College baseball: Raper will play at Illinois
By Mike London
CONCORD — Catawba baseball standout Jackson Raper will take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted to spring sports athletes.
It means the 22-year-old will be able to play next season for the University of Illinois, while he works on a master’s degree in accounting.
Catawba coach Jim Gantt explained that he’s been an agent of sorts for Raper in recent weeks, while he was in the transfer portal.
“Illinois needed a third baseman, and I believe he can help them,” Gantt said. “They’re counting on him.”
Raper’s career at Catawba had an unbelievable ending as he launched six homers and drove in 17 runs in his last four games before COVID-19 ended the season. He went 13-for-19 in that stretch.
For the abbreviated season, he hit .436 with nine homers and 35 RBIs.
“When he was going well, he could carry us, and when he was going bad, he could still hit .380,” Gantt said with a laugh. “We only had a 22-game season, but he was about as good as you can be for 22 games.”
Raper, a Cincinnati Reds fan, had an interesting career before coming to Catawba.
He was part of a state championship basketball team at Concord’s Robinson High and had his moments for the Kannapolis American Legion team. Gantt saw him playing against Rowan County and was intrigued by his potential, but he exceeded all expectations.
“He always had a very strong arm, but he improved a lot here defensively by playing third base like he was playing defense in basketball,” Gantt said. “He started playing lower and more athletic.”
As a junior, Raper batted .352 with eight homers and 55 RBIs in 61 games. He was the Gold Glove third baseman for the South Atlantic League, All-SAC Tournament and second team All-SAC. He was honorable mention All-America.
“We’re glad he played at Catawba,” Gantt said. “He’ll be a great representative of our school at Illinois.”