The Huntley baseball team is aiming for a big season with three Division-I hitters in the lineup, but the underlying question is whether the Red Raiders can adequately replace the five pitchers responsible for all 21 victories in 2012.
Massive graduation losses to a pitching staff rarely correlate to success the following year. Unless you're Huntley, which bucked conventional wisdom in 2010 by excelling in that very situation.
The Red Raiders were coming off, arguably, the best season in school history in 2009, when they set a school record with 30 wins and secured the program's first regional title since 1987. But when the '09 team bowed out in a sectional final against Cary-Grove, so did the senior pitchers responsible for 28 of those 30 victories.
Time to rebuild, right?
Reload was more like it.
Coach Andy Jakubowski's team responded in 2010 by sharing the FVC Valley title with Cary-Grove, the team they later defeated in a sectional final to gain a measure of revenge for that 2009 playoff ouster. Huntley went on to defeat Wheaton North in a supersectional and finished fourth in its first trip to the state finals.
So did Huntley simply catch lightning in a bottle in 2010 with the success of previously unproven pitchers like Jeremy Ahillen (9-1, 2.70 ERA), Chris Klein (6-4, 2.01), Jake Staab (5-1, 2.68), Justin Gundlach (4-0) and Matt Morin (3-3)?
Or are Jakubowski and pitching coach Matt Sassi poised to pull the same trick three years hence by instructing unheralded hurlers like Josh Perkins, Jake Wagner and Tommy Regan to pitch to contact?
"I really honestly believe that our pitching is going to be better than what it's been portrayed to be," Jakubowski said. "We've got some quality arms and we're going to be all right there. I'm very pleased with the way our pitching is going. I have a good feeling about this team. I like the makeup. We have the potential to go far."
The 2013 Red Raiders resemble the 2010 team in another important regard: they can hit. The 2010 team entered the state finals batting .340. This year's squad features two holdovers from that lineup: Louisville recruit Colin Lyman and Nebraska-bound Bryce Only, both of whom started in 2010 as freshmen.
Lyman, a fleet-footed, left-handed batter, leads all returning hitters in the Fox Valley area with a .431 average. Only possesses as much power as any hitter in the area. Last year he smacked 9 doubles, 3 home runs and drove in 20.
They are joined in the lineup once again by junior Mark Skonieczny, who verbally committed to Illinois this winter. He batted .340 as a sophomore.
One might think having three highly regarded hitters in the lineup would assure a team of success, but that is not the case in the Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference, where parity reigns at an elite level.
Some area coaches say Jacobs, with 15 returning players returning from a 19-win team that lost in a regional title game, is the team to beat. The Golden Eagles are the Ying to Huntley's Yang: they return a deep, experienced pitching staff, led by Evan Blunk (6-3, 1.44 ERA) and Nick Ledinsky (3-3, 1.67), but they need a hitter or two to emerge.
Others like the chances of defending FVC Valley co-champion CL South, which set a school record for wins last year (28). The Gators return pitcher Tyler Hall (8-1) and all-area hitters Jake Bigos (. 403) and Max Meitzler (. 364, 6 HR).
Co-champion Prairie Ridge? All the Wolves return is Missouri-bound phenom Jordan Getzelman to go with freshman pitcher Ethan Routzahn, who is rated highly in his age group on the national level.
Cary-Grove coach Don Sutherland welcomes his Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 6 hitters back from a team that won 22 games. He says Cary-Grove's unproven pitching staff could be the surprise of the FVC. Don has been doing this for 26 years, so we should listen.
McHenry is only two years removed from an outright FVC Valley championship, and Dundee-Crown is under the new management of Jon Anderson. You want to talk tradition? The Chargers have won more FVC baseball titles than any other program (9).
Like every player on every team this time of year, Lyman and the Red Raiders are hopeful it will be their year.
"I have confidence that we'll win the conference, which is one of our goals as a team," Lyman said. "But I think Jacobs will give us a run for our money and there are some other great teams. It won't be an easy ride."
Then again, it never is in the FVC Valley.
"Things have to line up right for you to win the conference or the regional. That's just the way it is around here," CL South coach Brian Bogda said. "But that's what makes it fun."