Home International Nick Neri only heard about Illiana Christian’s first state title. Rest of...

Nick Neri only heard about Illiana Christian’s first state title. Rest of the story’s incomplete without him.

9
0

Illiana Christian hadn’t won a state championship yet when Nick Neri decided to transfer to the school from Marian Catholic in Chicago Heights, Illinois, for his junior year.

It was early 2022, and Neri wasn’t aware that the Vikings might be good enough to contend.

“I was accepted. I had my transfer papers set to go in January before I even knew about the baseball program,” he said. “As their season started, I followed them a little bit. I was at a travel tournament one Saturday during the summer, and I got a text from my mom after the game that they won state. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m actually going somewhere where they know how to win.’

“I just liked the campus and the education. … I had no idea about baseball. I just knew they had a nice facility and everything was new and it was a really nice school. It shocked me to get that text message. I was like, ‘Yes.’”

No text messages were needed last season, when Neri played for the team that repeated as the Class 2A state champion.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Neri, a senior designated hitter, likely won’t forget the part he’s playing this season as Illiana (19-9) moves closer to winning their third straight state title. The Vikings will play Madison-Grant (17-10) in the semifinals of the Class 2A Oak Hill Semistate at 10 a.m. Saturday.

For most of his two seasons at Illiana, Neri was a pinch hitter, with an occasional start along the way. But after Ohio State commit Gavin Meyer suffered an elbow injury this season, Neri emerged as the Vikings’ primary DH. He’s hitting .265 with a homer and 10 RBIs.

“It’s a credit to him to be ready,” Illiana coach Jeff VanderWoude said. “He took advantage of it. If he goes in there and goes 0-for-20, he’s not in there. Somebody else is given a shot. That’s where we talk to our bench guys and say, ‘Your opportunity is right there. When you get an opportunity, make the most of it.’ And he did.

“He works hard. He knows what we expect of him. I’m really happy for him.”

Neri doesn’t take anything for granted.

“You can’t get too comfortable because that’s when stuff goes wrong,” he said. “But we’re familiar, and familiarity is your friend when it comes to this. We know what we can do and how we do it and what we need to do to be successful.”

Neri, who missed his sophomore season at Marian Catholic with a rotator cuff injury, had to become familiar with new teammates when he arrived at Illiana.

“At first, it was a little awkward because they all grew up together and they all went to feeder schools together,” he said. “They all were close. But after a while, I gained the team’s respect, and they all started to trust me and I trusted them. We all became one.”

Even as his role has increased this season, Neri has maintained a consistent approach.

“The mindset’s the same — do a job and have a team at-bat,” Neri said. “If I have one at-bat or four at-bats, it’s just do what the team needs me to do.

“I enjoy it. But I’m just doing what the team needs me to do. If that’s wearing a pitch or having a long at-bat to get walked or a base hit, I’m doing it.”

Neri’s at-bats are winding down. He plans to enter the workforce with his family’s business, Neri Builders.

“My final time going to school,” he said. “I’m going to be building houses and landscaping. I’ve been working there the past couple years, and I plan on taking it over some day.”

Four-year starting catcher Aaron Gouwens has appreciated his time with Neri.

“He’s been a huge contributor, especially this year in the DH role,” Gouwens said. “There’s been a number of instances where he’s come through big for the team. He’s a big communicator. He has a lot of energy in the dugout, and it’s very good to have him.”

Source link