Highland shortstop chooses Eastern Illinois

News-DemocratJuly 17, 2013 

Cross one of the top senior shortstop recruits in Southern Illinois off the college shopping list.

Highland High School shortstop Joseph Duncan cut his recruiting journey short by making an early verbal commitment to Division I Eastern Illinois University this week.

"I'm pretty happy to go to Eastern," said Duncan, a second-team News-Democrat All-Area selection this spring after hitting .387 as a junior this spring with seven doubles, three triples, two homers and 37 RBIs along with 23 stolen bases. "It was kind of stressful this whole summer trying to get (college) looks and things, but I'm happy it's over and I'm happy with my decision. It was the perfect distance away and it's a really good college town."

It's also an Eastern Illinois baseball program that includes Duncan's good friend, former Highland standout Jake Haberer. Haberer signed with EIU as a senior last fall and is an incoming freshman with the Panthers.

"It didn't hurt that Jake's going there, either," Duncan said. "He's always been a good buddy of mine. I think they noticed me when they came to watch Jake pitch and then they started to watch me some more."

A starter since his sophomore year, Duncan helped Highland to a 27-10 record this season that included a first-place tie with Triad atop the Mississippi Valley Conference standings.

Duncan chose EIU over Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and said he also had interest from Illinois State, Evansville and Bradley.

"He's excited to have the decision behind him so he can move forward -- and he was very, very flattered with what both coaches and both schools presented," Highland coach Joel Hawkins said of EIU and SIUE.

Hawkins said the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Duncan has a lot to offer on the next level.

"He's got the quick response muscles and an ability to turn around a quick fastball that's pretty unique," Hawkins said. "He's tall and he's fast and he's got a good arm and he's very quick through the strike zone.

"He continues to get stronger and he's got nice extra-base hit ability."

Hawkins said Duncan has made major strides in another important baseball area.

"His biggest improvement is his ability to overcome, that emotional and mental maturity to handle things," Hawkins said.

Also possessing a strong arm, Duncan was 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA this season and held Belleville East scoreless for six innings.

Duncan hit .327 as a sophomore with six doubles, three homers and 18 RBIs. He's playing for the Metro-East Illini travel team this summer.

Asked to name the best part of his game, Duncan said "It's probably my speed and my bat speed."

As a youngster, Duncan said he went to just about every Highland game when former first-round draft pick Jake Odorizzi helped lead the Bulldogs to the 2008 Class 3A state championship.

"That was a lot of fun to watch," said Duncan, a versatile infielder who can play short, second and third and also may get a shot in the outfield.

"I'll play anywhere. It doesn't matter to me," he said.

During his 19 previous seasons, Eastern Illinois coach Jim Schmitz has enjoyed a string of success with metro-east players. That list includes former EIU stars Erik Huber (Althoff), Josh Mueller (Columbia), Tyler Kehrer (Wesclin), Jordan Kreke (Mater Dei) and Richie Derbak (Wesclin).

All five have played professionally and Kehrer was the 48th overall pick in the 2009 draft. Former Edwardsville outfielder Derek Page just finished his freshman season at Eastern, while Mueller is 2-0 with a 242 ERA as a reliever for the Colorado Rockies' Class AA Tulsa Drillers club.

EIU was 22-27 last season, including an 11-17 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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