Blake Marks found what he sought the past spring. Good things came his way.
“I was looking to come out and have a great senior season,” the recent East Alton-Wood River High graduate said.
He did that and more.
Marks, bound for Lewis and Clark Community College, compiled impressive hitting and pitching numbers for the Oilers. For his banner season, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder has been named the AdVantage News Baseball Player of the Year.
“Blake had a huge impact on the team’s season and the program,” EA-WR coach Kyle Duncan said.
The statistics tell the tale. An infielder and pitcher, Marks batted .515 with 5 home runs and 41 RBIs. No fewer than 22 of his 52 hits went for extra bases and he posted a .901 slugging percentage and .608 on-base percentage.
He was just as imposing on the mound. Marks was 7-2 with a 0.47 ERA in 11 games, including 9 starts. He struck out 62 and walked 18 in 49.3 innings. Marks capped a bountiful season by being named to the first team of the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 2A All-State squad. He was one of 20 players chosen.
His hitting shouldn’t have been a surprise. His junior season, Marks batted .478 with 2 home runs and 29 RBIs. So the potential was there for a monster senior season and he delivered.
“My power numbers went up,” Marks said. “I put on a lot of bulk between my junior and senior seasons. I worked out more, did some weight training and mixed martial arts. That helped increase my hand speed and explosiveness.”
Marks belted two home runs in the season opener against Greenville and was on his way. His pitching also took an upturn and that coincided with the Oilers’ improvement.
They went 5-31 during Marks’ junior year, but lifted their record to 14-19 in 2016 and shared the Prairie State Conference championship with Nokomis. EA-WR was 2-13 at one point in the season, then won 6 consecutive games and 8 of 9 to climb toward .500.
“The team gave me a lot of support this season and I was able to rely on them,” Marks said of his upgraded pitching performances. “My change-up got better and my curve ball was a big factor in my improvement.”
He posted two wins over rival Roxana and logged a 2-1 win over Marquette Catholic that likely enabled EA-WR to get a piece of the Prairie State pie.
“The game against Marquette was probably the best one of the season for me because I didn’t give up an earned run,” Marks said.
Success is nothing new for Marks, now playing summer ball for the Twin City American Senior Legion team. During the winter, he led the 7-23 EA-WR basketball team. Marks averaged 22 points per game and scored a school-record 51 points in an 89-75 regional loss to host Dupo. He earned the 110 percent award from the Alton Exchange Club during its 71st annual banquet.
“I’m not afraid to work,” said Marks, toiling weekdays this summer for the Wood River Street Department. “And I work out every day.”
Duncan added, “The (Player of the Year) honors is a reflection of his hard work and efforts to get better each and every year.
“To do what he did over four years is truly impressive. This season, he helped build a team from 5-27 three years ago to a team that won the conference title his senior season.”
It took a group effort to get that done, Marks said. He worked out with fellow seniors Bryce Bazzel, Cody Blacklock, Luke Wells and Blake Weishaupt in making sure the Oilers bettered their ways.
“We wanted to improve and focus on this season,” Marks said of 2016. “We knew it would be tough starting out because we played a lot of big schools. But then we started playing the type of ball we knew that we could play.”
Come fall, Marks will put his skills to the test at LCCC. He can hardly wait.
“I look at it as another adventure,” he said