Eckhouse says goodbye
It was the end of an era for Illinois College baseball as Jay Eckhouse '78 coached his last home game on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet day,” the coach said. “I love this team. We’ve had a pretty good year. Great parents, great kids and great fellow coaches. The finality of it is kind of hitting me today.”
Eckhouse coached the Blueboys for 17 years. He started his time at IC in his player’s shoes, as a student-athlete.
“From back in the olden days,” said Eckhouse.
He was a student at IC from 1974-78. In that time he played both football and baseball. After graduating, he coached high school baseball at Alton Marquette and Jacksonville High School before he was offered the IC job in 2002.
“I was lucky enough to have Gale Vaughn offer me the job and take a chance on me,” Eckhouse said. “I’ll always be indebted to Gale.”
Eckhouse led the Blueboys to the Midwest Conference Tournament four times. He had two 21-win seasons in his career and ranks second all-time in wins at IC — surpassed only by his mentor, Joe Brooks.
It was his dream job.
“It’s funny, years ago I always had it in my head that the job I would always love to have — I’m talking 30 or 40 years ago — would be to be baseball coach at Illinois College,” Eckhouse said. “It happened, and I was lucky.”
The doubleheader turned out to be an unusual sendoff. IC won the first game, beating Knox College 6-3. The second contest was interrupted by lightning, and after a delay of nearly an hour, the game was called. IC lost 7-6.
IC is 17-17 overall and 7-11 in the Midwest Conference. The Blueboys have one more game to play, completing a suspended game against Grinnell College at Monmouth today. IC goes into that game leading 5-2.
After Sunday’s games, Eckhouse’s team and their families had a little surprise for him. Eckhouse took home some parting gifts, including a baseball and bat signed by the team, and a custom rocking chair made of baseball bats from Louisville, Ky. — also signed by this year’s team — from the Louisville Slugger Museum.
“That chair is awesome,” the coach. “It’s really cool. It’s not surprising that the parents and players from this year’s team would do something like that. It’s real special.”
In the first game Sunday IC scored a pair of runs in the first. Joe Paparelli '20 singled and Austin Gusewelle '20 was hit by a pitch. Paparelli scored on a fly ball by Scott Kasting '21. A fly ball by Brennan Bergstralh '19 brought Gusewelle around for a 2-0 lead.
IC added three runs in the third when Kasting hit a three-run homer to left-center. Kasting doubled in another run in the fifth.
Routt graduate Dylan Jones '18 picked up the win and secured a few records to close out his college career.
“I tied strikeouts in a season and wins in a season,” said Jones, who equaled the IC strikeout record on the last batter of the game. “I had several already broken before that game.
“It’s good to go out that way, on the mound with a win. It was good to send Jay Eckhouse out on a decently good note, even with how that last one ended. I’m gonna miss it, but it’s good to go out with a bang like that.”
In the second game, Knox jumped out to a 4-0 lead and led 7-3 going into the bottom of the sixth, but the Blueboys rallied. Houston Kruse '19 tripled leading off and scored on a ground ball by Drew Law '18. Paparelli and Gusewelle walked, then singles by Kasting and Bergstralh drew IC to within a run. The next two batters were retired with IC still trailing 7-6, and the game was delayed, and then called.