Glory Days: Dave Haskins Talks Championship Season
St. Charles East baseball coach recalls the 2007-08 state champion Wolves team he coached.
TJ Swank's triple in the right-center field alley was the key blow on June 7, 2008. It helped Prairie Ridge to tie a game with Oak-Park River Forest.
The Wolves would post a 3-2 win in this contest, which was the last baseball game of the spring season. And it gave the Wolves and head coach Dave Haskins a state championship.
"We knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime,'' Haskins said. "The stands were packed at JackHammer Stadium. I think I was more excited than nervous coming in."
The state championship was big news in Crystal Lake.
"We were interviewed on Star 105.5 in McHenry,'' Haskins recalled. "We were able to see the mayor. The school had a pep assembly for us. It is so hard to get down there. But we were playing our best baseball and were able to win it."
Prairie Ridge had a losing record this season, although the Wolves did manage to make it to the regional title game. But in the two seasons that Haskins coached the Wolves, Prairie Ridge went 61-17.
The state championship season didn't start out that well. The Wolves split the first 12 games, including a stretch where Prairie Ridge lost six of seven games.
"I always thought this was an underachieving group,'' he said. "We needed some confidence and some swagger. We had to play with a chip on our shoulder."
His Wolves caught fire. This was a team that had Nick Martini, a center fielder/pitcher who was the 2010 Big 12 player of the year at Kansas State. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. For the Wolves, Martini hit .434 with a team-leading 18 doubles and seven homers. Swank won 10 games on the mound and led the team in hitting (.459).
A 7-6 win over Crystal Lake South began the turnaround.
"We had two 12-game winning streaks that year,'' Haskins said. "We won 26 of 28. When we got to 10 in a row, we would say, we can win another five in a row."
The postseason run began at Prairie Ridge. The Wolves stopped both Grant and Woodstock to win its regional.
In the sectional at Rockford Guilford, Prairie Ridge beat Crystal Lake South and Rockton Hononegah. Finally on June 2, the Wolves beat Carmel 5-4 to win the Schaumburg Supersectional.
This Wolves title team also had help from pitcher Mike Heesch (9-1), catcher David Mitroff, Nolan Jacoby (12 doubles, five homers) and Bobby Martin (13 doubles).
During the regular season, Neuqua Valley had pounded the Wolves and ended the first 12-game winning streak. Those two teams met again downstate for the rematch in a semifinal game. A six-run fifth inning backed up the pitching of Heesch as PR won 7-1.
"I think Neuqua Valley was 22nd in the country that year,'' Haskins said.
To prove it was no fluke, the next Haskins club at Prairie Ridge won 29 games. The Wolves fell short of another trip downstate after losing to Cary-Grove.
"On his 2008 state title team, he took great players and made them even better and that's the sign of a good coach,'' said Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen. "He always had his team prepared to play and really never missed a beat from a game management standpoint."
In the summer of 2009, his Summer League squad at PR finished fourth in the state.
And then Haskins was gone. It wasn't anything personal. He simply needed a full-time job to support his growing family. He accepted a post at St. Charles East to coach and teach.
"Prairie Ridge was shocked,'' Haskins said. "But my goal was to teach and I was very honest with them about that."
Evidently his coaching skills transferred with the move. In two seasons at the helm of the St. Charles team his club has won 54 games.
"The baseball gods have been good to me,'' he joked.
Haskins played his high school ball at Conant High School. He was a left-handed pitcher and took those talents to Northeastern University.
His life seems in order as he teaches and coaches.
"I always liked working with kids,'' he said. "I try to teach responsibility."