Heading into the final week of the prep baseball regular season, Ridgewood's Nick Ragan tops his club in six offensive categories and is one of the leaders of a solid pitching staff.|
Yet, there is one award -- one that in some ways personifies the determination and grit that has helped Ragan and the Spartans earn their first outright Lincoln Trail Conference championship -- that the senior is looking to call his own.
In the Ridgewood dugout, it is known as the "Purple Heart Award," which goes to the player who is hit the most by pitches. Ragan's five HBPs is one behind Blayne Street and Dusty Werner.
"Yeah, we take that really seriously,'' Ragan said."It definitely shows determination. We're not afraid to wear it against even the hardest throwers, guys like (ROWVA pitcher) Asa Stevenson. Jansen Noble (a former teammate) got it three out of four years, so we've joked that it should be called the Jansen Noble Award.''
However, it is the hitting that this week's Area Pacesetter for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus that has lifted the Spartans to their lofty heights -- 21-5 with a 17-1 LTC finish and the first piece of baseball hardware since the AlWood-Cambridge co-op shared the 2009 title with Annawan-Wethersfield and ROWVA.
Ragan leads his team in batting average (.446), hits (33), home runs (three), RBIs (32), on-base percentage (.500) and slugging percentage (1.162) in addition to putting up seven doubles, 24 runs and 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. On the mound, he sports a 5-1 ledger with a 1.13 ERA, one save and 46 strikeouts in 31 innings.
Last week, he posted a pair of two-hit games and drove in five runs as the Spartans scored LTC wins over defending conference champion Annawan-Wethersfield and Mercer County to clinch first place after finishing just two games short of a title share in 2012.
"We've got to have Nick to go where we want to,'' said Ridgewood coach Seth Spivey. "He's worked hard to improve all facets of his game, and he's come a long way in his day-to-day consistency more than anything else.''
A varsity starter since his freshman season, Ragan also has seen something else come with greater consistency -- the victories.
Going from 10-18 (7-9 LTC) in 2010 to a 9-21 finish the following spring (6-12 LTC), Ragan's .374 average last season helped the Spartans to a 13-5 conference finish and a 23-11 overall mark, numbers that have continued to trend in the right direction this season.
"I'd played travel ball from when I was 9 up to my freshman year, so I didn't understand the concept of high school ball as much as travel ball until about my junior year. That's when we started doing really well,'' he said. "I did well my first few years, but not as good as I could've done; plus I was only about 5-foot-2 (he stands 5-10 now). The summer of my sophomore year is when I finally got it.
"As upperclassmen, we're making sure that our freshmen and sophomores -- especially with two sophomores (Ridge Greenman and Nate Humphrey) starting for us -- know that losing isn't okay. Everyone now has the mindset for winning.''
Ragan hopes the winning doesn't stop with just a conference championship as Ridgewood enters next week's Class 1A United Regional in Monmouth as the No. 1 seed.
"I don't want to jinx anything," he said, "but I feel like we have a good chance. We're going to make sure everyone is focused all the time.''
AREA PACESETTER NICK RAGAN
Favorite food: Taco Bell
Favorite movie: "42"
Favorite music: Three Days Grace
Favorite school subject: Math
Favorite MLB team: Chicago Cubs
College choice: Western Illinois University
Role model: Former Ridgewood teammate Alex Main, who graduated last year.
Parents: Kevin and Kendra Schwartzkopf, Woodhull; Douglas Ragan, Rock Island
IN THE RUNNING:
Owen McConnell, Erie-Prophetstown: Had a pair of two-hit games against Newman and Bureau Valley, then drove in two runs against Riverdale as the Three Rivers Conference leaders stayed perfect in league play.
Danny Willis, Morrison: Tallied seven hits and 10 RBIs in three wins that kept the five-time defending Three Rivers Conference champions in the race.
Baillie McCunn and Malerie West, Orion-Sherrard: McCunn netted three goals and four assists and West tallied five goals and three helpers as the O-S girls' soccer club went 3-0 on the week.
Rachel Winston, Sherrard: Earned pitching wins against Rock Island and Rockridge, the latter a one-hit, 11-strikeout gem that kept the Tigers perfect in the West Central North.
Celina VanHyfte, Annawan-Wethersfield: As part of an 11-game hitting streak, the junior catcher tallied seven hits and drove in five runs as the Titans went 3-0 to move back above the .500 mark.
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