Metea Valley's baseball team set a pretty high bar last season.
After reaching the Class 4A sectional final a year ago, the young program now has the expectations of more established programs.
"It's something we've talked about as a team," said Mustangs coach Craig Tomczak. "They want to have some of that same success, but they're starting to see that you have to bring it every day for games and practices."
The challenge, Tomczak said, is consistency with a much younger team.
The same Metea Valley team that blankedSt. Charles East 1-0 on Monday also committed 7 errors in one inning in a loss to Batavia. Metea Valley saw Tuesday's 2-0 lead against Neuqua Valley turn into a 3-2 loss.
Patience is key with a group fielding five juniors and three to five sophomores for a given game. With so much turnover from last year, depth is another issue with the Mustangs.
"It's a matter of getting confidence in the guys we do have this year," Tomczak said. "We try not to talk about last year too much because this is a completely new group."
Metea Valley, however, also leans on talented varsity veterans like Mike Fitzgerald, Andrew Fox and Michael Mooney. They, and the other seniors, will try to recapture last season's success as the Mustangs continue through Upstate Eight Conference play and toward the playoffs.
"We're still trying to figure out who we are as a team," Tomczak said. "We have to find what works for us with this particular group."
In the swing:
Given the way Glenbard South struggled at the plate last summer, Raiders coach Mike Riley was concerned about his team's offensive production this spring.
He's been pleasantly surprised.
With seemingly everyone contributing the Raiders are averaging nearly 9 runs a game and have struck for double-digit runs six times. In Tuesday's 15-4 Metro Suburban Conference victory over Timothy Christian, Glenbard South tallied 23 hits with Ethan Gasbarro, Zach Smith and Justin Joseph each going 4-for-5.
"Considering this summer, it's definitely a surprise," Riley said. "Some of the kids who struggled in the summer are really playing well."
That list includes juniors Will Cornwell and Nate Yangas, who is also a starting pitcher in Metro Suburban games. Cornwell recently completed a streak of 18-for-23 hitting with power numbers.
Batting behind speedsters Carl Sanders and Gasbarro, Cornwell repeatedly takes advantage of prime RBI opportunities.
If Gasbarro, whose first pitch on Tuesday hit 89 mph, Mike Atkinson and Yangas keep up their consistent pitching, the Raiders will build toward another strong run in the Class 3A playoffs.
"We've been playing pretty well," Riley said. "We just need to keep it up."
The good news for Naperville Central entering this season was the return of several key elements of last year's sectional title team.
Starting pitchers Jeff Schank, Jimmy Nashert and Cody Campbell are all back in addition to shortstop Nicky Lopez, catcher Brian Schiemann and others.
The better news for the Redhawks was the influx of talent from last year's sophomore team which is bringing tremendous depth all over the field.
Trying to put the pieces together is a nice problem to have for Naperville Central coach Mike Stock.
"We've got a lot of guys we can use," Stock said. "We're still not set."
A good example came during last week's DuPage Valley Conference series against Glenbard East. The Redhawks won the first two games while using 13 different players, including three juniors.
While the amount of talent is exciting, attempting to find the perfect lineup has been difficult, especially when the rainy spring weather doesn't allow for extended looks at different players.
When Stock does settle on a lineup, at least he'll know there's plenty of backup help -- not to mention quality candidates for pinch-running, pinch-hitting, late-inning defense and relief pitching.
"You always want to get your nine best bats in the lineup and, honestly, I don't know what our nine best bats are right now," Stock said. "It's a nice problem to have, and we'll keep looking. We're trying to keep kids hungry, but we're still searching for some answers."
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