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Baseball: Scouting the Fox Valley

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  • St. Charles North's Erik Nelson slides safely into home before Larkin catcher Niko Morado can tag him out during a game last season.

       St. Charles North's Erik Nelson slides safely into home before Larkin catcher Niko Morado can tag him out during a game last season.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Hampshire shortstop Michael Laramie grabs a ground ball last season against Burlington Central.

       Hampshire shortstop Michael Laramie grabs a ground ball last season against Burlington Central.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

Bartlett Hawks

Coach: Chris Pemberton (fourth year)

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2012 record: 19-20 overall, 12-13 Upstate Eight Valley (T-fifth)

Top returning players: Justin Blanchett (Sr., P/OF), Ben Havel (Sr., 1B/P), Ryan Karrick (Sr., SS), Tim McKeague (Sr., P), Colin Nowak (Sr., P/OF), Mike Roberson (Sr., C)

Top newcomers: Jake Barrutia (Jr., OF/1B), Doug VanDyke (Jr., P/1B), Mike Wick (Jr., OF)

Season outlook: Some key figures return from the squad that upset top seed Geneva and went on to win Bartlett's second regional title, its first in 10 years. Returning to the mound is Colin Nowak. Committed to play next year at Hartland C.C. in Normal, he went 7-2 last year with a 2.26 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 25 walks in 68 innings. The right-hander won 2 playoff games, including a complete-game victory over Lake Park to win the regional championship. "Colin came into last season physically stronger and faster," Bartlett coach Chris Pemberton said. "I hope he takes that forward this year to be our true No. 1." Nowak also hit .313 with 6 doubles, 5 home runs and 24 RBI in his second varsity season. Basketball player Justin Blanchett is expected to thrive as a senior pitcher for the Hawks after finishing 2-5 with a 4.30 ERA in 27 innings a year ago. Blanchett and Nowak will each see time in right field when not on the mound. Another promising junior hurler is Doug VanDyke, a right-hander with a tireless off-season work ethic, according to his coach. Senior Tim McKeague could develop into the team's closer. The pitching staff will benefit from the defensive skills of Ball State catching recruit Mike Roberson, who took over the position full time midway through last season. He can stop opposing running games cold with his strong arm. Returning first baseman Ben Havel (.292) presents a 6-foot-7 target for his infielders. Bartlett hit .272 as a team last season. This team aims to improve upon its 4.1 runs-per game average by reaching base and navigating them well. "With the new bats you have to make contact and have good baserunning," Pemberton said. "The guys learned that last year. We were a .500 team but in the playoffs we made contact when we had to and played well defensively. I think if we focus on the fundamentals, we can be a more balanced team up and down the order."

Burlington Central Rockets

Coach: Kyle Nelson (eighth year)

2012 record: 28-11 overall, 9-1 Big Northern East (first)

Top returning players: Blake Alexander (Sr., IF), Alex Bell (Sr., P/OF), Bryan Cynova (Sr., UTL), Reed Hunnicutt (Jr., OF), Josh Lung (Sr., 3B/OF/P), Ryan Schuring (Sr., P/OF), Michael Scott (Sr., P/3B/1BS)

Top newcomers:Danny Gerke (Jr., 3B/1B/P), Cody Schuver (Jr., 3B/C), Drew Wiss (So, IF/C)

Season outlook:Burlington Central has maintained a high level of play the past four seasons, winning at least 23 games each year and forging a 108-29 overall record. This edition should also be competitive, particularly in the Big Northern East, but the program graduated much of the talent responsible for last year's sectional title, the first in school history. "Offensively, we'll still take good at-bats and we'll still score runs," coach Kyle Nelson said, "and we'll be real solid defensively. It's really going to depend on what our pitching does. Our main question marks are on the mound because we're not returning many innings." The rotation will be headed by seniors Michael Scott, Alex Bell and Ryan Schuring and junior Danny Gerke. Scott finished with the eighth-lowest ERA in the area last season (1.52) in 50.2 innings and struck out three times as many hitters (47) as he walked (15). The leading returning hitter is Blake Alexander (.304, 7 doubles, 3 HR). He spent the off-season improving on his ability to hit to all fields, not to mention gaining strength, his coach said. Alexander will start at shortstop. Bryan Cynova assumes the role of primary catcher after hitting .300 with 6 doubles in 70 at-bats. Josh Lung gained at-bats last year as a designated hitter and will see time in the outfield. Sophomore Drew Wiss will play second base this season and could be the program's future shortstop. The Rockets head to southern Illinois for their annual spring break trip next week, though they've only practiced outdoors minimally due to the cold, wet conditions. "We've developed some good pitches during our extended indoor whiffle ball season," Nelson said in his best deadpan. "Hopefully, a bit of it translates from whiffle ball to regular baseball."

Cary-Grove Trojans

Coach:Don Sutherland (26th year)

2012 record: 22-15 overall, 13-6 Fox Valley Valley (third)

Top returning players: Andrew Brierton (Sr., P/C/1B), Ryan Dundon (Sr., IF), Matt Ewert (Sr., C), Dean Lee (Sr., P/1B), Zach Marszal (Sr., P/OF), Brandon McCumber (P/OF), Ryan Serowka (Sr., P/IF), Ryan Slaughter (Sr., OF/1B), Jeremy Vasquez (IF), Daniel Vilardo (P/OF)

Top newcomers: Dean Chrstakes (P/IF/OF), Andrew Splitt (P/1B)

Season outlook: The Trojans hope to return to sectional play for the third time in four years, armed with four returning hitters and a mostly unproven pitching staff coach Don Sutherland nevertheless calls "deep and talented." Leading the rotation are seniors Zach Marszal and Andrew Brierton, the team's Nos .3 and 4 starters last season. Marszal, an all-area defensive back for Cary-Grove's state-runner up football team, went 6-2 with a 2.32 ERA last spring, striking out 33 and walking 14 in 48 innings. He batted .356 with 7 doubles and 15 RBI. Other pitchers expected to gain starting opportunities are seniors Daniel Vilardo, Dean Lee and Brandon McCumber, none of whom pitched much last year due to injuries or the logjam behind graduated innings-eaters Matt Dunlap and Ryan Kaveney. A three-year varsity member, Vilardo hit .381 last season with 6 doubles, 3 homers and a team-best 21 RBI. His fastball has natural movement, Vilardo's coach says. Additionally, the team gains promising pitchers in juniors Dean Christakes and Andrew Splitt. "No one can probably even name our pitchers but that's the strength of this team," Sutherland said. Brierton hit .271 with 9 doubles and 17 RBI. Infielder Jeremy Vasquez returns (.260, 4 doubles, 21 RBI, 21 R). "I don't think I've ever had that many guys coming back in key spots in the order," said Sutherland, who begins his 26th season as Cary-Grove coach. "We've got our No. 2 hitter back (Vazquez), No. 3 (Marszal), No. 4 (Vilardo) and our No. 6 (Brierton). Put that with our pitching depth and I think we have a chance to be real good."

Crystal Lake South Gators

Coach: Brian Bogda (sixth year)

2012 record: 28-10 overall, 16-3 Fox Valley Valley (T-first)

Top returning players: Jake Bigos (Sr., OF), Tommy Gaede (Sr., 3B), Tyler Hall (Sr., P/IF), Josh Fruhauf (Sr., P), Max Meitzler (Sr., 1B/P), Tyler Parquette (Sr., P), Eric Schiller (Sr., P)

Top newcomers: Garrett Bright (So., SS), Michael Danca (Jr., 3B/P), Casey Oliver (Jr., C), Luke Schmidt (Sr., IF)

Season outlook: With all-area hitters Jake Bigos and Max Meitzler back in the lineup, 8-game winner Tyler Hall returning to the mound and a talented assemblage of juniors and sophomores joining the mix, the Gators are in the running to repeat as FVC champs for the first time since 1995-1996. A fleet-footed outfielder, Bigos (St. Joseph's, Ind.) hit .403 last season, stole 14 bases and scored 37 runs. He moves from leadoff to the No. 3 spot, just ahead of Meitzler (Clarke University), who hit .364 with 6 home runs, 14 doubles and 39 RBI. Bigos' left-handed bat breaks up Meitzler and No. 2 hitter Tom Gaede (Purdue-Calumet), a right-handed hitter who saw significant playing time at third base last season. Hall, committed to Tusculum (Tenn.) isn't big at 5-foot-11, 150 pounds; he just pitches big. He is CL South's leading returning pitcher after finishing 8-1 with a 1.89 ERA and 51 strikeouts as a junior. Backing Hall are three promising pitchers who excelled in nonconference and junior varsity situations, including Josh Fruhauf (Iowa Wesleyan), Tyler Parquette (Judson) and Eric Schiller (McHenry CC). They will be joined by Ryan Wilkening, who went 9-1 on the sophomore level last year as a freshman. Sophomore Garrett Bright takes over at shortstop and could potentially lead off. Strong-armed junior catcher Casey Oliver will keep baserunners guessing. "I like this team," coach Brian Bogda said. "We did some nice things in the summer and we're itching to go out and see where we're at, what we need to work on. I know our side of the conference is going to be tough."

Dundee-Crown Chargers

Coach: Jon Anderson (first year)

2012 record: 9-21-1 overall, 5-14-1 Fox Valley Valley (seventh)

Top returning players: Kyle DeAtley (Sr., OF/P), Luis Garcia (IF/P), Zach Girard (Jr., IF/C), Dylan Kissack (Sr., C), Nick Lodi (Sr., P/1B), Marek Myslo (P/OF), Garrett Ryan (Sr., IF/P), Ryan Suwanski (OF/P)

Top newcomers: Alex Barker (Jr., OF/P), Chase Bloch (Jr., OF/P), Vince Damato (Jr., 1B/P), Ian Gard (Jr., IF), Brian Gabrielson (Jr., OF), Fabian Gutierrez (Jr., OF/P), Trent Hanselmann (Jr., 1B), Tyler Lewan (Jr., IF/P), Ahren Ludwig (IF/P), Jack McDonald (IF), Nick Munson (Jr., IF/P), Trent Muscat (Sr., IF), Mark Waldron (Jr., IF), Joe Welzein (Jr., C/OF)

Season outlook: The Dundee-Crown program flourished for 18 seasons under former coach Fred Bencriscutto, whose teams won 6 conference championships, 4 regional titles and qualified for the state finals twice between 1991-2006. Jon Anderson, who becomes the program's third coach since Bencriscutto's retirement, aims to restore the program to its lofty perch. Set positions coming into camp? Forget it. Not even experienced veterans are guaranteed starting roles. Everyone must earn his playing time in the D-C program this season. "You have to win your position and by doing that it raises the expectation level and the level of competition between players in practice," Anderson said. "All jobs are open for guys who put forth the effort and go out and win the positions by competing for them. Those are the guys who are going to play. Some decisions are tough, but it's for the good of the program so we can put a winning product on the field." Some hitters do have a history, like junior Zach Girard (.353), who heads a list of returnees that includes Ryan Suwanski (.333, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 2 HR), Garrett Ryan (.273, 15 runs) and Dylan Kissack (.270, 6 doubles, 14 RBI). Pitching is the question. The Chargers' most experienced starting pitcher is Nick Lodi (2.5, 4.57 ERA).

Elgin Maroons

Coach: David Foerster (seventh year)

2012 record: 14-23 overall, 6-19 Upstate Eight River (T-sixth)

Top returning players: Alex Buttell (Sr., OF/SS/3B), Ethan Henke (Sr., 3B/1B/C), Brandon Higdon (Sr., C), Kiko Mari (Sr., P/OF), Ryan Sitter (Sr., P/SS/2B), Nick Turner (Sr., 1B/P), Omar Valadez (Jr., 2B/SS/P), Jon Zima (Sr., P)

Top newcomers: Dean Anderson (So., OF/3B/P), Tanner Bednar (Sr., OF/2B), Matt Karinski (Jr., OF), Devin McDonald (Jr., OF), Isaac Narayan (Jr., OF), Jimmy Stearns (Jr., OF)

Season outlook: A team that lost to South Elgin in extra innings of a regional championship game last season could be on the cusp of playing competitive baseball on a more consistent basis. The arrow seems pointed in that direction with the return of pitchers Kiko Mari and Ryan Sitter. Mari turned in Elgin's second-best ERA last season (2.90). He struck out 21 and walked 5 in 29 innings. Sitter held his own for a sophomore, posting a 5.01 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 25 walks in 51 innings. Joining them in the rotation are seniors Jon Zima and Nick Turner. Juniors Omar Valadez, Jhon Payne and sophomore Dean Anderson will work in relief. The Maroons must improve at the plate. They hit .240 as a team last spring. The team has versatile middle infielders like Omar Valadez and Alex Buttell. Both can fill in defensively in spots vacated by that day's pitcher, like when Sitter pitches instead of playing shortstop. "We'll have to move guys around defensively depending on who is pitching, but I think our defense will be pretty solid," Maroons coach David Foerster said. "Offensively, we should be more productive throughout the lineup. We have more power this year. I don't know if that will translate to home runs, but it's a good group of hitters and we should hit more gaps."

Elgin Academy Hilltoppers

Coach: Steven Shapiro (first season)

Top players: Max Swienton (Jr., P/IF), Zach Bohenick (Sr., IF/OF), Gannon Cottone (So., C/P), Kenny Woltz (So., IF), Kevin Realzola (Jr., P/OF), Nate Johnson (Fr., CF/SS), Karl Rauschenberger (Fr., SS/2B), Jonathan Shen (Fr., 3B/C/P), Jeffrey Tang (Sr., LF/3B/P)

Season outlook: Elgin Academy is reviving its baseball program, which was discontinued after the 2006 season due to lack of participation. New coach Steven Shapiro said fans can expect a dangerous combination of power and speed from the Hilltoppers. Despite a seven-year absence, Elgin Academy baseball expects to be competitive in the Independent School League sooner than later. "We look forward to starting up friendly rivalries as it will help with building the program for years to come," Shapiro said. "So I don't feel like this team has anything to worry about when it comes to our conference. In fact, I confidently believe it's the other teams in our conference that should be worried about us."

Hampshire Whip-Purs

Coach:John Sarna (second year)

2012 record: 12-17 overall, 4-12-1 Fox Valley Fox (fifth)

Top returning players: Tyler Crater (Sr., C/P), Michael Laramie (Sr., SS), Brandon Wescher (Sr., 3B/C/P)

Top newcomers:Andrew Brown (Jr., P), RJ Consigny (Jr., 3B), Colin Gogoel (Jr., UTL), Michael Merchut (Jr., IF)

Season Outlook: Hampshire coach John Sarna believes his team possesses the necessary ingredients for improvement. "We have a good balance of seniors with experience and some fresh kids who have a real passion for the game," Sarna said. "I think we can take a step forward and be more competitive in the Fox Valley Conference." Senior Tyler Crater will play an important role. Hampshire's full-time catcher last season will doff the tools of ignorance once a week to pitch, his coach said. Crater leads a staff that includes Brandon Wescher (3-2, 3.27 ERA, 27 K, 15 BB, 25 IP), left-hander Danny Keller (1-4, 3.99 ERA, 23 K, 22 BB, 40 IP), senior Michael Dumoulin and junior Andrew Brown. That group hopes to lower the Whip-Purs' 3.67 team ERA of a year ago. Offense was the larger issue last season. The Whips posted a .252 team batting average. Hampshire will rely heavily on senior shortstop Mike Laramie in the cleanup spot. Wescher, in top shape, will hit in the middle of the order, Sarna said. RJ Consigny is a left-handed hitting third baseman who can hit to all fields, and infielder Michael Merchut approaches the game with a bulldog mentality. "This season depends on a cohesive group of baseball players willing to throw strikes and play solid defense," Sarna said. "We have balance up and down the lineup; depth will be a problem for us."

Huntley Red Raiders

Coach: Andy Jakubowski (eighth year at Huntley, 13th overall)

2012 record: 21-15 overall, 11-8 Fox Valley Valley (fifth)

Top returning players: Tyler Albright (Sr., 2B/3B), Colin Green (Sr., P/OF), Colin Lyman (Sr., P/OF), Tyler Mindak (Sr., C), Bryce Only (Sr., P/SS/3B), Josh Perkins (Sr., P/3B), Tommy Regan (Sr., P/1B/OF), Kameron Sallee (Sr., 1B), Mark Skonieczny (Jr., P/C/OF), Matt Sullivan (Jr., SS), Jake Wagner (Sr., P/OF)

Top newcomers: Troy Cantu (Jr., 2B/OF), Nick Constantino (Jr., P/3B), Nick Cusumano (Sr., OF), Dillon Dell'Aquila (Jr., OF), Anthony Dodge (Jr., P/1B), Brendan Fitzgerald (Jr. P/OF), Andy Kalas (Sr., C), Adam Kalish (Jr., P/1B/0F), Tommy Kiriakopolus (Jr., P/1B), Eric Luecht (Jr., P/SS), Mason Martin (Jr., P/C), Jon Nugent (Jr., P/C/3B), Connor Reid (Jr., P/Utl), Kyle Sabie (Jr., P/1B/OF), Trevor Symbal (P/OF)

Season outlook: A team that hit .295 and scored 189 runs (5.3 avg.) should improve on those numbers, armed with the potent bats of seniors Colin Lyman (Louisville) and Bryce Only (Nebraska) and junior Mark Skonieczny (Illinois). But to compete for titles in the deep FVC Valley and the postseason, Huntley must replace five graduated pitchers who accounted for all 21 victories last season, not to mention 226 innings pitched and 238 strikeouts. Last summer it was all hands on deck as coach Andy Jakubowski tried virtually every live arm in the program to give players some pitching experience. 'The weather backing everyone up like this could work out in our favor," Jakubowski said. "We may not have a 'No. 1,' but we can go nine, 10, 11 pitchers deep and they'll all do what we ask of them, which is pitch to contact. And we have guys who can pick it up behind them." Leading candidates for the front of the rotation include seniors Josh Perkins (Benedictine University), Tommy Regan, Jake Wagner and Only along with juniors Eric Luecht, Nick Constantino and Kyle Sabie. Virtually anyone could see an inning or two, Jakubowski said, even Lyman and Sknoieczny. Huntley's experienced hitters should provide some cushion for the inexperienced pitching staff. Lyman (.431) is the area's leading returning hitter. The left-hander used his speed to beat out groundballs to first base, but he also slugs, evidenced last season by 13 doubles, 4 triples, 2 home runs and 17 RBI from the leadoff spot. Skonieczny hit .340 with 6 doubles, 2 homers and 23 RBI. Only rallied late last season to finish with 9 doubles, 3 homers and 20 RBI and is poised for a big senior season. Other key returnees include second baseman Tyler Albright (Oakton CC), catcher Tyler Mindak (McHenry CC). shortstop Matt Sullivan and first baseman Kam Salee (.269, 7 RBI), the school's all-area quarterback.

Jacobs Golden Eagles

Coach:Jamie Murray (second year)

2012 record: 19-16 overall, 12-7 Fox Valley Valley (fourth)

Top returning players: Jon Berndt (Sr., P/UTL), Evan Blunk (Sr., P/3B/OF), Connor Conzelman (Sr., P/LF), Matt Hickey (Sr., UTL), Nick Ledinsky (Sr., P/OF), Tim Mahoney (Sr., DH/1B), Aaron Meciej (Sr., C/P), Joe Rizzuto (Sr. OF/UTL), Greg Sidor (Sr., C/IF), Aaron Traub (Sr., P/2B/CF)

Top newcomers: Tim Hubner (Sr., P/3B/OF), Grant Kale (Jr., 2B/OF), Ben Murray (Jr., 1B), Reilly Peltier (Jr., P/OF)

Season outlook: Second-year coach Jamie Murray is cautiously optimistic with 15 seniors returning from a team that won 19 games and pushed league champion CL South to the brink in a tense regional championship game last spring. The Golden Eagles followed up on their spring success by reaching the Elite Eight of the Phil Lawler Summer Classic, where they defeated CL South in the consolation bracket. It all starts with the pitching staff, led by seniors Evan Blunk (6-3, 1.44 ERA, 65 K, 15 BB, 58 IP) and Nick Ledinsky (3-3, 1.67 ERA, 39 K, 7 BB, 42 IP). Murray said he will use more pitchers this season to supplement Blunk and Ledinsky, who he said wore down late last season. Two such arms belong to juniors Reilly Peltier and Tim Hubner, the likely Nos. 3 and 4 starters. Jacobs has the luxury of two quality catchers in seniors Greg Sidor (.252, 4 doubles, 12 RBI), who caught 80 percent of the games as a junior, and Aaron Meciej, who was named to the Phil Lawler all-tournament team. Sidor will also see time at shortstop alongside Matt Hickey, the projected starter at that position through tryouts. Jacobs' biggest returning bat belongs to left fielder Connor Conzelman (.277, 7 doubles, 4 home runs, 25 RBI), a strong athlete committed to play football at Valparaiso. Joe Rizzuto returns in right field, Aaron Traub and Jordan Siegel are competing for time in center field, Tim Mahoney returns at first base and Jon Berndt is experienced at third. "We lost eight 1-run games last year," Murray pointed out. "I think one of the biggest things this year is the growth with our hitting." Reinforcements arrive in the form of junior Grant Kale and Ben Murray. Kale will hit high in the lineup; Ben Murray batted over .400 in summer ball and has a chance to be "a special player," according to his coach.

Larkin Royals

Coach: Matt Esterino (fifth year)

2012 record: 11-23 overall, 8-17 Upstate Eight River (fifth)

Top returning players: Dylan Ganow (Sr., P/IF/OF), Chris Guzeman (Sr., IF), Tyler Kalusa (Sr., CF), Niko Morado (Sr., C), Brayden Royse (Jr., P/1B/OF)

Top newcomers: Jeff Garcia (Sr., 1B), Jon Jowaski (Jr., C/P/OF), Jack McCracken (Jr., P/3B)

Season outlook: Coach Matt Esterino hopes to meld the best baseball players from the school's senior, junior and sophomore classes into a competitive unit playing its best baseball in late May. The unquestioned leader is fourth-year varsity catcher Niko Morado, a defensive stalwart who last season hit .240 with 4 doubles, 2 home runs and 17 RBI. "He's our leader, our heart," Esterino said. "He runs the show back there." Morado caught the majority of innings in 2012, but he will be spelled occasionally this season by a pair of developing reserves. Morado will handle a pitching staff led by junior Brayden Royse, a starting forward on Larkin's regional championship basketball team. Royse finished last season 3-6 with a respectable 2.70 ERA, striking out 27 and walking 16 in 44 innings. Dylan Ganow is another returning pitcher (1-3, 4.00 ERA, 28 IP). He also provided power at the plate with 5 doubles and 2 homers. Co-captain Chris Guzeman was expected to be part of the rotation until he reaggravated a labrum injury. A contact hitter with some power, Guzeman should still be able to contribute at the plate and on the bases. He may be able to play second base depending on the severity of the recent injury, which is yet to be determined. Junior Jack McCracken and sophomore Will King are expected to join the rotation immediately. Speedy center fielder Tyler Kalusa got his feet wet at the varsity level last season and is expected to be a solid contributor offensively and defensively. Jeff Garcia always had potential but couldn't stay healthy. Now he's ready for a productive senior season at first base. "If we can keep him healthy, he's a good athlete with a good bat," Esterino said. Burlington Central transfer Cris Ortiz can gives the Royals depth in the middle infield. Sophomores Jon and Dan Lenz are both fighting for playing time and could play significant roles. The Royals must improve on their 2012 team batting average of .224, last in the area. "We're looking to be competitive in every game," Esterino said. "We'll make the routine plays defensively and, though our pitching is not extremely deep, we can throw it pretty well. But we have to hit, which we did not do last year. We struck out too many times (211). If we can hit better, we could jump up and take some games in our conference, maybe take a regional and go from there."

St. Edward Green Wave

Coach: Tim Dovichi (second year)

2012 record: (19-17 overall, Suburban Christian Gold (third)

Top returning players: Michael Castoro (Jr., IF), Antonio Domel (Sr., IF), Jacob Koehring (Sr., OF/P), Tighe Koehring (Jr., C), Jake LaFrenz (So), Sean McShane (), Tyler Morawski (Sr., IF), Ryan Nudd (Jr., IF), Tyler Tamaka (Sr., OF/C), Jack Tierney (So., OF/P)

Top newcomers: Nick Boulay (Jr., IF/P), Matt Colasuono (Jr., OF), Josh Meyer (Jr., IF/P), Thomas Tripicchio (Jr., OF), Zach West (Jr., IF/P)

Season outlook:Experienced, talented and motivated, St. Edward is poised to vie for conference and regional titles. Six full-time starters and the top three pitchers return from a team that won 19 games and reached a Class 2A regional final. "We're going to compete," second-year coach Tim Dovichi said. "We have the pitching, we return our defense up the middle and our 1-5 hitters should be very productive. No coach could ask for more." Dovichi loaded the schedule with tough games against bigger schools to sharpen his team's competitive edge, but several contests have already been canceled due to the extended cold spell. Green Wave opponents must deal with the coldblooded pitching of senior Jacob Koehring (7-3, 1.25 ERA, 62 K, 20 BB, 67 IP), an all-area pick, and sophomore Jake LaFrenz (6-3, 1.86 ERA, 52 K, 22 BB, 56 IP). No. 3 starter Jack Tierney (2-4, 4.81 ERA, 36 K) returns and junior Nick Boulay joins the rotation. They'll throw to all-area catcher Tighe Koehring, who led the Wave last season with a .396 batting average and led the Fox Valley area with 18 doubles. He drove in 30 runs. His brother, Jacob, played center field when not pitching and batted .389 with 11 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers and 25 RBI. Rejoining them in the starting lineup are second baseman Michael Castoro (.342, 6 doubles), Tierney (.278), shortstop Antonio Domel, third baseman Ryan Nudd and outfielder Tyler Tamaka. "Last year I thought we could have taken the regional championship, so I definitely think our next step is to be playing in the sectional," Dovichi said. "We left over 100 runners in scoring position last year, but we should put up a lot of runs this year."

South Elgin Storm

Coach: Jim Kating (seventh year)

2012 record: 21-13 overall, 14-11 in Upstate Eight Valley (second)

Top returning players: Nick Binder (Sr., SS/2B), Nate Brummel (Jr., C/P), Joe Crivolio (Sr., IF/P), David Goins (Sr., IF/OF), Jake Hicks (Sr., IF/P), David Palmer (IF/P), Alex Wolfe (Sr., P/IF)

Top newcomers: Tyler Brown (Jr., IF/OF/P), Justin Brylski (Jr., OF), Riley Halter (Sr., INF/C), Justin Markel (Sr., C/OF), Ryan Nuthof (IF/OF/P),

Season outlook:Sufficient talent returns from last year's sectional finalist to make the Storm a viable threat to win a third regional title in four years. Leading the way are starting pitchers David Palmer (6-3, 3.48 ERA, 47 K, 21 BB, 52 IP) and Alex Wolfe (4-3, 3.03 ERA, 34 K, 11 BB, 30 IP), intense competitors on the mound. They'll be backed by veteran Joe Crivolio and juniors Ryan Nuthof and Tyler Brown, among others. "The strength of our team is pitching," South Elgin coach Jim Kating said. "Our defense is solid up the middle. If we can manufacture runs and be aggressive on the basepaths, we can win some low-scoring games." Palmer also led the Storm in hitting (.385) with 10 doubles and 14 RBI. Versatile David Goins plays multiple infield and outfield positions. He hit .295 with 2 doubles and a triple as a junior. Nick Binder will again be counted on for middle infield defense. Nate Brummel gained valuable varsity experience behind the plate as a sophomore. The team gains talent in outfielder Justin Brylski, infielder Riley Halter and senior Justin Markel, who has recovered from knee reconstruction, according to Kating. "We have some positions we have to fill, so we'll be relying on some juniors who are getting opportunities. We're looking for leaders who have aspirations of meeting or exceeding what the program did the year before. How we meet those goals is the challenge, but I think the program is going in a great direction."

Streamwood Sabres

Coach: Ryan Lasota (first year)

2012 record: 10-25 overall, 6-19 in Upstate Eight River (T-sixth)

Top returning players: Jeremy Campbell (Sr., P), Matt Harding (Sr., P/OF), Michael Smith (Sr., IF), Jeff Weaver (Sr., OF),

Top newcomers: Chad Caminitti (Jr., IF/P), Eric Hamlin (Jr., IF/P), Jordan McFeggan (Sr., OF/P), Kevin Sojda (Sr., OF/P),

Season outlook: Teams will have to earn their runs against Streamwood because the Sabres are not likely to give opponents any freebies. "The strength of this team is definitely defense," first-year varsity coach Ryan LaSota said. "The infield is getting better every day and we have four guys that can play shortstop, third base and second base. We are also deep in the outfield with several guys that can cover a lot of ground and have strong arms." One such outfielder is Jeff Weaver, an honorable mention all-conference pick who won the team Gold Glove award last season. He batted .351 in summer-league play. Michael Smith moves from the outfield to the infield this season. The rotation consists of seniors Jeremy Campbell, Matt Harding and Kevin Sojda. Campbell and Harding gained some experience last season and pitched well over the summer, as did Sojda, LaSota said. Junior infielder Chad Caminitti was one of the best pitchers on the sophomore team last year. He will also play in the middle infield. Harding hit .343 in summer ball when he wasn't pitching. The Sabres sorely need such production at the plate. They batted .254 as a team in 2012, a statistic that must improve if they are to better the 10-win season of 2012. "Goals for this season would be to win at least 15 games and compete for a regional," LaSota said. "If we can improve our hitting and score some runs, we should be able to achieve these goals."

Westminster Christian Warriors

Coach: Tim Dunderdale (first year)

2012 record: 18-12 overall, 11-1 in Northeast Athletic (first)

Top returning players: Clay DeHaan (P), Johnny Wawro (1B/P), Luke Weston (IF), Will Woodhouse (CF), Chase Woods (IF)

Top newcomers: Nick Demaira (Fr., IF), Jake Lloyd (Fr., IF) Ian Murlak (Fr., OF/IF), Justin Rasmussen (Fr, IF),

Season outlook: A new era of Westminster Christian baseball begins under new coach Tim Dunderdale. These Warriors fall into the rebuilding category with a 16-man roster comprised of two seniors, two juniors, eight sophomores and four freshmen. Though this team does not possess an elite front-line pitcher ala 2012 graduate Ryan Perez, a state champion ace who dazzled hitters for four years, Dunderdale believes the rotation holds promise. "I feel very comfortable in my pitching staff at this point," said the first-year coach, whose pitching coach is former Westminster great Ben Palmer. "No one is throwing 91-92 mph, but we have a number of guys who can locate the ball. If they do that consistently, we can have a pretty successful season. The rotation will likely include Clay DeHaan, John Wawro and Luke Weston. Freshman Ian Murlak "has worked himself to a position where we have to take a look at him," said Dunderdale, who believes a .500 record or close to it would be a successful season for the Warriors based on the inexperienced roster. "If everyone stays healthy and strong and we stay focused and disciplined, maybe sub-.500 or right around it," he said. "With 16 players, staying healthy is a main part of the battle. But we're blessed to have four coaches for 16 players. My honest hope and prayer is that these kids are getting concentrated instruction they will be able to apply down the road."

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