Trip from Illinois to Mystic has been worth it for Hendren twins

Groton - Jacob and Jared Hendren never planned on playing summer baseball far from home.

A series of events led to an invitation from the Mystic Schooners that the Hendren twins couldn't pass up.

So they packed up and left their home in rural LeRoy, Ill., population around 3,600, and drove 18 hours to southeastern Connecticut.

The Hendren brothers are enjoying their new adventure and playing for the Schooners.

"I'm glad I got the opportunity to come out here," Jared said. "Our first time East. We're from a small town in Illinois. I've never seen this many trees and hills and water in my life. I'm used to cornfields and stuff like that."

They've not only adjusted to new surroundings, but also higher quality baseball than they experienced playing for Heartland Community College, a junior college baseball powerhouse in Normal, Ill.

While starring for Heartland, the Hendrens faced UConn-Avery Point in the World Series last year. Jared contributed two hits and Jacob pitched a scoreless inning in relief in a 9-1 win.

The losing pitcher that day, Avery Point's Zach Albin, pitched for the Schooners last summer. Albin had a conversation with Mystic manager Phil Orbe about Heartland.

"I asked him what happened when you guys went to the World Series, you played a team from Illinois," Orbe said. "He said, 'Oh my God, they stole so many bases. They had a kid who stole like four bases off me. He was really fast.'

"I ended up looking up who he was, and it was Jared Hendren. When I went through the roster, I noticed there was a Jacob Hendren and noticed that he had some pretty good numbers. I made a call out there to Heartland Community College to gauge their interest. ... They certainly could play here, but it was a matter of them coming halfway across the country."

The offer came as a surprise. Jacob and Jared were ready to leave home for the summer. Their parents, Rusty and Lynnette, and sister Emily made the drive with them to Connecticut to check out the area.

"It was definitely something to think about but also a good experience," Jacob said. "It was definitely an opportunity that we had to take."

The Hendrens have both contributed to Mystic's success.

Jacob, a starter on the junior college level, is one of the team's best relievers, allowing just two earned runs in 18.2 innings while striking out 25 and walking eight. He has a team-best four saves.

"I didn't know what to expect," Jacob said. "I've enjoyed it here."

According to Orbe, Jacob is blessed with an 88 mile-per-hour fastball, a vicious cutter, a get-me-over curveball and effective changeup. And he's lefthanded, which never hurts. He earned a spot on the New England Collegiate Baseball League all-star team, pitching a scoreless inning on Sunday.

"Jacob, the first month of the season, carried us out of the bullpen," Orbe said. "He went about nine appearances without giving up a run. ... He throws four pitches for strikes. Anytime you put that together with a lefty that throws hard, you're going to be pretty effective."

Jared started in left field on Tuesday in Mystic's 12-0 rout of Vermont. He went 0-for-3 and walked three times, lowering his average to .228. Speed is a vital part of his game, as he stole 37 bases at Heartland last season and has nine with Mystic.

"Jared is a very athletic kid," Orbe said. "He's batting .333 in July. ... When he gets on the basepaths, he wreaks havoc. Other teams have to pay a lot of attention to him."

The brothers will continue their college careers at Illinois State in Normal, only about 30 minutes from home. They're happy to be continuing their journey together.

"We've just always been together," Jared said. "It's nice to have him because he's someone that I can always count on, on and off the field. I really enjoy playing with him."

News and notes

• With 11 regular season games left, the Schooners (18-14) already have clinched a playoff spot. ... Andrew Hinckley (UConn-Avery Point) hit his third home run - and second in two games - in the second inning. It was a two-run shot. Aaron Hill (UConn), a Fitch graduate, went 4-for-6 with three RBI, raising his average to .330. ... Making his first start, Alex Vargas (2-1) earned the win, pitching five innings. ... Zach Weigel (Seton Hall) added three hits. ... Conor Gleason (Franklin Pierce), the former Wheeler standout, pitched a scoreless inning. ... Mystic's next home game is Saturday against Newport at 6:05 p.m. at Fitch.

g.keefe@theday.com

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