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Brayden Zilis’s blazing start has Minooka feeling confident – ​​Shaw Local

At first glance, Brayden Zilis might not seem like every college coach’s idea of ​​a prototypical Division I baseball player. He’s not 6 feet tall, he doesn’t weigh 220 pounds, and his bench press probably wouldn’t blow you away either.

Ask any coach in the area how much that matters when you have Zilis’ work ethic and performance, and they should tell you, “not much.”

Zilis, a junior shortstop and pitcher at Minooka, got off to as good a start as anyone in the area. Through 17 games, as of this writing, midweek, he is hitting .430 with a 1.5 POS, six home runs and 19 RBIs, while striking out just two in 70 at-bats.

He was just as effective on the mound as Minooka’s No. 2 pitcher, going 4-0 in 23 innings with a 0.60 ERA, allowing just two earned runs, 35 strikeouts and five walks.

Contrast those numbers with your prototypical size athletes. Then ask a coach who he would rather have on his roster at the next level. For the Illinois State Redbirds, the answer was simply Zilis.

That is why ISU offered Zilis a scholarship to join their team when he graduates in 2025. Zilis announced his commitment to the Redbirds on April 10, securing his spot as a future Division I athlete. It also gave him the space to focus solely on guiding Minooka to great heights.

“It feels really good to get it out of the way,” Zilis said. “It is a school that I really like. Now it’s just about having fun. There is not so much thought now (about what the next step is). I just get to go on the field and have fun like a kid again.”

As for helping Minooka achieve victories, he’s done plenty of that. The Indians were on a 10-game winning streak midway through last week, winning five of their past six games. Zilis’ fantastic run has played a big role in all that success.

“Brayden is off to a great start this season,” said head coach Jeff Petrovic. “I think that can easily be attributed to the amount of work he puts in during the offseason. Many kids start slow because they play other sports or their preparation may not be as good, but Brayden will beat anyone. “He lives in the training facility and I think we’ve seen it pay off big time, and he’s earned that.”

Petrovic points to the impressive maturation process that Zilis has shown throughout his career. He earned the JV starting shortstop spot as a freshman despite less than ideal arm strength and speed. Petrovic predicted he would eventually move to the right side of the infield because of these factors, but the work he did to improve his power, speed and arm strength has kept him in the shortstop spot to this day.

“He has improved so dramatically in those areas,” Petrovic said. “When he came in as a sophomore, we saw that he was a lefty infielder. Ultimately, he earned that starting spot as a sophomore, and that’s because of the amount of work he puts in.”

Minooka's Brayden Zilis pitches to first and completes a doubles match against Joliet West in the semifinals of the WJOL tournament on Friday, March 29, 2024 in Plainfield.

PrepBaseballReport.com lists Zilis at 6-foot-1, 161.8 pounds. Again, not the standards you’d expect from a D1 player, but Petrovic believes Zilis has done well enough in the field and on the mound to be considered a potential two-way player. Zilis says he’s just excited to have the opportunity to play at the next level, regardless of position.

“It’s always great to have multiple options,” he says. “You can always move to another place and flourish there. You don’t have to think too much about things not going well in one place, because you can always go to another place.”

Petrovic cited Zilis’ love for the game and his continued joy as a human being as qualities that set him apart. Both expressed gratitude to Illinois State coach Steve Holm for looking at the type of player he is and the results he produces, contrary to what the tape says.

However, the state of Illinois will come in two years. For this year and next year, Zilis is primarily focusing on Minooka baseball.

“I feel like we can really make a run this year,” Zilis said. “We have four or five very good starters that we can always use. … There’s just such a high ceiling that we can make it deep. If we can get some wins towards the end, maybe we can pick up some momentum and get into the playoffs and get a state championship.

“Hopefully that’s what we’re going for.”