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Shane Conlon: PBR 2010 Player of the Year



By Sean Duncan

About 20 minutes following Naperville Central’s 6-4 victory over Stevenson in the Class 4A state semifinals, Shane Conlon sat at a press conference, flanked by two teammates and his coach, with a semicircle of reporters all jabbing at the same topic of interest.

As the questions persisted, down on the field, St. Rita – Conlon’s former team – was preparing to play Huntley. Conlon was scheduled to pitch the championship game; St. Rita was considered a lock to beat Huntley, which would set up a Hollywoodesque plotline for the following night.

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Naperville Central's Shane Conlon celebrates after recording the final out of the Class 4A state title game.

Photo by Mike Mantucca

The way Conlon spoke, you’d think Naperville Central was scheduled to play the last-place squad in the DuPage Valley Conference, not the possibility of playing the team he helped lead to the state finals the previous year.

“I look upon St. Rita in the state championship game tomorrow as I would look at any team that we are facing,” said Conlon, the 2010 Prep Baseball Report Player of the Year. “We are playing for a state championship. That is all that I am focusing on. It doesn’t matter who we are playing.”

“If we play Rita, it’s not going to be about me, not about getting revenge. It will be fun, that’s for sure.”

The press conference was classic Conlon: It’s never about him, extremely focused and, above all, unflappable.

As it turned out, Conlon did meet St. Rita in the championship game. And, as he did every single start this season, the 6-foot, 180-pound left-hander earned the win, this time throwing a five-hit complete game with 10 strikeouts. Conlon’s performance was that much more impressive considering all the attention his transfer back to his hometown Naperville received throughout the year and, ultimately, the hype of the matchup.

“I just love to compete and play in that big game,” said Conlon. “I thrive in the big games. I kind of liked being in the spotlight with the team, because that’s when we played our best - when everybody was watching.”

All eyes were on the Redhawks immediately after Conlon decided he was leaving St. Rita. Naperville Central was named the preseason No. 1 team and Conlon was the reason why. Despite the lofty expectations, Conlon never disappointed. He finished his remarkable senior season with a 12-0 record and a 1.45 ERA. In 82 innings, he struck out 122 and walked 13.

It seemed the higher the stakes, the better Conlon performed. In the supersectional against O’Fallon, Conlon threw a four-hitter with 10 strikeouts and two walks. As a junior at St. Rita, Conlon threw a four-hit shutout to beat O’Fallon in the Class 4A state semifinals. Later that summer, he pitched St. Rita to a victory in the IHSBCA summer state championship game.

In three varsity seasons, Conlon had a career record of 26-1.

“I just hate to lose,” said Conlon, who is signed at Kansas State. “I will compete with anybody. I want to be the one at the bat when the game is on the line or the ball in my hand.”

Pitching, however, was far from Conlon’s only contribution to the school’s second state championship in five years. At the plate, the left-handed hitter batted .430 with a team-leading 61 hits, 15 doubles, three triples and two home runs. He drove in 28 runs and scored 46 times. Defensively, no one plays a better first base than Conlon. While his statistics powered the Redhawks to a 38-4 record, his actions led the team.

“The thing about him is, what makes him such a special player, he’s such a great teammate,” said Naperville Central coach Bill Seiple. “When you have the confidence to be a great player, without the arrogance, it is a wonderful combination. A real subtle thing about Shane is you never see frustration on his face. If he goes 0-for-3, which he didn’t very often, you couldn’t tell. Everything about him is a championship approach.”

Part of what makes Conlon such a special player is while he relishes the spotlight, he deflects the shine. It’s always about the team, not him. Judging by his cool, steadying demeanor, it would appear that he never seeks out the spotlight, yet it manages to always find him. Confidence, indeed, he’s got plenty of it, but he prefers to keep it to himself.

“I like to think I’m a pretty hard-nosed competitor,” Conlon said. “I’m not going to take anyone’s crap. I just let the game do the talking. I don’t really get involved with the talking. I just go out there and play. That’s always how I’ve been. I just try to play the game the right way.”

Seiple, who’s coached his share of standouts in his 29 years as head coach, said Conlon will go down as the best all-around player the school has ever seen, even if it was only for one year.

“We’ve had pitchers who have probably thrown as well,” said Seiple. “We’ve had, maybe, defenders play this well over period. And we’ve had hitters produce as much. But we’ve never had one player do all those things like Shane did throughout the year.

“He just did everything in superlative fashion.” 

Previous Prep Baseball Report Player of the Year winners:
2009: Nick Tindall, C, O'Fallon HS
2008: Jake Odorizzi, RHP/SS, Highland HS
2007: Jake Smolinski, SS/RHP, Rockford Boylan HS
2006: Connor Powers, 1B/3B, Benet Academy HS
2005: Michael Bowden, RHP/3B, Waubonsie Valley HS