Prep Baseball & Softball

Missouri State baseball gets early commitment from metro-east pitcher

Belleville East junior left-hander Ben Cruikshank has given Missouri State University a verbal commitment.
Belleville East junior left-hander Ben Cruikshank has given Missouri State University a verbal commitment.

The Missouri State University baseball program didn’t need any more time and Belleville East junior left-hander Ben Cruikshank was ready to make his decision.

Cruikshank chose Missouri State’s scholarship offer over several other Division I schools and has made an early verbal commitment to play for the Bears.

“It was just a really good fit for me,” said Cruikshank, who was 4-1 as a sophomore for the Lancers last spring with a 2.50 ERA and 33 strikeouts and 23 walks in 36 1/3 innings. “Kids are committing earlier and earlier and it was the right time to do it. I’m relieved now that it’s over.”

The 6-foot-3 lefty also had offers from Illinois, Illinois State and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He visited SIUC and Illinois State along with Ole Miss, but was sold on Missouri State because of the engineering program, the facilities and the coaching staff of head coach Keith Guttin and longtime pitching coach Paul Evans, a Granite City native.

It didn’t hurt having former Belleville East catcher Drew Millas at Missouri State as a freshman, plus two other former Southwestern Conference stars at MSU in starters Blake Graham (Edwardsville) and Aaron Meyer (Belleville West).

Cruikshank’s recruiting process may be over, but his pitching career could be ready to take off. He continued the promise he showed at Belleville East last spring over the summer while pitching for the St. Louis Pirates travel team, competing well with both the 16-under and 17-under squads.

“I started throwing a lot more strikes and my velocity jumped up a lot over the summer,” said Cruikshank, who has hit 89 mph and throws consistently in the mid-80s.

“He pitched a lot of innings for us a a sophomore, a lot of conference innings, too,” Belleville East coach Ryan Wiggs said. “We had confidence in him last year and we anticipate him being one of our top pitchers again this spring. He’s got three really good pitches and he can throw them all for strikes.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders