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Springing into an Iowa summer

Showcase : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- After completing his sophomore year at Urbandale (Iowa) High School in the spring of 2012, Ryan Lillard went into Iowa's high school summer season feeling about as well-prepared as he ever had in his still very young career.

He was in great baseball shape. His movements and actions showed no signs of a long offseason. And then he promptly went out and led the Urbandale Hawks with a .347 batting average (43-for-124) with nine doubles, three triples, three home runs, 24 RBI and 31 runs scored, and stole 11 bases in 12 attempts for good measure.

The reason for Lillard's readiness was that his offseason wasn't nearly as long as some of his counterparts across the state of Iowa. He spent the months of April and May playing in the 2012 Perfect Game Iowa Spring Wood Bat League, and wore the benefits on his sleeve.

"That really got me ready for the high school season in the summer," said Lillard, who is playing in the Spring League again this spring. "I see the best pitching in the state in that league here, so it's been a really good experience for me. This fall, I'm looking to play in a lot more tournaments with Perfect Game Iowa Select, so I'm just trying to get as much exposure as I can."

"I think that kick-started his season," Ryan's father, Mike Lillard, said. "He seemed ahead of a lot of the other players on his high school team that weren't involved in something like that."

Ryan and Mike Lillard spoke Saturday afternoon from Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium while Ryan was taking part in the 11th annual PG Spring Top Prospect Showcase. Ryan was one of nearly 120 prospects from 12 states, Canada and Puerto Rico taking part in the two-day event, which concluded with five games on Sunday.

Ryan Lillard is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound shortstop who has blossomed into one of the top prospects in his high school class of 2014; he is ranked 144th nationally and fourth in the state of Iowa. This is the second straight year he has been at this event, and he also attended the 2012 PG Midwest Top Prospect Showcase at Perfect Game Field last September.

"Perfect Game has been really good to me so far, so I'm just trying to attend every event that I can," Lillard said. "I like meeting all the new players and I like showing everyone what I've got down here and comparing myself to everyone else."

Mike Lillard played high school baseball along with a couple of seasons at Southwestern Community College in Creston, Iowa. He has also been coaching Ryan since "he was about 5 years old" and all through the ranks of little league, USSSA and AAU. He has enjoyed watching Ryan's progression.

"My son is just married to baseball. He loves playing the game, loves Perfect Game," Mike said. "This is our third showcase we've been to in the last year ... and we just love the events; I think it's really good for him, too."

The progression has been steady and recognizable.

"He's gotten bigger, faster, stronger each year and he works harder at it each year," Mike said. "Events like this drive him to get better, and being with his peers here it's almost like a baseball fraternity. He's made a lot of friends and contacts and they all drive each other. I think it's great for them."

Ryan Lillard is also a football player at Urbandale High, and many of the gains he's made strength-wise can probably be attributed to his football training. Where ever it comes from, it translates easily over the baseball field.

"This year I know I've gotten a lot stronger and I've been working on my speed a lot," he said. "I've seen some improvement in my infield velocity and my 60 time has improved a lot, too."

Lillard knew of what he spoke. His top recorded 60-yard dash time at a PG event coming into this weekend was 7.03-seconds, and he promptly zipped-off a personal-best 6.71 Saturday morning on the wet outfield grass at Perfect Game Field. His top infield arm velocity coming in was 86 mph and his throw of 90 mph on Saturday was the strongest of the 48 prospects that took part in the drill.

"I always like to set goals for myself; it pushes me a little bit more," Lillard said. "I set a goal to throw 90 across the infield and I accomplished that, and my goal was to run below a 6.8 (in the 60) and I got that, too."

Lillard made a verbal commitment to head coach Brad Hill and the Kansas State Wildcats in early November, so he can put the whole college recruiting scene out of his mind over his final two seasons of high school ball.

"I really liked the coaches at Kansas State," he said. "They brought me in and showed me all the facilities and how they do everything down there; I just felt like it was the right choice for me."

To Mike Lillard's way of thinking, that commitment would never have materialized had it not been for Ryan's willingness to attend these showcases in the last 12 months.

"I think this is very beneficial," he said. "My son has a verbal commitment to Kansas State and if it weren't for Perfect Game, he wouldn't have that offer. In fact, when he was here at the (PG Midwest Top Prospect) showcase last September, that's where Kansas State saw him. They had scouts here who saw him, so if it weren't for Perfect Game he wouldn't be in that situation.

"And it drives him, too. When he comes to these events he only wants to get better and better."

The Urbandale Hawks sort of limped to a 17-24 record last summer competing in Iowa's strongest conference, the Central Iowa Metropolitan League. A couple of Lillard's teammates, including junior left-hander Logan Augustine, are also at the showcase this weekend.

Coming off a second PG Iowa Spring Wood Bat League season, Lillard feels like he'll be more ready than ever to take over a leadership role on the team.

"I really can't wait," Lillard said. "I think we'll be a lot better this year, and I'm just looking forward to leading the team this year; hopefully we can make it to state and contend for a state championship."

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