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Cam McDonald back in the swing for the Fighting Illini

Cam McDonald has been a human highlight reel this season for the University of Illinois baseball team.

He’s reached base in every game this season, a streak encompassing 34 games for the Fighting Illini (19-15), and has a 45-game on-base streak dating back to May 8, 2021.

Along the way, he had a hitting streak of 23 games before going hitless against Illinois State on April 5, but still reaching base.

McDonald, one of the heroes of Hall’s state championship run in 2018, is the Illini’s triple crown leader with team highs in batting (.361), homers with a career high six and counting, and RBIs (36).

I’ve been holding off reaching out to the former Hall Red Devil star so not to jinx him. He said he no worries because the U of I staff has been plugging his streaks on the scoreboard whenever he comes to bat.

“I’d walk up to bat my first inning and I saw it up on the board, and it was 30 something, and I said, ‘What are you guys doing?’ I don’t want to see that when I bat,” he said with a laugh.

University of Illinois junior Cam McDonald (Hall/Ladd) has extended his on-base streak to 34 games.

University of Illinois junior Cam McDonald (Hall/Ladd) has extended his on-base streak to 34 games. (Graphic courtesy University of Illinois/)

There’s no laughing when it comes to McDonald’s game this year as he continues to put up big numbers.

He hit his first home run of the season on March 5 at West Virginia, a two-run shot to stake the Illini to an early lead in a 6-2 win over the Mountaineers.

He had a 5-for-5 day with five RBIs to lead the Illini to a series-clinching 11-6 win over Northwestern on April 16.

He went 3 for 5 with a go-ahead RBI single in the first game against Purdue and came back to drive in the go-ahead run in the sixth inning to complete the sweep over the Boilermakers on April 4 to cap his 23-game hit streak.

McDonald said he’s just trying to keep things simple at the plate.

“Just trying to slow the game down. One pitch at a time. See balls up and drive them. Help the team win, basically. It’s simple, nothing crazy,” McDonald said.

And while he has seen the most recent highlight montage put on him by the U of I staff on social media and calls it cool, he’s “trying to stay focused on the team and not worrying about myself …. I’d take a win on Friday night over a hit.”

He’s played left field the majority of his games, but shifts to right when the catcher moves to the outfield with a handful of starts at third. He’s made numerous diamond gems in the field making diving catches and throwing runners out at the plate which have shown up as web gems.

McDonald had a solid freshman season for Illinois, the only player to play in 57 games, batting .281 and was a co-leader with 34 RBIs. His 63 hits were the sixth-highest for an Illinois freshman in school history.

He got off to a slow start his sophomore season in 2020, then COVID-19 shut the season down. He continued to slump at the plate last year in his full sophomore season in 2021, batting .249, but had three home runs and 27 RBIs and did not make an error in the field in 46 starts in right field.

Cam McDonald (4) of the Illinois Fighting Illini during the game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Illinois Fighting Illini at Illinois Field. The Illini walked off, winning 11-6. Photo courtesy Andy Wenstrand, U of I.

Cam McDonald (4) of the Illinois Fighting Illini during the game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Illinois Fighting Illini at Illinois Field. The Illini walked off, winning 11-6. Photo courtesy Andy Wenstrand, U of I. (Andy Wenstrand/)

McDonald said he just let things fester too much when he struggled.

“I didn’t flip the page when I had a bad day and took it with me the next day,” he said.

He’s got back to his successes this year by moving on and working hard, and routinely making sure he’s the first one on the field and last one to leave every day.

“Whether I had bad game or a good game, I’m getting their early the next day and being there and slowing it down, slowing your day even and just getting ready to play,” he said. “I’ll hit with the assistant coach on game day. Do a few rounds of flips, then go off the machine for a few rounds. Nothing crazy. It just gets me locked in for the day. It gives me an advantage in my own mind that I’m the first one at the field and the last one to leave every day. I try to keep the same mindset and attitude every day, if I’m 0 for my last 10 or 10 for my last 10.

“It sounds easy, but it’s not. If you go 0 for 4, obviously you’re not going to be as confident if you were 4 for 4. You’re still going to be the same teammate, you’re still going to be the same leader, you still got the same work ethic and not being lazy and panic when you’re doing bad and trusting in your abilities.”

The Illini have a big weekend coming up with a three-game series at home with No. 24 ranked Maryland (30-7) starting Friday. Illinois (19-15, 10-2) is second in the Big Ten and Maryland (7-2) is third. League leader Rutgers (11-1) plays Iowa, who is fourth, so they’re could be some juggling atop the Big Ten standings.

“That’d be pretty cool with a Big Ten championship,” McDonald said.

McDonald, who is interning in the athletic department this spring, will graduate this May with a degree in Recreational Sport Tourism. He will, however, return for another season for the Illinois as all athletes gained an extra year due to the shortened COVID-19 2020 season.

Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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