Going out a champion
Flach, Illini win national club baseball crown
By Steve Metsch
La Grange resident Matt Flach was hoping to end his baseball career in style.
And did he ever.
Flach was the starting centerfielder and the leadoff batter for the University of Illinois Club Baseball team that, on May 30, won the National Club Baseball Association World Series.
The NCBA has 138 colleges and universities nationwide. And Illinois is the best team this season.
“It’s an awesome way to end my baseball career on top. Hang it up,” said Flach, 22, who has no plans to pursue a baseball career.
Matt Flach, of La Grange, ended his collegiate baseball career in style, as he and his Illini club baseball teammates won the national championship. Photo by Steve Metsch.
This was the fifth World Series appearance for Illinois, but the first since Flach’s freshman season of 2016.
“We didn’t get past the second round that year. That was the special part of this team, all the seniors had been there as freshmen,” Flach said.
Illinois was one of eight regional champs in the World Series played May 24-30 at Ting Stadium in Holly Springs, N.C.
The Illini started by beating Oregon State, 9-3. They then rolled 13-3 past Boston College.
After a 1-0 loss to Florida State, they were in a jam. One more loss, and they were done. In the rematch, the Illini prevailed, 4-3.
“We were down 3-2 in the seventh and our catcher, Grant Miller, hit a two-run double for a 4-3 lead,” Flach said. Miller was also the team’s head coach.
That win put Illinois into the title game against Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University.
It was close early, but Illinois won, 9-5. The final out was a grounder to second “followed by a huge dogpile,” said Flach, who batted 4-for-5.
“Having it end like that with the national championship and having a great last game, I can confidently say it was a perfect way to end 18 years of playing baseball,” said Flach, whose career started playing T-ball in the La Grange Little League.
A teammate, junior outfielder Matt Davis, of Champaign, was named the World Series MVP. In five games, Davis batted .409 (9-for-22) with four RBI and six runs scored in the World Series.
The Illini team had a flair for the dramatic all season.
To win the Great Lakes South Conference, they rallied to beat Notre Dame, 2-1, on Flach’s two-run homer off the foul pole – “that’s the first time I’ve ever done that” – in the seventh inning.
After losing their first game in the Great Lakes Regional, played in Crestwood, they had to win four straight games to punch their ticket to the World Series.
It was another lose-and-done scenario. They won the regional by beating Michigan State twice the final day.
“We had our backs against the wall before. We knew we could do it because we had the talent. We had a lot of pitching. But you were on the edge of your seat because one big hit or one bad game, your season is over,” Flach said.
“I felt like we were a team of destiny. We had the most seniors we ever had on a team … It was their last rodeo,” Flach said.
Club sports are run by the players, not the school. Flach was the team’s president. Illinois’ club softball team also fared well this season, taking fifth place in their World Series.
Flach enjoys club sports because “you get all the opportunities a big school has to offer, but it doesn’t dominate your life.”
“Another thing that’s cool about our club is almost half the guys on our team either transferred from Division III schools or JUCO schools,” Flach said.
Each of the 21 players lives in Illinois. Senior Michael Kadela, from Berwyn, was an infielder. Junior Andrew Jurack, who lives in Hinsdale and played for Hinsdale Central, pitched and played the outfield. Jurack was 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA this season.
Championship games are not unusual for Flach.
He and his Nazareth Academy teammates won the state Class 6A football championship in 2014 to cap a perfect 14-0 season. A cornerback, he intercepted two passes in the title game played at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
He also played baseball for a Nazareth team that lost the state title game his senior year on a walk-off single. And, his team won a championship in the La Grange Babe Ruth Baseball League.
Flach graduated from Nazareth in 2015, and from St. Cletus School in 2011.
An advertising major at Illinois, Flach missed his May 11 graduation ceremony because he was busy playing in the regional. Seniors posed for photos wearing caps and gowns over their uniforms after they won, he said.
With baseball behind him, he can now concentrate on his first job after college. He started working June 24 in product management for Medline, based in Chicago.
“I’m excited,” he said with a laugh. “I’m broke.”
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