, who just graduated, was a teammate.
“We were at lunch, and I looked at Joe and said, ‘Why am I so nervous?’ ” Badgley said. “This was like in the seventh inning. He got a double play to get out of the eighth, and I’m in the restaurant jumping with excitement. I was more nervous for that than any other game.”
Badgley and Miller text almost every day. They have a special relationship, both being pitchers for McHenry. They also were productive left-handed hitters.
Now, Miller will pitch on college baseball’s biggest stage. The Cardinals (49-16) play Vanderbilt (54-11) at 1 p.m. Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. The loser plays at 1 p.m. Tuesday, the winner advances to a 6 p.m. game Tuesday. There are two four-team double-elimination brackets, with the winner of each advancing to a best-of-three series for the title.
Louisville likely will throw its ace, Reid Detmers (12-4, 2.85 ERA) in the opener, which means Miller probably will get the start Tuesday. Badgley said he and Rockweiler are planning a road trip to Omaha.
“[Miller] is excited,” Badgley said. “He gets excited and he loves it, but you can’t really tell because he’s so hard-nosed at what he does. He’s definitely excited. He can’t believe he’s going to Omaha. Your whole life you hear about that, and he actually gets to pitch there.”
The last area player whose team made it to the College World Series was Huntley graduate Colin Lyman, an outfielder with Louisville in 2017.
Rockweiler is thrilled for Miller, the 2017 Northwest Herald Baseball Player of the Year.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Rockweiler said. “He lives for those moments. It’s phenomenal. He’s lost two games in two years. That’s pretty good.”
Miller was hitting the low 90s as a high school pitcher. Earlier in the season, he worked as the Cardinals’ closer, but being a starter is the role Miller embraces most.
“He’s been throwing the ball so hard,” Badgley said. “He was hitting 95 to 97 [mph]. He hit 99 once in the first inning. His breaking ball’s more of a slider, and he throws it hard, like 84 to 86. He has that attitude where, ‘I’m going to get you. You’re not going to beat me.’ He’s always had that.”
Crystal Lake South coach Brian Bogda was on the other end of some games when Miller was pitching against the Gators.
“I’m really proud of him,” Bogda said. “Last weekend we had a Fox Valley Conference team [Hampshire] in the [Class 4A] state tournament and a former Fox Valley kid pitching in a huge game to get them into the College World Series. What a terrific accomplishment for Bobby. He’s a fierce competitor and such a quality arm for them. He’s going to grow into a bigger and bigger role for them.”
A few hours after Miller quieted East Carolina, Vanderbilt freshman Kumar Rocker threw a no-hitter and struck out 19 to beat Duke, 3-0, in what was an elimination game for the Commodores. Vandy won the next game to advance to the CWS.
“I was joking with my brother, ‘What’s this guy have to do, one-up Bobby,’ ” Badgley said.
Badgley is impressed with how Miller has progressed later in the season. He is second on the team in innings (76) to Detmers, the lefty All-American who has thrown 1071/3.
“He’s really come on strong,” Badgley said. “He’s a different animal than he was. He told me starting is where he wants to be. He gets to set the tone for his game. It’s been incredible. And the velocity.”
Rockweiler likes the way Miller rebounded from a couple rough outings as closer to grasp his new role. Miller is 7-1, and his ERA has dropped to 3.91.
He threw 90 pitches, struck out five and walked two in his near no-hitter against East Carolina.
Miller has 21 strikeouts in his past 191/3 innings pitched.
“He doesn’t let stuff get to him,” Rockweiler said. “He got hit a couple games pretty hard, and they moved him back to the rotation. He’s been lights out.”