All-Area Baseball POY: Central's Joe Aielts

All-Area Baseball POY: Central's Joe Aielts

CHAMPAIGN — The Aeilts name is well-known through the annals of Central athletics.

Rick Aeilts starred on the football and baseball field in the mid-1980s. He found his way onto four NFL rosters in a brief professional playing career before earning a spot in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.  

His daughter, Audrey Aeilts, was a superb contributor recently to Central’s volleyball team before graduating in 2012.

Now there’s his son, Joe Aeilts.

The Central sophomore is making sure the family legacy continues to thrive.

Aeilts headlines The News-Gazette’s 25th annual All-Area baseball team with his selection as the All-Area Player of the Year. He becomes the first sophomore to garner the honor.

“I don’t think he feels a lot of pressure to accomplish what his dad or sister did,” said Susie Aeilts, Joe’s mother. “They’ve had such a camaraderie with sports and enjoyed it together. It’s just been something fun.”

● ● ●

Fun is one way to encapsulate the recent baseball season for Central and for Aeilts.

The 16-year-old cleanup hitter saw Central post a 35-3 record, the best mark in program history. Saw Central win a Big 12 title outright for the first time since 2006. Saw Central win a Class 3A regional title, giving the program its first piece of postseason hardware since 1993.

Aeilts saw himself transform into an integral piece of Central’s lineup. He led the team with a .512 average and collected a team-high 43 RBI, while adding 12 doubles and 10 triples. The 63 hits he accumulated this season were the most by a Central player in a single season and his 10 triples rank first as well.

The milestones Aeilts accomplished weren’t a big talking point between Central coach John Staab and his third baseman this season.
“When he set the triples record and was standing on third base, I got next to him near the bag and said, ‘Congratulations,’ ” Central coach John Staab said. “He turned and looked and me and said, ‘For what?’ I told him he had just set the single-season record for triples, and he reacted just like typical Joe by saying, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool.’ I didn’t want to put any undue pressure on him this season, and as a program we were really intent on just staying in the moment.”

All Aeilts experienced on the baseball field the past three months wasn’t something he envisioned heading into the season. He was just happy to play varsity baseball after spending his freshman year splitting time on the freshman and junior varsity teams. A little intimidated, too, because he didn’t want to struggle and fail for the seniors on Central’s roster.

“We had a lot of younger guys that were going to be playing varsity, and our older guys were such great leaders about incorporating us into the mix, so I always felt welcomed, but I was a little nervous that I do my part,” Aeilts said. “I wanted to help the team, not hurt it.”

He most certainly didn’t hurt the Maroons. Aeilts strung together a 15-game hitting streak this season and become a batter opposing coaches did not want to see come up in a crucial situation.

“I saw a lot more breaking pitches in the second half of the season,” Aeilts said, “and I wasn’t getting as many center-cut pitches as I was earlier in the season.”

He wasn’t deterred, though. Good hitters are expected to adjust and adapt. Aeilts understands the concept.

“As a hitter, you still have to be able to hit those pitches,” he said, “so it wasn’t too much of a difference.”

● ● ●

Champaign was different to Aeilts at first. He didn’t want to live here initially.

Take away all the surroundings and familiar environs a young child has, and such a reaction is expected. Aeilts was born in Carbondale and lived the first five years of his life in Marion.

“I don’t remember it a whole lot,” he said, “but I don’t think I was a fan of moving because I didn’t want to leave my friends.”

Or his baseball team. Rick Aeilts started his son in the game when Joe was 41/2 years old. He was too young to play in a tee-ball league in Marion. So his dad looked around a bit and realized there was Khoury League baseball in the small neighboring town of Pittsburg.

“They had a rash of 4-year-olds that year, so they were going to make another team,” Rick Aeilts said. “Joe was on a team with a bunch of 4-year-olds, and he took right to it. He’s always had a knack for hitting, even from a young age. I really haven’t had to push him. He loved baseball from the first time I put a bat in his hand when he was in diapers.”

The family moved to Champaign in 2003 and Joe started playing Little League baseball before adding in travel baseball on two teams, the Champaign X-Men and the Champaign Tribe. He couldn’t get enough of the game. Still can’t. He’s playing this summer with Team Mizuno, a travel team based out of Champaign, and getting time with the Maroons as well when they play in the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association summer league, mostly against opponents out of the suburban Chicago area.

“Baseball is my passion,” he said. “I just love the game. There’s just something about being out there on the diamond with your teammates that’s a lot of fun to me.”

● ● ●

Ryan Tabeling is well-versed on the tradition of Central baseball. A former standout pitcher with the Maroons in the mid-1990s, Tabeling played with one of the best hitters the Maroons have had in Danny O’Neil.

“I keep texting Danny saying that, ‘You’ve got a clone that’s going after all your records,’ ” Tabeling said with a laugh. “When Joe hits at the cage, people stop because it just jumps off his bat. Little kids stand around and just watch.”

Aeilts has taken hitting lessons the last two winters from Tabeling, a former Parkland standout and Tuscola coach who guided the Warriors to a fourth-place finish in Class 1A in 2008. It must have worked. Aeilts’ .512 average this season is fourth in school history, only behind O’Neil (.519 in 1995), Eric Wilson (.528 in 2007) and Alex Acheson (.541 in 2005).

“I had a parent come up to me after one game and say, ‘Wow, Aeilts has got to cool off. You don’t think he’s going to keep this up?’ ” Staab said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I do.’ The only way Joe is going to slump is if he slumps mentally. He stays level through the strike zone and stays inside the ball. His approach is one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Tabeling isn’t just impressed with what attributes Aeilts brings when he steps in the batter’s box.

“He’s such a good kid,” Tabeling said. “He’s so level-headed, and he sees the big picture. At that age, he’s way ahead of the game. He’s been brought up right.”

● ● ●

Aeilts is starting to hear from colleges. Eastern Illinois and Illinois State have sent invitations for him to attend camps. The recruiting process could pick up if Aeilts continues to produce like he did this spring. Despite the accolades and attention Aeilts has received for his play during 38 memorable games for Central, he isn’t letting it get to his head.

“I feel more responsibility to work that much harder in the offseason to keep moving forward and not get complacent with what’s going on,” Aeilts said. “Any hitter can tell you they’ve struggled. This was my best hitting season, but I’m always just trying to stick with it. Even when things don’t go well, I want to keep the same approach.”

Both his parents said they did not anticipate the youngest member of their household to have the season he did.

“Heck no!” Susie Aeilts said with a laugh. “Honestly, it was a real surprise, but this whole season was a gift. Who knows if anything like this will happen again, so we just want him to enjoy the moment.”

Dad echoed those sentiments.

“In my mind, he’s always been a solid hitter, but you never expect a season like this,” Rick Aeilts said. “It was just a pleasure to watch.”

Aeilts has now become a player to watch. Two more years of high school await, and he could become the first player to record back-to-back N-G Player of the Year honors since Acheson did so in 2005 and 2006. No one has won it three straight years, but Aeilts has the tools to possibly become the first.  

“He’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he keeps things in perspective,” Rick Aeilts said. “At the same time, this is such a huge honor, and it’s awful early for him to get this. I hope that he can come out next year and do well, but every game is a new game. You’ve got to put the past behind you, and I think he’ll do that.”

Looking back

News-Gazette baseball Players of the Year ...
2014    Joe Aeilts    Champaign Central
2013    Hunter Hart    St. Joseph-Ogden
2012    Chuckie Robinson    Danville
2011    Jason Ziegler    Mahomet-Seymour
2010    Brannon Kwiatkowski    Mahomet-Seymour
2009    J.D. Learnard    Salt Fork
2008    Clayton Meyer    Tuscola
2007    Neil Wright    Mahomet-Seymour
2006    Alex Acheson    Champaign Central
2005    Alex Acheson    Champaign Central
2004    Andy Pollock    Tuscola
2003    Ryan Bird    Armstrong-Potomac
2002    Ryan Bird    Armstrong-Potomac
2001    Joey Frerichs    Armstrong-Potomac
2000    Matt Minnes    Urbana
1999    Mike Saunches    Argenta-Oreana
1998    Travis Florey    Sullivan
1997    Jason Anderson    Danville
1996    Dave Hoffman    Schlarman
1995    Quinn Moller    Centennial
1994    Caleb Englehardt    Tuscola
1993    Doug Little    Monticello
1992    Jeff Martin    Mahomet-Seymour
1991    Troy Pruitt    Mahomet-Seymour
1990    Kerry Cheely    Villa Grove

... and Coaches of the Year
2014    John Staab    Champaign Central
2013    Gary Hansgen    Salt Fork
2012    Duff Hoel    Tuscola

First team

Nick Stokowski    Monticello    Sr.    OF
Cully Day    Mahomet-Seymour    Sr.    OF
Mike Plecki    St. Thomas More    Sr.    OF
Joe Kenney    Mahomet-Seymour    Jr.    Inf.
Storm Joop    St. Thomas More    Sr.    Inf.
Connor Gross    Cerro Gordo/Bement    Sr.    DH
Jake Snider    Champaign Central    So.    Inf.
Dylan Grady    Centennial    Jr.    Inf.
Brock Immke    St. Joseph-Ogden    Sr.    P
Chase Gadau    St. Joseph-Ogden    Jr.    C
Joe Aeilts    Champaign Central    So.    Inf./POY
Phillip Swartz    Champaign Central    So.    P
Cole Taylor    Salt Fork    Sr.    Utl.

Second team
Alec Altmyer    Champaign Central    Sr.    P
Nick Bates    Tuscola    So.    Utl.
Nick Brunson    Champaign Central    Jr.    Inf.
Matt Crook    Monticello    Sr.    P
Greg Huss    Centennial    Sr.    Inf.
Austin Johnson    Centennial    Sr.    OF
Tom Kenney    Mahomet-Seymour    So.    OF
Ross Learnard    Salt Fork    Sr.    OF
Jeff Lindgren    Centennial    Jr.    P
Keegan McHood    Argenta-Oreana    Jr.    P
Tanner McLain    Rantoul    Sr.    Inf.
Tanner Russell    Urbana    Sr.    DH
Jake Stewart    St. Joseph-Ogden    Sr.    Inf.

Special Mention
Cole Berry    St. Joseph-Ogden    Sr.    Inf.
Kyle Brazas    Westville    Sr.    Inf.
Daniel Caldwell    Monticello    Jr.    P
Noah Darr    Salt Fork    Jr.    C
Dylan Dodd    Bismarck-Henning    So.    OF
Axel Doran    GCMS    Sr.    Inf.
Will Duggins    Blue Ridge    Sr.    Inf.
Gage Eller    Argenta-Oreana    Sr.    P
Kyle Flessner    Rantoul    Sr.    OF
Cyrus Furgeson    Tri-County    Jr.    Utl.
Conner Gremer    Urbana    Sr.    P
Hunter Hart    St. Joseph-Ogden    Sr.    P
Tyler McCormick    St. Joseph-Ogden    Sr.    P
Marty Mennenga    Paxton-Buckley-Loda    Sr.    Inf.
Mason Neisslie    Cerro Gordo/Bement    Jr.    Inf.
Clint O’Neal    Blue Ridge    Sr.    C
Zach Parks    Centennial    Sr.    OF
Darrin Raby    Prairie Central    Sr.    C
Chris Redman    Mahomet-Seymour    Sr.    P
Tyler Rogers    Fisher    Jr.    C
Devin Rose    Tuscola    Sr.    P
Cole Sanford    Salt Fork    Sr.    OF
Drew Schrodt    Paxton-Buckley-Loda    Sr.    OF
Tyler Schuring    Arthur-Lovington/A-H    Jr.    P
Sean Sullivan    St. Thomas More    Sr.    C
Austin Tabeling    St. Thomas More    Sr.    P
Johnny Walder    Paxton-Buckley-Loda    So.    OF
Austin West    Danville    Sr.    Inf.
Taylor White    Unity    Jr.    P
Kyle Williams    Fisher    Sr.    P

Honorable Mention

ARCOLA — Justin Kuhns, Jr.; Devin Warren, So.
ARGENTA-OREANA — Cameron Hupp, Sr.; Logan Jackson, Sr.
ARMSTRONG-POTOMAC — Christian Hunt, So.; Dentler Loschen, Jr.
ARTHUR OKAW CHRISTIAN — Drew Beachy, Jr.; Josh Gingerich, Jr.
BISMARCK-HENNING — Michael Feeney, Fr.; Dalton Strawser, Jr.
BLUE RIDGE — Cory Jayne, So.; Dylan Trent, So.; Isaac Trotter, So.; Ben Williamson, So.
BUCKLEY CHRIST LUTHERAN — Shane Hewerdine, Jr.; Slater Scheurich, Jr.
CENTENNIAL — Anthony Martin, Jr.; Luke Smith, So.
CERRO GORDO/BEMENT — Cole Blickensderfer, Sr.; Steve Isbell, Sr.; Chase McNamara, Jr.; Ethan Morton, Sr.
CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL — Alec Barger, So.; Luke Beesley, Jr.; Zach Dorner, Jr.
CISSNA PARK — Wyatt Froehling, Sr.; Josh Marquez, Sr.; Dylan Reetz, Sr.
CLINTON — Mason Dial, Sr.
DANVILLE — Dylan Marble, So.; Brady Watkins, Jr.
FISHER — Brad Pettenger, Sr.; Grant Pointer, Sr.
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM/CHRISMAN — Jake Brasker, Sr.; Dylan Cosat, Sr.; Rylee Goodwin, Jr.; Tyler Lunger, Jr.; Garrett Martin, Sr.
GIBSON CITY-MELVIN-SIBLEY — Jake Brewer, So.; Brady Fleming, Sr.; Austin Hornstein, Sr.
HOOPESTON AREA — Bailey Crose, Fr.; Kendall Walder, Sr.
IROQUOIS WEST — Clark Fink, Sr.; Trenton Miller, Sr.; Payton Stiers, So.
JUDAH CHRISTIAN — Ian Allender, Jr.; Dylan Hamilton, Sr.
LeROY — Ethan Bryant, So.; Bryce Dooley, So.
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR — Andy Livingston, Jr.; Nick McHale, So.; Jack Rettig, Jr.
MILFORD — Tanner Davenport, Sr.; Clayton Rieches, Sr.; Ryley Ward, Sr.
MONTICELLO — Ryne Bundy, Jr.; Jacob Burton, So.; David Vanderkloot, Jr..
OAKWOOD — Hunter Fleets, Fr.; Kyle Girton, Jr.; Skyler Slade, Sr.; Taylor Turner, So.; Blake Vinson, So.
PAXTON-BUCKLEY-LODA — Axl Denault, Sr.; Jay Eshleman, Sr.; Jonah Wilson, So.; Andrew Zenner, Fr.
PRAIRIE CENTRAL — Tyler Wenger, Sr.
RANTOUL — Kolton Vermillion, Sr.
RIDGEVIEW — Ryan Klintworth, Sr.;  Brock McDaniels, Sr.; Dylan Ruestman, Sr.; Grant Townsend, Jr.; Corey Volz, Jr.
SALT FORK — Colton Baird, So.; Garrett McFadden, Sr.; Max Stutsman, Sr.; Lane Westin, Sr.
SCHLARMAN — Mason Gard, Jr.
ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN — Dalton Parker, So.; Dalton Walsh, Sr.
ST. THOMAS MORE — Cam Deedrich, Sr.; Braxton Parisi, Jr.; Harrison York, Jr.
SULLIVAN — Shane Atchison, Sr.; Dakota Clayton, Jr.; Nick Frerichs, Jr.; Zach Hrvol, So.; Levi Nadler, Jr.
TRI-COUNTY — Luke Armstrong, Sr.; Clint Foster, Sr.; Eli Furguson, Jr.; Brandon Getche, Jr.; Brandon Stone, Sr.
TUSCOLA — Austin Martin, Sr.; Tristan Williams, Sr.
UNITY — Mitchell Snodgrass, Sr.
URBANA — Kiel King, Sr.; Jon Tauber, Sr.
VILLA GROVE/HERITAGE  — Royal Charles, Sr.; Dalton James, Jr.; Tyler Price, Jr.; Jake Reifsteck, Sr.
WATSEKA — Justin Moyer, Sr.; Caleb Parker, Sr.; Cody Scott, Sr.
WESTVILLE — Tristan Flynn, Sr.; Adam High, Sr.; Austin Milholland, Jr.; Mark Strebin, Jr.; Jeffery Thompson, Sr.

Final Top 10

1. Argenta-Oreana (10)    24-6    Third in state in Class 1A
2. Champaign Central (7)    35-3    Final 32 in state in Class 3A
3. Monticello (—)    26-6    Final 8 in state in Class 2A
4. St. Joseph-Ogden (1)    32-3    Final 32 in state in Class 2A
5. Centennial (4)    21-15    Final 64 in state in Class 3A
6. Salt Fork (2)    24-3    Final 32 in state in Class 1A
7. Cissna Park (—)    18-15    Final 32 in state in Class 1A
8. Mahomet-Seymour (3)    26-6    Final 128 in state in Class 3A
9. St. Thomas More (5)    25-6    Final 64 in state in Class 2A
10. Paxton-Buckley-Loda (—)    27-8    Final 64 in state in Class 2A

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