Illinois was tied at five when junior first baseman Bren Spillane stepped up to the plate in the fourth inning against California State Northridge on March 21.
Runners were on first and second with two outs when Spillane got a piece of a high breaking ball from the Matadors’ pitcher.
On first glance, it looked like it was a going to be a routine shallow fly ball to right field, but the right fielder gradually started back tracking, then kept going, and going, and going.
Eventually, the right fielder had no more room to run and the ball smacked the scoreboard behind the fence.
For a right-handed batter and the wind blowing in, the batter would have to make practically perfect contact with the ball to get it over the fence. It seems nearly impossible — but not for Spillane.
“To be honest with you, when I hit it, I know I missed it,” Spillane said. “I started looking at the outfielder when he started drifting to the wall and, ‘oh this thing actually has a chance,’ and I looked up, and it hit the scoreboard.”
It’s that kind of raw power that has allowed Spillane to become one of the top collegiate baseball players in the country.
Nationally, Spillane ranks first in slugging (1.149) and OPS (1.728). He’s tied for first in home runs (14), second in average (.494) and OBP (.598) and fifth in RBIs (38).
In the Big Ten, Spillane leads in nearly every major category, which includes average, slugging, OBP, OPS, runs, RBIs, doubles, homers and total bases. He also has some wheels to him, ranking second in stolen bases.
These kind of numbers have garnered Spillane national attention, being recognized back-to-back weeks by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper as one of its players of the week — the only Illini to ever do so.
Spillane also became the first player ever to be named the Big Ten Player of the Week for three consecutive weeks.
He credits his success to getting back to the basics.
“Just sticking to my approach, not trying to do too much,” Spillane said. “I think earlier in the year I was trying to pull off balls, and elevate to the left side rather than just staying on balls.”
Major League Baseball scouts have also come to see Spillane play and evaluate him, said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb.
Hartleb said being put under the national spotlight hasn’t effected Spillane.
“He’s gone about his business,” Hartleb said. “He’s a mature kid that has done a great job and will continue to do a great job.”
Spillane is enjoying this newfound fame while it last, but he isn’t letting it get in the way of his mentality.
“It’s been cool,” Spillane said. “But it just comes down to keeping the highs and the lows the same and coming to the ballpark everyday the same.”
This modest approach is part of what makes up Spillane, said sophomore second baseman Michael Massey, who is also close with Spillane off the field.
The other components to Spillane are what make Massey happy to have Spillane playing for his squad, and not for the opposition.
“He’s always calm, always confident and awesome to be around,” Massey said. “Bren’s a great guy, he’s very humble, doesn’t let anything get to his head.
“He’s a great friend, great teammate and we’re lucky to have him on our side.”