Unlike many boys growing up, Ryan Williams never harbored a desire to ride on a firetruck hoping to extinguish any flickering flames.|
"I'm not that crazy,'' admitted the button-downed Geneseo senior. "I'm more conservative. I've always just wanted to be a business man.''
Yet, armed with that cool-and-calm demeanor, as well as a penchant for pounding the strike zone in pressure situations, Williams finds himself considered the finest fireman ever to wear a Geneseo baseball uniform.
This week's Metro Pacesetter for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, Williams became the Leafs all-time leader in saves for a career (11) and single-season (9) by preserving a pair of victories against arch-rival Sterling last week.
But while sharing the same surname as former Major League closer Mitch Williams, Geneseo's version is anything but the "Wild Thing.''
"Ryan doesn't scare anybody,'' Geneseo coach Steve Brucher said. "He doesn't throw the ball through the wall.
"His ball's got some movement. He does throw a knuckle curve. But more than anything, he doesn't get rattled in pressure situations. He just attacks hitters, depends on location and gets the job done.''
That even-keeled approach has allowed Williams to post a 1.40 ERA, a .146 batting average by opponents and only three inherited runners to score this season.
Geneseo's usual second baseman also is hitting .379 in the fifth spot in the Leafs' lineup, with 15 RBIs, seven stolen bases and the team lead with 25 singles.
No wonder Williams is considered by Brucher to be the "Poster Boy'' for Geneseo's success on the diamond this season.
A program that won just 10 games last season in Brucher's rookie campaign, and has never won so much as a regional title, sits 18-9 and a game-back in the Northern Illinois Big 12 West race at 7-2.
"The saves records are cool,'' Williams said. "They are something I know I'll look back on someday and really appreciate.
"But to me, the bigger story this season is our turnaround. We've never won anything and now we have a chance.
"Coach came to this senior class last year and told us it was up to us to be the trailblazers, to get this program on the right track, and so far, I'm proud to say, we've done that.''
Through dilligence and hard work, Williams and Geneseo's seven other seniors have set the tone for a program that boasts a 22-win sophomore outfit and a freshman group with only two losses thus far.
That elbow grease, Williams said, started as soon as last season ended in late May, when Geneseo frustratingly lost a regional game it should have won against Sterling.
"We just looked in the mirror and said we have to get better,'' said Williams, who hit in the mid .200s last season.
So the Geneseo baseball team made it a point to reunite a couple of times each week, hitting together from May on, and pitchers throwing since Christmas, most times in the Geneseo Rec Center, no matter what other activites were going on.
For some, that meant juggling baseball with sports such as football or basketball. For Williams, that meant dual duty in the fall with golf.
"Ryan is Exhibit A for the kind of athlete we look for in Geneseo,'' said Brucher, a successful boys' golf and girls' basketball coach previously for the Leafs.
"We don't have the glut of major-college, Division I athletes walking down the hallways like some schools. We depend on those hard-hat, lunch-pail, multi-sport kids that are willing to work their tails off and get better for their opportunities as seniors.''
While Williams gets a lion's share of the credit from his coach, the fireman points to Brucher's quiet intensity for fanning Geneseo's flames of diamond desire.
"In the past, the attitude was, `OK, it's spring. Let;s go play baseball,''' Williams said. "This year, we're saying, `Let's go win.'
"We're upset now when we get beat. We're not just happy with playing a good game. We've never won anything before in this program, but we want it bad this year, and we know we can get it.''
Pacesetter Patterns: Geneseo's Ryan Williams
- Favorite restaurant: Rancheros.
- Favorite food: Pork chops.
- Favorite movie: Gladiator.
- Favorite TV show: SportsCenter.
- Favorite music: Country singer Eric Church.
- Favorite school subject: Business.
- Favorite childhood toy: Plastic wiffleball bat.
- Favorite athlete: Robinson Cano.
- Ultimate showdown: Pitching against Cano; hitting against Mariano Rivera.
- Parents: Rod and Janice Williams, Geneseo.
Metro Pacesetter: In the runnings
- Dallas DeVrieze, Moline: The lefthander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before settling for an eight-strikeout, three-hitter in a pivotal victory at Quincy. The pitching gem fueled a doubleheader sweep to keep the defending Western Big 6 Conference baseball champs atop the league standings heading into the final weekend.
- Rachel Holt, Moline: In highlight-reel fashion, the goalkeeper turned away eight of 10 shots in the extra sessions, to help the soccer Maroons win a pair of shootouts and claim the State Line Challenge for the first time in tournament history.
- Ian Ferguson, Alleman: Figured in three track & field victories, claiming the long jump and running on the 4x100 and 800 sprint medley relays, to help the Pioneers once again win Sherrard's Tiger Relays.
Rock island, IL Details
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