Former area prep standouts return to face Illini

Former area prep standouts return to face Illini

For the second consecutive weekend, a Champaign County kid came home to play baseball against the University of Illinois.

Following Indiana's Tanner Gordon, a Champaign Central graduate, former St. Joseph-Ogden standout Dalton Parker made his way to Illinois Field along with the rest of the Purdue Boilermakers for a weekend series that ended Sunday night.

Things didn't go too well for the visitors, as they were swept by the Illini over three Big Ten games.

But Parker put forth a fine effort for Purdue out of the bullpen.

He first worked a scoreless two-thirds of an inning in Friday's opener, allowing a hit and a walk but no runs.

Parker added to that in Sunday's finale, permitting a couple singles in 12 / 3 frames as the Boilermakers fell 6-4.

"It was certainly fun, for sure, just seeing a bunch of familiar faces," the Purdue junior said. "Not the ... outcome that we wanted, but moving forward, hopefully I get another opportunity like this."

The 2016 Spartans graduate was named News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year as a high school senior for helping SJ-O to a runner-up display in the Class 2A state tournament.

This didn't mark Parker's first time on the home turf of Illinois baseball, though.

"I used to play travel baseball (at Illinois Field) back when I was younger," Parker said. "But collegiately, just a different atmosphere. ... It's probably my favorite."

Parker and Illinois' Cam McDonald posed together for a photo after Sunday's final out was recorded. Parker said he's familiar with Illini such as McDonald, Centennial graduate Kellen Sarver, Ryan Schmitt and Michael Massey, enhancing Parker's local return.

It was important for Parker to put forth the relatively clean efforts he did Friday and Sunday, as the 2019 campaign has been a challenging one for him.

After sporting a 5-0 record and 3.21 ERA in 18 appearances the season prior, Parker held an 0-3 ledger and 4.67 ERA over just eight appearances entering Sunday's contest.

"It's been somewhat of a different outcome than I expected," Parker said. "I've faced some injuries. Team has not really gone down the path we've wanted to."

Perhaps a little home cooking will go a long way for Parker.

Though the Boilermakers won't be suiting up for the Big Ten tournament later this month, carrying a 7-13 league mark into the final week of regular-season play, Parker is staying optimistic about his impending senior stint in West Lafayette, Ind.

"I need to work on some stuff in my pitching repertoire," Parker said. "Just staying consistent, finding the strike zone more often and probably getting stronger."