Some might use the word “rebuilding.”
Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen likes a different term.
Even after losing eight key players from last year’s sectional and Fox Valley Conference championship team, the Rams, he says, are simply “re-stocking.”
“We still have a lot of great players in our program and we’ve been lucky over the last few years that they keep coming,” Whalen said. “Based on graduation last year, we knew we would have a lot of positions to fill with new guys, and we knew we would see a lot of inconsistency at first, which we have.
“But we’ve also seen a lot of great things. We’ve shown that we can pitch with anyone. We’ve shown that we have team speed around the bases, we’ve shown we can make good decisions. Now, we just have to do that consistently.”
The Rams have gotten a fair amount of reliability out of their top three pitchers, Kevin Peloza, Jack Spicer and Ryan Dones.
Peloza is the most experienced of the bunch and he pitched only 25 varsity innings last year. Spicer and Dones combined for only 5 varsity innings last year. Yet, all three have gotten wins for the Rams this year and have looked solid on the mound.
“All three of those guys have different styles,” Whalen said. “None of those guys got a ton of innings last year. But we’ve been really happy with the way they’ve been pitching so far.”
Two sophomores, pitcher Justin Guryn and second baseman Jay Hoffman, and a freshman, catcher Sam Nozicka, are also fitting in nicely, despite their lack of experience.
“We were an older team the last couple years and it got to the point that you could always kind of pencil in our lineup,” Whalen said. “This year is different. For the first time in a long time, we got younger in the off-season. We have a lot of young kids and new kids and inexperienced kids. But they are talented and we expect them to help us continue our tradition.”
The Rams are seeking their fourth straight Fox Valley Conference title and their fourth sectional championship in the last eight years.
On the side, please:
It’s not every day that you see a sidearm pitcher at the high school level.
In fact, until now, Troy Whalen has never coached one in his starting rotation in his 11 seasons at Grayslake Central.
Senior Ryan Dones is a sidearm, submarine pitcher for the Rams who releases his pitches from his side rather than from up near his head.
“It’s about that release point,” Whalen said. “I would say Ryan is about three-quarters submarine rather than full submarine. But he’s definitely sidearm. I don’t know a ton about it, but in an era of video-taping with iPads and taking pictures, that’s a way we can help him. We can look at pictures of him pitching and then help him in the next bullpen.”
Dones has been working on the sidearm approach for the last few years as a way to compensate for his lack of size.
“Ryan is kind of smaller in stature and I think he felt like he wasn’t getting as much power with his pitches throwing overhand. So freshman and sophomore year, he started working on the sidearm because he felt it was a better arm slot for him. I think he’s gotten pretty good at it. He won a game in six innings when we were in Florida (for Spring Break) and he did well.”
A unique thing happened in mid-March when the Southern Illinois baseball team got a pair of wins against Northern Illinois in a doubleheader.
The pitchers who were credited with the wins in each game both hail from Grayslake Central.
Junior right-hander Matt Murphy got a 3-2 win in the first game. He pitched two innings and gave up only 1 hit. In the second game, a 4-2 win, redshirt junior Aaron Snyder, also a righty, pitched one inning and recorded 2 strikeouts.
“Talk about a proud moment for a coach,” Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen said. “You don’t see that very often, where kids from the same high school get wins for the same college team on the same day.”
Unlike Grayslake Central’s top pitchers, Wauconda ace Brandon Gibis boasts plenty of experience. He is starting his third year of varsity ball.
“He’s been throwing well right from the start,” Wauconda coach Bill Sliker said of Gibis, who went 5-3 last season and pitched half of the team’s division games.
Gibis already has a division win this season (over Lakes) and is 2-0 as of Thursday.
“Brandon got some big wins for us last year and I think he’ll do that again because he’s gotten even better,” Sliker said. “He worked hard to get bigger and stronger and you can just see that he has even more confidence than he had last year.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.