Fighting Illini Tradition Continues with SwampDogs

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For the ninth year, the SwampDogs continue its rich tradition with the University of Illinois by bringing in three Fighting Illini. Pitcher Nick Blackburn and infielders Ryan Nagle and Adam Walton will be joining the roster for the summer.

“I’m excited about all three of these guys being part of our club this summer. They are very highly regarded freshman with a ton of talent. Ryan and Adam could be the right side of our infield on many nights, and I expect Nick to lock down a spot in our starting rotation,” head coach Darrell Handelsman said.

They were all top 30 high school prospects in the state of Illinois.

Ryan Nagle appeared in 22 games this season as a true freshman with five RBIs and a .326 on-base percentage. The Streator, Illinois native was ranked as a top-five overall hitter in the Illinois class of 2012. He finished his senior season batting .459 with 20 doubles, eight round trippers and 41 RBIs. He was also named 2011 Co-MVP of the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference and he was a first-team All-Conference selection.

“I have learned many things playing in the Big Ten this year, but one of the main things was just getting smarter. I watched and learned what a lot of the older and successful guys did and it really helped me out,” Nagle said.

Walton, a 6-1, 185-pound second baseman, plays alongside Nagle and he has appeared in 11 games. The Buffalo Grove, Illinois native is hitting .222 on the year and has a .417 on base percentage thanks to his 6-to-1 walks to strikeout ratio.

“There are guys at Illinois who have played with the SwampDogs before, who loved playing for them and had an amazing experience over the summer,” Walton said. “They also had said how competitive the league is and how the level of competition is great which helped make them better which is something I am looking forward to.”

During his senior year of high school, he hit .370 with 12 extra base hits and 43 RBIs. The previous year he was named first-team All-Conference and preseason High Honorable Mention All-American.

Blackburn is 2-1 on the season with six starts and four additional appearances out of the bullpen so he will be a valuable asset to the SwampDogs because he can pitch in multiple situations for coach Handelsman. He expressed that he is “really excited to play ball in North Carolina” because he was born in Cary, N.C.

“The biggest thing that I learned is that every single pitch is important. In order to be successful, you need to take every batter one pitch at a time,” Blackburn said.

The right-handed pitcher has thrown 38.1 innings thus far this season allowing only 11 walks.

During his high school years, Blackburn won the state title with Neuqua Valley during his junior season. In the summer of 2011, the Napeville, Illinois native went 2-0 with a 0.93 ERA and 23 strikeouts in the state tournament.

“The University of Illinois has been a great source of quality young men and quality players for many years and I’m glad that we can continue that relationship with the addition of these guys,” coach Handelsman said.

The Fayetteville SwampDogs are a proud member of the Coastal Plain League, entering their 13th season in the nation’s hottest summer collegiate baseball league. Celebrating its 17th season in 2013, the CPL features 14 teams playing in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The CPL gives college players the chance to refine their skills with the use of wooden bats. Players are housed with local host families for the summer and past experiences have been very positive for both players and hosts. Furthermore, the CPL has had over 1,000 alumni drafted and 62 alums – including 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander – make their Major League debut thus far. For more information on the Coastal Plain League, please visit the league website at www.coastalplain.com, and be sure to friend us on Facebook (at www.facebook.com/coastalplainleague) and follow us via Twitter (as cpleague).