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Baseball: Scouting Northwest

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By Ryan O’Gara
Daily Herald Correspondent

MID-SUBURBAN EAST

Buffalo Grove

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Coach: Jeff Grybash (5th season, 62-70)

Last year: 15-22, 8-8 (4th MSL East)

Key losses: Jeremy Berger (all-area), Richie Zirngibl (all-area), Jimmy Pinakidis (Upper Iowa), Jake Monson (Aurora), Jake Fanella, Zach Anzelmo

Returnees: Seniors Mike DiViesti (C), Jon Niemann (P), Adam Kowalski (P), Brian Kleczynski (OF-P), Ryan Schumi (OF), Billy Chandler (INF), Nick Carpinelli (OF-P), Paul Burke (OF-P), Matt Blankshain (INF-P), Josh Guertler (INF), Ken Bartelt (P)

Newcomers: Senior Luke Potnick (INF-P); juniors Jeremy Firszt (INF-P-C), Sean Edgar (INF-OF), Brendon Murphy (OF-P), Andrew Barger (P), Andrew Cole (INF), Steve Donnewald (P), Dan Ingram (C), Alex Kurgan (OF), Brendon Murphy (OF-P), Eric Van Waser (P); sophomores Justin Hasek (OF-P), Dan Levato (INF-P-C), Anthony Coduti (P-OF), Nate D'Onofrio (INF-P)

Outlook: At this point, a lot of roles for the Bison are undefined, and that's the exciting part to Grybash. But it also makes things a little unpredictable. "Our lineup is probably going to change dramatically from the first game to the tenth game because we have so many guys who are in the mix that we think can play," Grybash said. "We don't know how it's going to play out." Niemann, Kleczynski and Kowalski will log their share of innings while Potnick is out for the team for the first time and should get some starts along with Hasek. The Butler-bound DiViesti has the ability to lead on both defense from behind the plate and on offense in the middle of the order. Chandler will play shortstop and also be counted on to drive in runs, along with Guertler and Carpinelli. Grybash is also hopeful for big seasons from Firszt, Edgar and Schumi, who swiped 24 bases last season. "I've been really proud of the dedication of the kids and how much they've bought in and pushed themselves past their normal comfort zone," Grybash said.

Elk Grove

Coach: Terry Beyna (14th season, 214-229)

Last year: 19-17, 7-9 (5th MSL East)

Key losses: Jack Czeszewski (three-time all-area, Illinois State), Cody Gustafson (all-area, Rockford), Peter Kinsella, Dan Guido (Oakton)

Returnees: Seniors Michael Anciulis (INF), Luc Dimaso (OF-P), Jake Andrews (P-OF), David Camacho (P), Patrick O'Malley (INF), Nick Zak (OF), Mike Woods (P-1B), Alex Tinkoff (P-C), Mikey Maize (OF), David Camacho (P); juniors Johnny Assimakopoulos (C-1B)

Newcomers: Juniors Adam O'Malley (P-INF), Josh Bergbreiter (INF), Peter Arbov (INF); sophomore Matt Wary (INF-OF)

Outlook: A challenging early nonconference schedule shouldn't faze the Grenadiers, who return one of their most experienced teams in years with seven starters back. Even more encouraging is that the Grenadiers already have seven players committed to playing college baseball next season. And that doesn't even include Anciulis, who was one of the area leaders in RBI last season. The key will be getting someone from a balanced pitching staff to step up and assume the role of top dog. The best candidates are Woods and Camacho, while Andrews and Tinkoff will also be in the rotation. "We don't really have that guy who is proven that he's your 'we're going to win today' type of guy," Beyna said. "We have guys who can potentially be that. Someone is going to need to go to the next level and be the top of the rotation guy." The speedy Dimaso is back to lead off and set the table with Bergbreiter at the top of the order. Anciulis, Zak, Maize and Assimakopoulos should provide the pop in the middle of the order. "Everything is there for us to be successful," Beyna said. "It's just a matter of going out and giving ourselves a chance to win."

Hersey

Coach: Bob Huber (19th season, 369-265)

Last year: 25-11, 11-5 (1st MSL East)

Key losses: Mike Danielak (all-area, Dartmouth), Trevor Haas (all-area, Valparaiso), James Ioratti (all-area, Harper), Tyler Perkowitz (all-area, Miami (OH)), Sean Reszotko (Elgin), Pat Nix (Blackhawk), Brad Moore (McHenry), Aaron DeGeorge (McHenry), Nick Nolan, Erik Stoltzner

Top returners: Seniors David Milligan (INF), Ryan Rodgers (OF), Austin Greaves (P), Niko Poulos (P-OF), Michael Sauer (P-INF), Brendan Starr (1B), Conner Steines (INF), Alex Sutrinaitis (P), B.J. Wingerter (INF), Mark Witzke (P-1B), Jake Yager (P-OF)

Newcomers: Juniors Joe Silva (OF), C.J. Reichel (C), Erik Lebahn (INF-P), Tommy Pearson (INF-P), Jack Warner (2B-SS), Karl Taillon (P-OF), Joey Koutnik (P-OF); sophomore Ryan Allain (P-OF)

Outlook: The Huskies lost nearly all of their key contributors from a squad that won the MSL last year, but that doesn't necessarily mean the cupboard is bare. "The expectations are a little different this year from the outside, but from within, the expectation is the same: to be successful, to do the best you can and still be knocking on the door," Huber said. Milligan is the only returning position player who saw extended action last season, but Huber says that this senior class is ready to step up. The Huskies have a deep and balanced pitching staff, with Sutrinaitis, Poulos, Sauer, Witzke and Greaves ready to supplement the loss of Danielak and Haas, among others. Rogers was the team's primary pinch hitter and is ready for regular at-bats at the top of the order along with Milligan, Starr and Silva. "You're in unchartered waters because you don't know how those guys will react," Huber said. "So if those guys can hold their own, I like the top of our lineup."

Prospect

Coach: Ross Giusti (17th season, 320-217)

Last year: 16-20, 10-6 (2nd MSL East)

Key losses: Jack Landwehr (all-area co-captain, Illinois State), Brad Gerdes (all-area), Nico Witanen (all-area), Shane Joyce, Eric Krohm

Returnees: Seniors A.J. Compton (OF-P), Kevin Kern (C), Zach Tuczak (C-OF-P), Welby Malczewski (P-INF), Patrick Hipple (OF-P), Zach Smith (P-1B), Alan Backes (P); juniors Jordan Fedro (P-INF), Tommy Flahaven (INF), Jackson Wrede (1B)

Newcomers: Senior Danny Mack (OF); juniors Tony Gattuso (INF), Nick Lazarz (INF-P), Grant Gerdes (INF), Zach Surico (INF), Max Driscoll (OF), Kevin Joyce (OF), Mike Smith (P-OF), John Loving (P), Nick Rodriguez (P), Jimmy Kennedy (P); sophomores Mike Piotrowski (OF), Patrick Donohue (INF-OF)

Outlook: The Knights won't be counting on the 3-run home run this season to win them ballgames like they may have in year's past. Instead, they'll be a scrappy bunch that hopes to win the close ballgames that they struggled at times with last season. "Our strengths will be team speed, defense and a pitching staff that pounds the strike zone," Giusti said. "If we have those three things working for us, I think we'll be in the mix." The 6-foot-6 lefty Malczewski is drawing lots of Division I interest and is an imposing figure on the mound. And there's plenty more that excites pitching coach Phil O'Grady with the likes of Fedro, who gained valuable experience as a sophomore, along with Zach Smith and Backes. Loving, Kennedy, Rodriguez, Tuczak and Hipple all will be in the mix for relief opportunities with the hard-throwing Compton at the back end. Compton should also spark the offense at the top of the order, with Flahaven, Malczewski, Wrede and Kern expected to hit in the middle of the order. Gerdes, the versatile Donohue, Joyce, Lazarz and Piotrowski will be candidates to fill out the lineup. "We have to find a way to use the strengths of this particular team and figure out where the pieces fit as we go," Giusti said. "It's the type of team that I could see making a huge improvement from the first ten games to regional play."

Rolling Meadows

Coach: Jim Lindeman (12th season, 191-165)

Last year: 18-16, 9-7 (3rd MSL East)

Key losses: Matt Hendricks (two-time all-area, Rollins), Eric Lowe (Villanova), Mike Olson, Tyler Gaedele

Returnees: Seniors Matt Dennis (INF-P), Mike Dolan (C), Mickey Wazorick (INF-P), John Burkiewicz (OF-P), Zach Schultz (INF-OF), Steven Royster (OF-P), Jack Milas (INF-P), Dan Hendricks (INF), Austin Reed (OF-P), Jacob Grant (INF-P)

Newcomers: Juniors Alex Niecikowski (INF-P), Eric Shurtz (1B-P), Bob Suchecki (C)

Outlook: A senior-dominated Mustangs squad should challenge for the East crown. The key, as with most teams, will be keeping their pitching staff healthy. And it all starts with the Bradley-bound Dennis. When you add Wazorick and Milas, who will play quarterback at Ball State next season, to the mix, Meadows has the makings of a solid staff. "They throw consistent strikes, they battle and should keep us in ballgames," Lindeman said. Reed and Shurtz will also log some innings on the mound. The Mustangs will be strong up the middle with Dolan behind the plate and Burkiewicz in center field and Lindeman is hopeful Wazorick can stick at shortstop. Lindeman lauded the way Dennis and Dolan have led by example in the offseason and along with Hendricks, will provide pop in the middle of the order. Niecikowski, Shurtz, Grant and Shultz are all liable to see time in the infield depending on who is pitching. "We have some athletes," Lindeman said. "It's just a matter of seeing how they develop."

Wheeling

Coach: Jason Wieder (1st season)

Last year: 1-32, 0-16 (6th MSL East)

Key losses: Kalvin Thong (Kankakee), Anthony Bacci, Joseph Zimmerman, Michael Yoshino (track)

Returnees: Seniors Ryan Bendewald (P-RF), Nick Ricciardi (C-P), David Shapiro (1B-C), Ian Gilliam (1B), Michael Pink (OF), Brandon Latzke (OF-P), Keith Cichowicz (OF), Ramiro Guzman (OF), Derek Espinoza (OF), Sal Dominguez (OF); juniors Angelo DeBlasio (3B-P), Bruce Ferraro (LF-P); sophomore Brenden Spillane (SS-P)

Newcomers: Juniors Josh Kim (INF-OF), George Alimissis (3B); sophomore Nathan Cooney (INF), Jake Jordan (CF-P)

Outlook: There's a different feeling around the Wildcat program these days and that's in large part to the leadership of captains Bendewald, Ricciardi, Shapiro, Gilliam and Pink. "Kids are buying in," Wieder said. "We're starting to see guys take more ownership in the program and more leadership out of our seniors. Even some of the young guys are stepping up and being more vocal." The Wildcats will be strong up the middle with a trio of sophomores in Spillane at shortstop, Cooney at second base and Jordan in center field, with Ricciardi behind the plate. Wieder loves Kim's versatility and the 6-foot-3 Spillane could be ready for a big year batting third, and he'll also close on the mound. "He doesn't hit it all the time, but when he does, it goes a country mile," Wieder said. "He could really burst onto the scene this year." Bendewald will be the staff ace and along with Shapiro, Ricciardi and DeBlasio, played on the Northbrook legion team that won the Cook County title over the summer. "This is a special group for me, and I just have this feeling that we are starting to create a little buzz about ourselves in the community. I know the guys want more than anything to have success and make their school proud."

MID-SUBURBAN WEST

Barrington

Coach: Pat Wire (1st season)

Last year: 18-15, 6-10 (6th MSL West)

Key losses: Frank Waliczek (all-area, Heartland), Aaron Foley (all-area), John Rogers, Max Redpath

Returnees: Seniors Ryan Lidge (C, all-area), Scott Nelson (P-OF-3B), Dylan Balogh (P-3B), Macray Poidomani (OF), Matt Pieterzak (P), Justin Dragosz (1B), Bennett Hillestead (P), Chris Coco (IF); juniors Wyatt Trautwein (P), Daniel Kubiuk (INF-P)

Newcomers: Juniors Nima Riahi (P), Brad Powell (P); sophomores Jake Coon (1B-3B-C), Mitch Pfieffer (OF), Jake Petersen (OF-P)

Outlook: After not finishing better than third in the West in the last seven seasons, the mission for the school tied for the most division titles in Mid-Suburban League history with 18 is simple. "Our goal is to get back to the top of the mountain where Barrington was in 2005, when (former coach Jim Hawrysko) brought us down to state and inevitably won a state championship," Wire said. "It begins and ends right there." Driving that resurgence will be the Notre Dame-bound Lidge and a plethora of arms. The 6-foot-4 Trautwein, who's father Dave pitched in the Mets organization for six years, could emerge as the team's ace while Pieterzak and Balogh have experience on the mound. Nelson pitched for the legion team last summer and Riahi and Powell will also challenge for innings. Pfieffer hit .400 and stole over 20 bases as a freshman on the legion team and could hit at the top of the order with Poidomani. Lidge, Dragosz and Coon make up the middle of the order and Kubiuk is a candidate to start at SS. "Some of these teams in West have a lot of seniors and we don't necessarily have a lot of seniors," Wire said. "We're young again. But at the same token, having guys like Lidge, Balogh, Poidomani, Nelson and Dragosz can give us that push."

Conant

Coach: Jerry Song (9th season, 99-126)

Last year: 13-15, 8-8 (T4th MSL West)

Key losses: Kerry Hickerson, Nick Blaha, Kyle Gizynski, Dan Behof

Returnees: Seniors Kevin Schimel (P-1B), Mike Viverito (C-1B), Rahul Nallappa (P), Mike DiGioia (IF); juniors Billy Grzelak (IF-P), Mike Matej (OF), Zach Gale (IF), Steve Bola (IF-P), Colton Comstock (P); sophomores Anthony Forte (P-OF), Matt Fauth (OF)

Newcomers: Seniors Dan Urban (OF), Mark Monti (P); juniors Robert Zerfas (OF), Brian Polaski (P-1B), J.T. Peacock (C), Brady Pelesh (OF), Dan Modelski (C), Jordan Wolff (P)

Outlook: The Cougars went young last season and they're hoping to see the payoff this season. With seven non-seniors already with varsity experience, Conant will still be young but the difference is that they're battled-tested. Nallappa missed the last two seasons with a shoulder injury and will anchor the pitching staff along with Schimel, Comstock and Forte. With weather surely to wreak havoc on the schedule, Polaski, Monti and Wolff will be counted on to log plenty of innings, as well. "Pitching was a big loss for us from last year, but we have a lot of guys that can surprise on the mound this year, more than I've had before," Song said. Song is confident that Forte will be able to make the necessary adjustments at the plate, where he showed plenty of promise as a freshman. Schimel will play first base when he's not pitching while Matej and Grzelak both showed well when given the chance as sophomores. "This year there's guys that won't get cheated, but we'll definitely have to play a little bit of small ball, too," Song said.

Fremd

Coach: Chris Piggott (11th season, 189-141)

Last year: 20-17, 11-5 (1st MSL West)

Key losses: Jack Andersen (all-area, UIC), Lee Breitzman (all-area, Harper), Keith Browning (all-area), Danny Haduch, Connor Bieda, Zach Kolakowski (Illinois), Matt Wisniewski, Josh Jyawook

Returnees: Senior Eric Gile (P), Jon Escobar (OF-P), Matt Isola (OF), Greg Money (C), Brian Jestice (P-1B), Tim Polak (P-INF), Alec Dompke (3B-P), Randy Wilt (INF-P), Jun Shinohara (C); junior Sam Beutler (OF)

Newcomers: Juniors Marcus Middlebrook (INF), Austin Jetel (P-1B), Dylan Fisher (2B), Matt Gura (3B), Jack Miller (P-OF), Andrew Stark (OF-P), Ryan Lenahan (1B), Dan Montgomery (OF); sophomores Mack Rosman (P-OF), Ian Bohn (C)

Outlook: Last season the Vikings won the West with a strong senior class, and this season's senior class is ready to step in and fill the gaps due to graduation. "We had a lot of juniors last year that were talented but struggled when they got a chance," Piggott said. "They played well this summer. They're just unproven." Fremd has a number of players ready to step up on the mound, including the Evansville-bound Jestice, Gile and Rosman. Jetel should also be part of a staff that isn't necessarily overpowering but will throw strikes and get outs. "We have good pitching depth, which is key," Piggott said. "To win games, you need a lot of picthing, and we're pretty strong there." Isola will get things going at the top of the lineup and Escobar, Middlebrook and Jetel will be responsible for driving in runs. And what they lack in speed, the Vikings will make up with in smart base running. "We're talented but just don't have a lot of experience," Piggott said.

Hoffman Estates

Coach: Todd Meador (14th season, 188-226)

Last year: 18-17, 8-8 (T4th MSL West)

Key losses: Kevin Grudzinski (all-area, Holy Cross), Mark Roberts (all-area, Truman State), Brian Cvitkovich, Mike Gordon, Jordan Hudak, Riley Mugerditchian, Alex Bonds

Returnees: Seniors Jimmy Ward (OF-P), Trevor Pye (SS), Zach Hommowun (OF), Justin Frame (OF-1B), Brandon Weidner (C), Chris Eisele (3B-P), Matt Brezinski (OF-P); juniors Ethan Bloom (3B-P, all-area), Danny Alba (OF-P)

Newcomers: Senior Joe Decker (C); juniors Brad Demmon (IF-P), Zak Lewandowski (1B-P), Nick Fraser (OF-P), Jack Kelley (IF-P), Keegan Mugerditchian (C), Sahan Sharma (OF); sophomore Jeff Mayes (2B)

Outlook: A strong finish to 2012 that included 10 wins in their last 13 games has the Hawks thinking bigger. And with quality players like the Evansville-bound Ward and slugger Bloom back, there's no reason to think Hoffman can't finish at the top of the West. "We had a lot of success at the end of the season and the kids realized that this is how it should be," Meador said. Ward and Bloom will anchor the staff, and if the team can get also get contributions from Eisele, Alba, Demmon, Fraser and Kelley on the mound, Hoffman will compete with anyone. It's scary to think Bloom hit a school-record .450 and tied a school record with 9 home runs last season and still has two seasons yet to come in the high school ranks. Ward, Hommowun and Pye will also hit at the top of the order. Frame and Weidner have experience, and Meador is hoping a variety of newcomers like Lewandowski, Mugerditchian and Mayes can contribute. "We have younger guys coming up that share that similar attitude and expectation to win," Meador said. "I think it's a very contagious, healthy feeling on our team right now that they're ready to win and be successful."

Palatine

Coach: Paul Belo (10th season, 184-171)

Last year: 18-20, 9-7 (T2nd MSL West)

Key losses: Kurt Becker (all-area, Harper), Eric Scheuermann (all-area, Bradley), Scott Schneberger, Mike Zarnek, Nick Roy

Returnees: Seniors Jarrod Juskiewicz (INF-P), Greg Grana (C), Anthony Fortunato (OF), Nick Refka (P-INF), Neal Ori (INF), Matt Hogan (OF), Bill Stewart (P), Andy Macahon (OF-P); junior Zach Serna (INF)

Newcomers: Juniors Alex Piszczek (P), Nolan Gavin (INF-P), Matt Saltess (UT); sophomore Chris Macahon (INF-OF)

Outlook: Expectations don't change around the Pirate baseball program very often and after regional titles in the last two seasons, far be it for a few injuries to lower those expectations. "Our kids have done a tremendous job of establishing a solid work ethic and the desire to want to be successful," Belo said. "Our expectation is that we're competing for a division championship despite some of the injuries and losses that we've battled." Refka was slated to be at the top of the rotation but is battling shoulder issues that likely won't allow him to return to form until the second half of the season. Belo expects Juskiewicz to step up on the mound while also playing shortstop and hitting in the middle of the order. Andy Macahon should also start on the hill and Belo is hopeful juniors like Piszczek can step up. Chris Macahon or Fortunato will lead off and need to get on base ahead of Ori, Juskiewicz and Serna. Grana is solid behind the plate. "We'll be fairly quick as a team and able to use our base running to create some runs," Belo said. "It'll be one of those situations where we'll definitely need some timely hits and play small ball."

Schaumburg

Coach: Cal Seely (1st season)

Last year: 25-14, 9-7 (T2nd MSL West)

Key losses: Matt Brancato (all-area co-captain), Patrick Bellinger (all-area, Evansville), Thomas Byrne (all-area), Colin Bethran, Jeremy Hall

Returnees: Seniors Max Paolicchi (P, all-area), Joe Petritis (2B), Kyle Reinhart (RF-P), Brayden Teele (C), Alec Wagner (CF)

Newcomers: Juniors Jack Holden (LF-P), Michael Fan (1B), Josh Rahn (3B-P), Ryan Woloszyk (3B), Brad Schwind (CF-P), Dylan Roskin (LF-P), Joe Franz (SS), Connor Quinn (C)

Outlook: The Saxons are missing quite a few pieces from a supersectional run last season, including longtime coach Paul Groot. But there's still reason for optimism on a junior-dominated team. "We're a young team, which is great," Seely said. "A lot of these guys will get a chance to start early in their careers." Paolicchi is a deceptive lefty that is expected to carry a deep pitching staff. "We're going to rely on him," Seely said. "He's ready for the challenge." The hard-throwing Reinhart will also start on the mound with Holden, Roskin and Schwind also vying for starts. Rahn will be counted upon to shut the door in the late innings. Wagner and Petritis will look to set the table for Reinhart, Holden and Fan in the middle of the order. Schaumburg may have a target on their back because of their postseason run last season, but they will keep it simple and focus on the little things. "It starts with doing the little things right," Seely said. "We have to understand what our game is and stick to that. You see teams start to struggle when they try to do more than they can. I think we have a good sense of who we are as a team."

CENTRAL SUBURBAN NORTH

Maine West

Coach: Joe Pederson (7th season, 109-70)

Last year: 19-18

Key losses: James Duckmann (all-area), Alex Hernandez

Returnees: Seniors Raul Anaya (OF), Tom Kukec (1B-3B), Scott Costello (C), Justin Mustari (P), Cory Winiecki (P), Ryan Lowe (P), Mark Kalaher (P), Jared Montalbano (P); juniors Matt Swanson (1B-P), Geoff Duckmann (INF); sophomore Crosley Duckmann (2B-P)

Newcomers: Juniors Brett Straessle (UT), Robert Andrade (OF), Chris Selgrad (OF), Tommy Hennessy (OF-P); freshman Eric Outlaw (INF)

Outlook: It could be one of those great years and it may not be for a Warriors squad that was one play away from winning a regional title last season before losing in 10 innings. But one thing is for sure, and that is that a hard-nosed bunch led by Geoff and Crosley Duckmann, Kukec and Swanson won't stop competing. "We're going to play 21 outs," Pederson said. "We're trying to teach them persistence." Mustari and Winiecki have experience on the mound and along with Swanson and Crosley Duckmann, should see plenty of innings. Lowe, Kalaher and Montalbano have all made strides in the offseason. "They're going to battle, and that's always a good thing," Pederson said. "I preach to them that nothing is set in stone." Both Duckmann's should be catalysts on offense while Anaya and Kukec are each entering their third varsity seasons. And as Pederson points out, Outlaw wouldn't be up as a freshman if he wasn't capable of contributing. The key for Maine West will be continually putting pressure on teams. "We have a good group of kids that play the game hard," Pederson said. "And I wouldn't want it any other way."

EAST SUBURBAN CATHOLIC

St. Viator

Coach: Mike Manno (8th season, 123-128)

Last year: 21-17, 6-10 (6th ESCC)

Key losses: Chris Myjak (all-area, Wisconsin-Whitewater), Tim McElroy (Purdue), Bobbby Napoleon (Butler), Brian Wilhite (Indiana), Kole Luthringshausen, Cosimo Canella (Des Moines Area Community College), Kevin Patzke, Nick Prazuch

Returnees: Seniors Gunnar Kay (P, all-area), Roy Pettingill (INF), Patrick Martin (P), Adam Naliwajko (C), Mike McGrath (INF-P), Andrew Ferrante (INF-P), Joe Rossi (OF), Charlie Meyer (INF), Greg Steiner (P)

Newcomers: Junior Matt Prazuch (OF-P); sophomore Ben Dickey (OF-P)

Outlook: The Lions lost a lot of high-level players to graduation but figure to regroup well and compete in what should be another strong ESCC. "This group is going to compete," Manno said. "Our team camaraderie and chemistry are very good." Leading the way will be Dallas Baptist recruit Kay, who went 7-1 with a 1.60 ERA last season. Martin, Steiner and Ferrante make up the rest of a formidable staff. Speedsters Dickey and Rossi, a three-year starter in the outfield, show discipline at the top of the order and will look to get on base for Ferrante, Pettingill and Naliwajko in the middle. The Lions have been sound defensively the last few years and will be solid on the mound. At the plate, Viator may not be the boppers they've been in year's past, but the team will look to manufacture runs any way that they can. "This group of guys across the board is doing the little things really well," Manno said. "We have to put pressure on other teams doing some unconventional things. If we can hit, we'll be pretty tough."

NORTHEASTERN ATHLETIC

Christian Liberty

Coach: Jed Bennett (3rd season, 7-44)

Last year: 4-23, 1-9 (6th Northeastern Athletic)

Key losses: Keegan Nichols, David Cabrera

Returnees: Seniors Juan Pagan (INF-P), Dan Glad (OF-P), David Colbert (INF-P), JD Dulinsky (OF-P), Shawn Andersen (C); juniors Aaron Cunningham (1B), Aaron Karr (IF-P), Brendan Bosnan (OF-P)

Newcomers: Freshman Tim Laskowski (OF-P)

Outlook: The Chargers have taken their lumps the last few seasons going up against some strong teams in the Northeastern Athletic, but with five seniors entering their fourth varsity seasons, Bennett thinks the playing field will be a little more even. "Whoever's pitching holds up, that's who is going to win," Bennett said. Pagan, Glad, Colbert, Dulinsky and Andersen have all started since they were as freshmen and are as experienced as it gets. "They've been getting closer each year but haven't seen the wins yet," Bennett said. Glad, Karr, Brosnan and Colbert will be the primary guys handling pitching duties. Pagan and Cunningham will hit in the middle of the order and Bennett will surround them with a speedy lineup featuring Andersen and Glad at the top. "It's like any baseball team," Bennett said. "We have to make the easy plays, have to throw strikes and we have to be patient hitting. It sounds stupid, but if you do the little things, you win baseball games."

WEST SUBURBAN GOLD

Leyden

Coach: Rob Hamann (2nd season, 18-16)

Last year: 18-16, 7-11

Key losses: Brennan Chillemi (all-area), Angel Sanchez (all-area), Joey Diaz, Dan Schoedel

Returnees: Seniors Ivan Nevarez (P-OF), Mike Szopinski (INF), Brandon Aguirre (C), Jeremy Conradson (P-OF), Jose Trevino (INF-P), Anthony Aleman (INF-OF)

Newcomers: Juniors Mark Stephens (INF), Eric Whittle (P-INF), Niko Quezada (P-OF); sophomore Hector Herrera (P-INF)

Outlook: The Eagles are led by a good group of seniors who got a lot of experience last year, and Hamann is hopeful they can put it all together and compete for the conference. "We have to compete consistently throughout the whole year," Hamann said. "We talk about starting well and finishing well." And that starts with a lot of depth on the mound, where Nevarez, Conradson, Herrera and Trevino make up the rotation and should keep give Leyden a chance to win each day. Nevarez, Aguirre and Szopinski will look to drive in runs in the middle of the order and Hamann also expects consistency from Aleman and Trevino, as well. "We have to make sure that we can put runs on the board," Hamann said. "That was one of our weaknesses last year. Get leads early and let our pitchers go to work."

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