Asmussen | Smith shines brightly on big-game stage

 

Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — Try not to bother Jon Goebel at 11 a.m. Friday. The Parkland College baseball coach will be too busy watching TV.

Goebel plans to tune in the Louisville-East Carolina baseball game on ESPN2. It's the opener in the best-of-three super regional in Louisville, Ky. The winning team earns a spot in the College World Series, which starts June 15 in Omaha, Neb.

The Cardinals wouldn't be in position to advance without the help of former Centennial and Parkland pitcher Luke Smith. In 17 appearances this season, Smith is 6-0.

He saved his best for postseason action. In an elimination game at the NCAA regional this past Sunday, Smith allowed three hits in 8 1 / 3 innings against Illinois State.

Smith threw 129 pitches and struck out seven as Louisville won 11-2. Because of that performance that helped save the Cardinals' season, Smith was named to the all-region team.

"He always does that," Goebel said. "The bigger the lights, Luke shows up. He's that kind of kid. He's a big-game performing athlete."

The Cardinals (47-16) beat Illinois State again Monday to reach the super regional round.

Goebel would love to be in Louisville this weekend, but he coaches a travel team. And he will be in Joliet to recruit during the Class 3A and 4A high school state tournaments.

In essence, Goebel doesn't want to miss the next Luke Smith.

"Exactly," Goebel said.

Hidden gem

Goebel offered the pitcher a spot at Parkland during Smith's senior season with the Chargers. Other junior college programs were interested, but Smith decided to join the Cobras.

Why no Division I offers?

Checking in now at 6 feet, 3 inches and 175 pounds, Smith might not have looked the part.

"On the surface in high school," Goebel said, "a lot of people thought: 'He's smaller, he's skinny, he doesn't quite throw hard enough' but they liked some of his potential."

Their loss was Parkland's gain.

"He was obviously a natural fit for us, being a guy who performed really well in high school and is a local guy," Goebel said. "I had known him a little bit more on a personal level. I knew what he was like, what his family was all about and what he was all about. It was a no-brainer for us."

Smith was a star his first year at Parkland, going 10-0 with a 2.37 ERA. He threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts against Lincoln Land.

"He immediately stuck out as far as his moxie and his ability to throw strikes," Goebel said.

As Smith's velocity improved, suddenly, Division I schools became interested.

"He always had the pitchability," Goebel said. "He could land his breaking ball. He had a good slider he could throw for a strike. He was naturally competitive. He checked all the boxes."

Smith could have left Parkland after his freshman year. Coastal Carolina, Louisville and North Carolina State all made offers.

"I actually thought we were probably going to lose him one year early," Goebel said. "Ultimately, him and his family decided it was best for him to stay another year. I'll be honest, at the time I was a little bit surprised. I kind of coaxed him toward Coastal because I know the way that they develop."

Smith came back to Parkland and went 8-2 as a sophomore with the Cobras.

Smith signed with Louisville and made his Division I debut this season.

In three years as a college pitcher, so far, Smith is 24-2. Not... too ... shabby.

What's next?

Goebel expected Smith to get picked during this week's MLB draft.

But he wasn't selected.

It was a good year in the MLB draft for Champaign. Central products Tanner Gordon, Joe Aeilts, Alec Barger and Jake Snider were picked. So was Centennial graduate Jeff Lindgren.

"That group of guys, I'm not really surprised how far they've gone because they were really talented guys," Goebel said. "Illinois is one of the most drafted states in the country."

Smith has another year of eligibility at Louisville, so he can return for his senior season.

If he follows up his 2019 performance with another big year, the pros will certainly notice.

MLB likes former Parkland players. Ex-Cobras Dan Winkler (Braves), Kevin Kiermaier (Rays) and Nick Wittgren (Indians) are currently in the bigs.

"We've been fortunate," Goebel said.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.