One opponent after another struggled to make solid contact with Collin Ridout, not knowing the complete story about the Johnsburg right-hander.
That Ridout spent most of his baseball workouts on hitting and fielding. That the speedy 6-foot-2 left-handed hitter caught NCAA Division I schools’ interest as a shortstop. That Ridout, who was reaching the mid-80s on speed guns, had never worked with a pitching coach.
“Pitching was never anything I was really looking to do,” Ridout said. “I was never really a good pitcher up until my junior and senior years. Pitching was something that came along as I got bigger and stronger.”
Ridout plays a slick shortstop and led his team with a .394 batting average, six home runs and 29 RBIs. But his development as a pitcher was remarkable as he went 10-0 with a 0.75 ERA for the Skyhawks.
Ridout’s strong offensive numbers, along with his dominant pitching, landed him as the Northwest Herald Baseball Player of the Year, voted on by the sports staff with input from area coaches. Huntley’s Mark Skonieczny and Matt Sullivan also were considered for the honor, but Ridout’s two-way contributions were undeniable.
Ridout is the first Johnsburg player to win the award, which was started in 1987.
Johnsburg coach Sam Lesniak figured Ridout was poised for an outstanding season during winter workouts as former Johnsburg and University of Kentucky pitcher Jerad Grundy watched Ridout throw. Grundy, a left-handed pitcher in the Oakland organization, was impressed with Ridout’s velocity.
“Jerad came in to help us out and he said Collin, with the stuff he had, could pitch right now at Kentucky,” Lesniak said. “This was just throwing in the gym. He said with what he had and how he locates, he could pitch at the next level today. It’s impressive to hear him talk like that.”
Grundy knows his business. Ridout allowed six earned runs in 56 innings, struck out 70, walked 32 and allowed 29 hits. On offense, 20 of his 41 hits went for extra bases, and he scored 28 runs and had an OPS of 1.153.
Ridout is headed to Heartland Community College in Bloomington and was recruited as a shortstop. Hawks coach Nate Metzger wants Ridout as a position player and a pitcher.
“I love playing in the field, and being a lefty hitter,” Ridout said. “I worry about the arms of pitchers as they go on because there’s so much strain on it. If someone thinks pitching’s my thing at the next level, then that’s that.”
As Lesniak said, it’s nice to have options.
“Nate [Metzger] sees the value of his bat and having a 6-foot-2 shortstop with his range in the field,” Lesniak said. “You can’t keep a kid like that out of the lineup for a day. The [larger] schools that have talked to him don’t know where he’s going to be the best fit.”
Ridout had one torrid stretch in May when he was 7 for 16 for the week with three homers and 10 RBIs, along with two pitching victories. The Skyhawks came up a little short of the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division title, as Grayslake Central won it. The Rams also knocked Johnsburg out in the Class 3A Grayslake Central Regional championship.
“I was willing to do whatever it took for us to win,” Ridout said. “I like to think of those home runs as mis-hits, that you pop them up a little bit and they go over the fence. We were on a good 10-game winning streak, we won 13 of our last 15 games. That was huge.”
Johnsburg finished 18-15, tying the 1999 and 2004 teams for the second-most wins in school history behind the 1998 team, which was 22-6.
“We had a lot of ups and downs, but our team hung in there and ended up with a good record,” Ridout said.