Marmion fans spent much of the past few months cheering for senior Alex Troop, a left-handed pitcher who was nearly unhittable in leading the Cadets to another conference championship.
Before that, Troop was leading the cheers, watching his classmates on the hard court playing a sport that he also used to excel at.
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Troop decided to give up basketball after his sophomore season at Marmion, a tough choice for sure.
"It was a really hard decision," Troop said. "Basketball has always been a fun sport for me. It was really hard to quit especially sitting in the stands watching your team play against rivals. Wow, I really wish I was out there.
"But then at the same time it has really paid off. I think it was a good decision."
It's certainly hard to argue with where baseball has got him after a dominating senior season with the Cadets and a scholarship to Michigan State.
Troop owned the mound this year, allowing just 1 earned run in 53 innings, and he gave a lot of the credit to the improvements he's made in the offseason. Without playing basketball, he had time to work out five days a week.
That includes individual work with pitching coaches like Bill Copp and Tim Milroy, and a lot of weight lifting and crossover symmetry band training that Troop said helped him add four or five miles to a fastball that now touches 90 miles an hour.
High school hitters had little luck catching that, or squaring up the curve ball or his ever-improving changeup that his coach said is his best pitch. Troop struck out 103 batters in those 53 innings, walking just 13, while going 5-0 with a 0.13 ERA and earning this year's Daily Herald All-Area Baseball Captain.
"It's been great," Troop said. "Hitting finally turned around. Pitching has been great all year. We came together as a team. With college, it's been a wonderful time all together. I'm really thankful for it."
Marmion coach Dave Rakow has seen what Troop can do first hand, and not just in baseball.
"He started to realize he would get a scholarship for baseball," Rakow said of Troop's decision to focus on one sport. "I also coach football, I wish he would play football. Quarterback or receiver, he could do either one.
"He's good at everything he does. When you are 6-4 and left-handed you can almost pick your sport."
Rakow also spoke highly of Troop's personality.
"Alex is pretty laid back. He's not intense by any means. He's kind of a joker on the team," Rakow said.
"He's a great kid. No ego, very coachable. Always does whatever is asked of him."
Troop had an excellent spring defensively in center field when he didn't pitch and put up the best numbers of any of the Marmion hitters. Troop led the team in RBI (24) while hitting .329 with a .630 slugging percentage, 6 doubles and 5 triples in just 73 at-bats.
It was his work on the mound that really turned heads and left an impression, including his catcher Brady Roberts.
"It's a ton of fun," Roberts said of catching Troop. "You know where he's going to throw the ball every time and it's been an honor catching him this year. I know I've got his back and he's got mine."
Troop, who lives in Batavia, tossed one gem after another this spring. In a first-place showdown with Montini, Troop gave up his only earned run of the year in the first inning, then proceeded to toss 7 more scoreless innings while striking out 15 and allowing just 1 hit -- against a team that eventually reached the Class 3A sectional finals.
He left in a 1-1 tie in the ninth, moved to center field where he made a game-saving catch in a game the Cadets eventually won in 10 innings.
Troop returned to the mound and shut out St. Francis, giving the Cadets the outright Suburban Christian title for the fourth time in five years and the final one the conference will have. He tossed a 1-hit complete game, limiting the Spartans to 2 hits while racking up 7 strikeouts and also hitting a 3-run home run.
In his final start of the year at the Downers Grove South regional, Troop shut out Downers Grove North for 6 innings, striking out 12. He drove in the only 2 runs of the game in Marmion's 2-0 win, the first Class 4A regional win in school history.
With Troop on the mound, Marmion had a chance to beat anyone.
"His velocity is up a little and his command is much better especially with his breaking balls," Rakow said. "For the most part this year he can locate all three pitches wherever he wants to. There are pro pitchers who have trouble doing that and that's why there's a bunch of pro guys here looking at him.
"He's got two good off-speed pitches, his best pitch is his changeup. When he can throw those for strikes, he's a very tough pitcher to hit."
Rakow knows something about having pro scouts come see one of his pitchers throw. Matt Milroy, the 2009 Daily Herald All-Area Captain, also got a lot attention and now pitches in the Miami Marlins system.
"Troop and Matt projecting to the pros are similar," Rakow said. "I think Troop is a little more refined. Matt was more of a raw athlete. He threw a little bit harder. He would top out at 92, 93. Alex has hit 90 a couple times this year but he's consistently 85, 86. Alex has better breaking stuff, better control. Matt was, 'Here's my fastball, see if you can hit it.' They are both very good pitchers."
Troop said he picked Michigan State over Cincinnati, Duke, Central Michigan, Illinois State and Bradley.
"I have a great opportunity at Michigan State," Troop said. "I've grown up around the Big Ten my entire life and this atmosphere and I really liked the coaching staff. It's a great opportunity up there."
As much as Troop might have missed being on the basketball court the past couple winters, it's all worked out for the best.
"I saw the future in baseball," Troop smiled.