Mundelein goalkeeper Nathan Espinosa’s reaction skills are at an all-time high.
It could be good for senior baseball careers.
After playing a reserve role for the Mundelein men’s football team during the abbreviated spring season earlier this year, Espinosa has emerged as a key contributor.
With a confident and productive Espinosa in net this season, the Mustangs (5-6-2) have had quality wins over Prospect, St. Patrick, Stevenson and Crystal Lake South and are looking to add the North Suburban Conference leader Warren to the roster on Thursday.
A second baseman, Espinosa has said baseball is his favorite — and best — sport. But he is happy with his growth as a football player.
“Baseball has always been my main (sport) because that’s what I grew up playing,” he said. “Soccer was something I’ve always enjoyed doing on the side. I never wanted to stop playing football. In previous years, I was very nervous. I’m starting to feel more comfortable and more mentally focused and more comfortable in the net.
“Baseball is a lot of quick reactions. Soccer helped me with baseball, and baseball helped me with soccer too.
He noted “there are not many (athletes) who play goalie and baseball.
Espinosa has recorded four clean sheets in 11 games this season. He has shown rapid improvement since the spring, compiling 43 saves in 791 minutes.
Mundelein coach Sebastian Falinski said Espinosa helps the back line with his communication and leadership. Falinski said Espinosa and Carson Kowalski helped stabilize the team during some tough early losses.
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“I think what makes Nathan special, and it’s shown in recent games recently, is his ability to make the incredible save that keeps his team in the game,” Falinski said. “When the team needs him the most, he’s there to throw the big play, sacrifice his body and keep us in the game.
“He has also become a vocal leader at the back, organizing our squad and demanding more of them. He’s definitely leading by example but has taken a more vocal approach lately.
Espinosa said his work last summer with the Mundelein Lions played a big part in his improvement. He played football games on weekends when he was not playing baseball.
Espinosa secured the starting spot in early August, beating senior Angelo Gallardo. A college football player for three years, Espinosa said beating highly rated Stevenson on Sept. 14 remains the highlight of the season.
“Stevenson’s game was one of the coolest moments of this season for me,” he said. “I had a lot of nerves. We definitely played this game together and capitalized on the moments, and our defense played really well.
“We have six games left. As a team, we have to keep grinding to make the playoffs well. It’s nice to have a connection with your teammates, and having Angelo by my side has really helped me.
Bob Narang is a freelance journalist for the News-Sun.