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Prep Zone

Schwab: Late decision keeps Starai close to home

St. Charles East's Matt Starai pitches during their IHSA 4A third place game against Neuqua Valley last June in Joliet. Starai has committed to Judson University.
St. Charles East's Matt Starai pitches during their IHSA 4A third place game against Neuqua Valley last June in Joliet. Starai has committed to Judson University.

Matt Starai made short work of hitters during his stellar spring for the St. Charles East baseball team.

His college recruitment, on the other hand, played out at a markedly more deliberate pace.

Starai only recently selected NAIA-Judson University as his college destination, beginning this fall.

“It was a late in the process thing,” Starai said Monday about his interest in the Elgin school. “I actually just signed about a week ago. I feel like it just ended up being the best fit for me as far as being close to home, great coaching, and knowing some of the guys and how hard they work there. It’s going to be a fun experience.”

Starai was the Kane County Chronicle Baseball Player of the Year in the spring after going 11-1 with a 0.59 ERA for the Saints, helping propel East to an IHSA Class 4A third-place state finish. He struck out 89 batters and walked 18.

After the season ended, he said he was considering junior college options in addition to a Division II program in Tennessee. But Judson caught his eye as the summer unfolded, thanks in part to the presence of a pair of former Saints on the Eagles’ roster.

Former East standouts Tony Rallo and Luke Rojas are both part of Judson’s program.

“Luke kind of came through in talking to me and just kind of gave me the lowdown of what the program is about, how talented the guys are there and the opportunity they’re going to have to get to [the NAIA World Series] this year, and hopefully I’ll have the chance to get early playing time if I work hard this fall and winter,” Starai said. “I should have a chance this spring to have a solid year.”

In addition to emerging from relative obscurity
with his lights-out senior season, Starai said the pace of his recruitment was slowed by moving from one residence to another in St. Charles, providing a distraction from his college planning.

His Team Illinois travel program trekked to the spring training headquarters for the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians in Arizona this summer. As part of the trip, players heard from professional baseball personnel about the rigors of trying to make a career out of baseball.

“It definitely motivates you to keep working hard, to try and get better every day and just knowing that as you go up, it doesn’t get any easier,” said Starai, a hard-throwing right-hander. “You’ve got to outwork people and never stop working to be the best.”

Specifically, Starai thinks refining his repertoire will be crucial as he seeks to build off his breakthrough season for East.

“I’ve got a pretty good mix of pitches – I’ve got to have each pitch ready to go every day or otherwise college hitters are going to be able to pick that up,” Starai said. “If you only have two pitches [working] … it’s going to be a rough outing for you,” Starai said.

Attention please: Wheaton Academy junior Josh Ruggles’ epic 3-point shooting performance last week certainly didn’t go unnoticed.

Ruggles, whose 135 3-point makes in 147 attempts on Thursday quickly spread around the Internet, has recently drawn national media attention from sources ranging from ESPN to to the Huffington Post and beyond.

Now Ruggles hopes the publicity bonanza expands his college recruitment options. He has received a little Division I interest and recently played in a camp at Illinois State, but so far the 6-foot combo guard mostly has attracted interest from smaller programs.

• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or

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