Begner, Lonteen Headline Conference, Region Honorees

EAST PEORIA – After engineering a 10-win improvement in conference play in 2018, Illinois Central College Head Coach Brett Kelley’s Cougars figured to be in line for postseason honors.

The Mid-West Athletic Conference and NJCAA Region XXIV announced its honorees Sunday night and the Cougars took home some impressive awards.

Leading the way were freshman left-handed pitcher Blake Begner (Peoria Heights High School) and sophomore third baseman Dylan Lonteen (Richwoods High School).

Begner shared Mid-West Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year and Pitcher of the Year honors with Brett Wicklund, of Heartland Community College. Begner also earned All-Region XXIV honors and the Rawlings Gold Glove award after not making a single error on the mound.

Fresh off leading Peoria Heights to a state championship, Begner continued his run of dominance with the Cougars. The southpaw posted a 6-2 record with a 2.08 ERA — good for 10th in the country — 69 strikeouts and 20 walks in 56.1 innings pitched. Opponents hit just .164 off of him.

“Blake was everything we thought he’d be and then some,” Kelley said. “He obviously came in with high expectations and not once did he shrink from those expectations. If anything, he heightened them.”

Lonteen earned All-Mid-West Athletic Conference honors as well as All-Region XXIV honors. The transfer from Washburn University at Topeka, Kansas, hit .348 with nine doubles, three triples, five home runs and 35 RBIs for the Cougars.

“Dylan (Lonteen) stepped right into our lineup and made an impact,” Kelley said. “I think the comfort level he had with some of our players, like his high-school teammates, Jack Cunningham and Alex Peters, allowed him to step right in, almost like he had been with us last year as well.”

Speaking of Cunningham, the sophomore earned the Rawlings Gold Glove at first base after making just two errors while handling 298 chances at first base — a .993 fielding percentage. The Richwoods product also hit .324 with eight doubles, six home runs, and 26 RBIs.

“Jack has been a rock for us at first base each of the last two seasons,” Kelley said. “We added it up the other day. In two years, this kid has handled 660 chances and made just three errors. That’s just remarkable.”

Rounding out the honorees for Kelley’s crew was sophomore outfielder Ben Main (Morton High School). The speedy sophomore overcame a broken nose after being hit by a pitch during the fall season to earn second-team All-Mid-West Athletic Conference honors. Main set the table for the Cougars, hitting .330 — second best behind Lonteen among the Cougar regulars — and finished with four doubles, 14 RBIs, 23 runs scored and eight stolen bases.

“I can’t say enough about Ben,” Kelley said. “He’s been amazingly consistent over two years. To come back from the injury he had just speaks volumes to what kind of kid he is.”

All-Region XXIV

Pitchers — Brett Wicklund, Heartland; Blake Begner, Illinois Central; Connor Taylor, Danville. Catchers
Andy Lopez, Lincoln Land. Infielders — Trysten Raikes, Parkland; Carson Bartels, Heartland; Dylan Lonteen, Illinois Central; Dalton Fletcher, Lincoln Land. Outfielders — Tyler Paulsen, Parkland; Connor Aube, Parkland; Arthur Sells, Heartland. DH — Charlie Harrigan, Heartland

2018 Mid-West Athletic Conference All-Conference Teams

Player of the Year: Tyler Paulsen, Parkland
Pitcher(s) of the Year: Blake Begner, Illinois Central College; and Brett Wicklund, Heartland
Freshman of the Year: Blake Begner, Illinois Central College; and Brett Wicklund, Heartland
Coach of the Year:  Brian Furlong, Heartland

FIRST TEAM ALL-CONFERENCE

Pitchers — Blake Begner, Illinois Central; Jarret Olson, Parkland; Brett Wicklund, Heartland. Catcher: Andy Lopez, Lincoln Land. Infielders — Dalton Fletcher, Lincoln Land; Dylan Lonteen, Illinois Central; Trystin Raikes, Parkland; Zach Roberts, Spoon River. Outfielders — Connor Aube, Parkland; Carter Bridge, Heartland; Tyler Paulsen, Parkland. Designated Hitter — Ethan Copeland, Heartland

SECOND TEAM ALL-CONFERENCE

Pitchers — Quinton Kujawa, Lewis and Clark; Gabe Rivas, Spoon River; Andrew Zapka, Heartland. Catcher — Michael Bieterman, Heartland. Infielders — Carson Bartels, Heartland; Charlie Harrigan, Heartland; Blake Marks, Lewis and Clark; Kyle Shoulta, Spoon River. Outfielders — Jonny Butler, Heartland; Ben Main, Illinois Central; Tye Thixton, Danville Area. DH — Arthur Sells, Heartland.

HONORABLE MENTION ALL-CONFERENCE

Pitchers — Zach Frey, Heartland; Christian Sidoti, Parkland; Devin Smith, Lincoln Land

2018 Rawlings Gold Glove Team

Pitcher — Blake Begner, Illinois Central. Catcher — Michael Bieterman, Heartland; Infielders — Ethan Copeland, Heartland; Cole Greer, Lincoln Land; Charlie Harrigan, Heartland; Jack Cunningham, Illinois Central. Outfielders — Cornelius Lee, John Wood; Tye Thixton, Danville.