PUNXSUTAWNEY — Nick Gillung, a 2007 Punxsutawney Area High School graduate, kept an eye on the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft Tuesday just in case any of the athletes he played with on summer teams were selected.
Little did he know, his own name would come onto his computer screen in the 19th round.
Gillung, a 22-year-old left-handed pitcher who has spent the past four years playing for Mercyhurst College after winning a state title with the Chucks in 2007, was selected 590th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals. Upon seeing his name, he said he was excited about the opportunity.
"I saw my name pop up, and I had to look twice. I just yelled (to my parents), 'I got drafted!'" Gillung said Tuesday. "I didn't think I would get picked up until the later rounds or tomorrow."
Mercyhurst baseball manager Joe Spano, who recruited Gillung and coached him for the past four years, wasn't as surprised. He actually pegged Gillung's selection almost exactly to the round.
"There was something special about him the first time I saw him pitch (in 2007). We all dreamed about it, but you never know until it actually happens," Spano said. "There's a tremendous upside for him. I thought he would go before the 20th round."
Gillung, who led the Division II nation with 13.25 strikeouts per nine innings, has been in contact with the Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. His most recent tryouts came with the Twins last Tuesday in Connecticut and the Cardinals last Wednesday at Villanova University, just outside of Philadelphia.
Just moments after Gillung noticed his name on his computer screen Tuesday, Brian Hopkins, the Cardinals scout Gillung had been in contact with, called him. Hopkins has had an eye on Gillung ever since he visited Punxsy's Devin Mesoraco back in 2007. Mesoraco, who plays for the Class AAA Louisville Bats, was the Cincinnati Reds' first-round pick out of high school in 2007.
Hopkins called Gillung to congratulate him and tell him that the Cardinals are looking forward to having him.
"I didn't think I'd ever see (my name) picked. I always hoped it would, but it caught me off-guard," Gillung said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Gillung has had his share of successes. During his senior year in 2007 with the Chucks, he set the school record for single-season wins (eight) and strikeouts (80). He posted a 1.79 ERA over 54 2/3-innings that year, and in three playoff games, he surrendered just five runs in 21 innings. He also had the school's second-best career ERA (1.56) and career record (14-3) and third-most career strikeouts (140) when he graduated from PAHS.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Gillung only improved during his four years at Mercyhurst. Gillung was a multi-time Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West Pitcher of the Week, won the 2009 PSAC West Pitcher of the Year award and was a two-time All-PSAC West selection.
Gillung's last season with the Lakers included an 8-2 record with a 2.60 ERA during 69 1/3-innings. His 102 strikeouts were a single-season school record, and he surpassed the previous school record weeks before the year ended.
"He's going to go down as one of the all-time great pitchers in our school history," said Spano, the Lakers' 12th-year coach who didn't expect Mercyhurst's single-season strikeout record to be broken. "Nobody deserves it more. He's a great kid from a great family. We're just ecstatic for him."
Gillung credited Spano and pitching coach John Mang for his collegiate success and improved draft stock.
"They helped with the transition from high school to college," Gillung said. "The competition is obviously much better."
Gillung hopes to someday compete in the majors for the Cardinals, who are National League Central Division rivals of the Reds, Mesoraco's team. Mesoraco's major league date of arrival may be years before Gillung's, but Gillung is excited about the prospect of facing his longtime friend and former teammate.
"It'd be cool if we could face one another some day," Gillung said. "I could only imagine what that'll be like."
The left-hander hopes to be Mercyhurst's third player to reach the majors. He wants to join John Costello, who was the first Laker to make his major league debut in 1988 with the Cardinals.
Gillung, who graduated from Mercyhurst with a bachelor's degree in marketing, understands that it'll be an uphill climb to reach the majors, but he's excited and can't wait.
Spano isn't doubting Gillung's ability to make the big leagues.
"I think he needs to just continue to grow into his body. He has a really nice frame for a pitcher," Spano said. "I think he's just going to do great. Anything he puts his mind to, he can have success at."