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updated: 3/20/2014 5:36 PM

Baseball: Scouting the Fox Valley

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  • Dundee-Crown returns starting pitcher Vince Damato to the diamond this season.

      Dundee-Crown returns starting pitcher Vince Damato to the diamond this season.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer


Bartlett HawksCoach: Chris Pemberton (fifth year)

Conference: Upstate Eight Valley

2013 record: 16-15, 13-12 UEC Valley (tied-fifth), Class 4A regional champion

Top returning athletes: seniors Jake Barrutia (LF), Joe Belford (LHP), Doug DanDyke (RHP), Cal Fanselow (C), Trevor Svetic (3B), Mike Wick (CF/LHP)

Top newcomers: juniors Alex Curtis (RHP), Robbie Euliano (RHP/2B), Jordan Flint (C), Cory Krolikowski (SS), Michael Pfaender (1B), Vince Searson (OF), Kyle Senes (RHP), Myles Zilinsky (RF/LHP)

Season outlook: Bartlett opens the 2014 campaign with a roster of 14 due to a light turnout from the junior class. The Hawks nevertheless return enough talent to compete for a third straight regional title. It starts with senior Doug VanDyke, an all-UEC and all-area pick a year ago when he finished 7-2 with 1 save, 46 strikeouts, 13 walks and a 2.33 ERA in 51 innings. Committed to Dubuque, VanDyke dominated Hoffman Estates in the regional title game with a 1-hit shutout. The pitching rotation will likely include lefty Joe Belford and right-handers Kyle Senes and Alex Curtis, but most players will get their turn on the mound; 11 of 14 Hawks can pitch. Outfield play is a team strength with Mike Wick returning to play center field and Jake Barrutia back in left. Wick -- committed to play for the Gorloks of Division III Webster University in St. Louis -- is the team's leading returning hitter. He hit .375 with 5 doubles and scored 27 of Bartlett's 170 runs last year. Barrutia (. 309) smacked 7 doubles and scored 20 runs. Junior right fielder Myles Zilinsky is a highly regarded prospect in the wake of strong off-season showcase performances. A release point clocked at 98 mph on Zilinsky's outfield throws has thus far piqued the interest of schools like Bradley, Indiana and Eastern Illinois, coach Chris Pemberton said. Junior Cory Krolikowski, who hits left-handed but throws right, will play shortstop. Trevor Svetic is a 6-foot-3 power hitter at third base. Football quarterback Jordan Flint will catch a staff led by VanDyke. "He's been ready to go since Nov. 1," Pemberton said of VanDyke. "We'll turn to him every fifth day for innings and hopefully get that win. These kids have been around and have seen us have success the past two postseasons. They know what we're up against as far as the teams in our conference, and they won't back down. They know if we can withstand the great teams we play against in conference, it puts us in a good spot for that regional. We'd like to keep that going if we can."

Burlington Central RocketsCoach: Kyle Nelson (ninth year)

Conference: Big Northern East

2013 record: 16-13, 10-2 BNE (first), Class 3A regional champion

Top returning athletes: seniors Bryan Cynova (C), Dan Gerke (RHP/1B), Reed Hunnicutt (OF), Mike Lee (OF), Cody Schuver (3B); junior Drew Wiss (SS/OF)

Top newcomers: juniors Brenden Bushy (RHP/1B), Parker Boron (LHP), Kevin Jerger (RHP), Jake Johnson (RHP/OF), Max Judnic (C), Tanner Smith (2B/SS); sophomore Johnathan Murphy (C/3B)

Season outlook: Central should again contend for Big Northern East and regional titles, maybe more, thanks to the return of its top two pitchers, several position players and the influx of a talented junior class. "This is probably the deepest team we've had," coach Kyle Nelson said. "A solid 16 or 17 could start on any given day. We'll pitch, play really good defense, especially on the infield, and we'll see how many runs we're able to generate." Run production begins with returnees like outfielders Mike Lee (. 341, 6 2B, 23 R, 15 RBI), third baseman Cody Schuver (. 313, 15 R, 3 2B, 8 RBI) and catcher Bryan Cynova (. 307, 17 R, 4 2B, team-high 27 RBI). Reed Hunnicutt brings speed to the outfield. Shortstop Drew Wiss came on strong offensively at the end of his first varsity season after a slow start. Sophomore John Murphy's left-handed bat commands playing time. He can catch, play third or DH, Nelson said. Dan Gerke returns as the staff ace. An all-Big Northern East and all-area pick, the 6-foot-2 right-hander finished 6-4 with a 1.37 ERA, third-lowest among area returning starting pitchers. Gerke had the second-most strikeouts areawide (68) and walked only 14 batters in 70.1 innings. No. 2 pitcher Jacob Schutta also returns. The right-hander went 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA. He struck out 22 and walked 6 in 34.1 innings. Joining them could be Brenden Bushy, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound junior. Other pitching prospects include right-handers Kevin Jerger and Jake Johnson and lefty Parker Boron. The Rockets will play 4 varsity games and 3 JV games against Kentucky teams at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, SC, during their spring break (March 31-April 5). The roster of 21 includes 14 juniors and a sophomore, but the team returns key senior leaders. "Just having that many guys back has helped our junior class a lot," Nelson said. "It has been a pretty easy transition because we have good leaders in that senior class."

Cary-Grove TrojansCoach: Don Sutherland (27th year)

Conference: Fox Valley Valley

2013 record: 19-12, 12-7 FVC Valley (fourth)

Top returning athletes: seniors Dean Christakes (IF/OF/RHP), Rob Johnson (OF), Andrew Splitt (RHP/1B); junior Matt Sutherland (IF)

Top newcomers: senior Connor Kauss (RHP/IF); juniors John Carone (1B), Nick Franz (P), Larkin Hanselmann (LHP/OF), Willie Hartke (IF), Wyatt Mascarella (C), Jim Perkins (RHP/OF).

Season outlook: Cary-Grove graduated its top three pitchers and the bulk of its position players, but the Trojans should remain competitive in the tough FVC Valley, thanks to a few key returnees and a junior class that went 28-2 as sophomores. "We have pretty good talent," 27th-year coach Don Sutherland said. "They just need some varsity experience and we'll be fine. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do." Among the key returning players is senior Andrew Splitt, a right-handed pitcher who made the most of his limited opportunities last season. Splitt finished 3-0 with 32 strikeouts, 9 walks and a 2.74 ERA in 23 innings. Junior Matt Sutherland hit .333 (21-for-63) with 21 runs, 4 doubles and 8 RBI at the bottom of the order last year. He will be asked to produce near the top of the lineup this season. Dean Christakes gained experience last season in the outfield and on the mound. He will be part of the pitching mix this season along with juniors Nick Franz and Larkin Hanselmann, a lefty. Another player to watch is junior Ryan Flanigan, who has developed from a freshman B player into a 6-foot-4 right-hander. The ball "flies out of his hand," Sutherland said. An unknown but promising pitcher is senior Connor Kauss, who was besieged by injuries the last two seasons. After dealing with back issues as a sophomore and arm issues as a junior, Kaus is healthy and aiming for a successful comeback season. "We have a lot of unknowns, but I'm encouraged by how we've looked so far," Sutherland said. "Defensively, we'll be very fast and, therefore, very good. We'll need some offense from kids who haven't seen much varsity pitching, but that's the way it is in high school baseball every other year." The Trojans begin the season next week with their annual trip to Marion, Ill. On the way they will play a Monday split doubleheader (conditions permitting) at Oswego East and at LaSalle-Peru.

Crystal Lake South GatorsCoach: Brian Bogda (seventh year)

Conference: Fox Valley Valley

2013 record: 21-7, 16-3 (Tied-first)

Top returning athletes: seniors Casey Oliver (C), Josh Smith (RHP) Paul Wille (CF); juniors Garrett Bright (SS), Ryan Wilkening (IF/P)

Top newcomers: senior Jimmy Fischer (P); juniors Mike Avella (OF/P), Matt Schingel (3B/P); sophomore Dakota Siwula (1B/P).

Season outlook: These Gators are an overall younger team compared to the one that shared the FVC Valley title last spring. Ten graduates from that team are now playing college baseball, including honorary all-area co-captain Tyler Hall. Though mostly unproven at the varsity level, the Gators believe they possess the pitching depth necessary to contend for another title. The rotation should get a lift from 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander Josh Smith, who missed last season due to injury. Other rotation candidates include senior Jimmy Fischer (5-11), juniors Mike Avella (6-1) and Matt Schingel (6-3) and sophomore Dakota Siwula (6-2). "I believe our pitching depth should be something that keeps us in games this spring," CL South coach Brian Bogda said. "Taking one game at a time will be a key because the FVC is going to be a battle again this season. Although we may be a younger team this year, I believe in their abilities and look forward to working with this group over the course of the year." CL South is strong up the middle. Returning to the lineup are senior center fielder Paul Wille (. 400), senior catcher Casey Oliver (. 290, HR, 18 RBI), junior shortstop Garrett Bright (. 342, 16 RBI, 19 R) and junior infielder Ryan Wilkening (. 296, 10 RBI). Oliver, committed to North Park, threw out 43 percent of runners trying to steal. Wille, committed to McHenry County College, had a .519 on-base percentage last year.

Dundee-Crown ChargersCoach: Jon Anderson (second year)

Conference: Fox Valley Valley

2013 record: 11-18, 4-15 FVC Valley (seventh), Class 4A sectional finalist

Top returning athletes: seniors Chase Bloch (OF/LHP), Vince Damato (IF/LHP), Zach Girard (C/IF), Fabian Gutierrez (OF) Tyler Lewan (IF/P), Ahren Ludwig (IF/LHP)

Top newcomers: juniors Riley Alvarado (IF/RHP), Brett Johnson (C/OF), Jared Ludwig (RHP/IF), Sam Ray (IF/OF)

Season outlook: The Chargers proved last season that playing a tough conference schedule pays off. D-C finished seventh out of seven teams in the highly competitive Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference, yet went on to upset league co-champ and No. 1 seed Huntley to win a regional title. They then beat Prairie Ridge and, amazingly, were one of the last 16 teams alive in the state tournament before losing to rival Jacobs in a sectional final. Senior Vince Damato established himself last season when he pitched Dundee-Crown to the upset of Huntley. He finished 4-3 with 24 strikeouts, 25 walks and a 4.92 ERA in 48.1 innings. Tyler Lewan also returns. He went 1-3 with a 5.52 ERA in 33 innings. He struck out 21 and walked 17. Ahren Ludwig pitched 4 innings of relief in D-C's sectional semifinal win over Prairie Ridge.

Zach Girard is D-C's leading returning hitter. He batted .295 as a junior (23-for-78) with 5 doubles. He hit leadoff last season but could move down in the order. No other returning Charger hit above .250, but second-year coach Jon Anderson believes this team is improved. "We had quite a few juniors who are now seniors who had the opportunity to get a feel for varsity baseball," Anderson said. "Going a little deeper into the playoffs helps, too. On the mound, some guys who didn't pitch last year are going to get opportunities. They will be thrown in there because once conference starts it will be about who has the deepest pitching staff. It will be almost like a college baseball schedule where you play 5 games a week. We just need to keep improving every game like last year regardless of the result, then click like we did come playoff time last year." D-C wasn't originally supposed to make a spring break trip, but the program was able to arrange an 11th-hour trip to Quincy to get 4 games in next week. The Chargers will play at Quincy on Monday and Wednesday, at Quincy Notre Dame on Tuesday and will face Barrington at Lenz Field in Jacksonville, Ill. on Thursday.

Elgin MaroonsCoach: David Foerster (eighth year)

Conference: Upstate Eight River

2013 record: 7-23, 6-19 UEC River (sixth)

Top returning athletes: seniors Matt Karinski (1B), Kiko Mari (P/OF), Ryan Sitter (P/SS), James Stearns (OF), Omar Valadez (2B/SS/P)

Top newcomers: juniors Dean Anderson (P/OF), Michael Gonzalez (3B), Jack Koeckritz (P/OF), Jon Nelson (P/OF), Tom Sobeski (C/P), Clay White (P/IF/OF)

Season outlook: The Maroons open the season with one of the best 1-2 pitching tandems Elgin has enjoyed in coach David Foerster's eight-year tenure. Seniors Ryan Sitter and Kiko Mari can each dominate on a given day. Sitter, who has interest from multiple Division-I college programs, last season struck out 49, walked 29 and finished with a 3.59 ERA in 52.2 innings. Mari struck out 22 in 28 innings. Run production will again be the issue for Elgin, which does not return any batters who hit over .250. Elgin was last in the area in hitting the last two seasons. In 2013, they finished with a .226 team bating average, scoring just 81 runs on 168 hits in 30 games (2.7 avg.). The roster returns seven seniors with an eye on improvement, including captains Sitter, Mari, Omar Valadez and James Stearns. Valadez provides stability in the middle infield while Stearns patrols the outfield. "We have gotten fantastic senior leadership from all seven of our seniors," Foerster said. "Sitter and Mari should be our leaders on the mound and at the plate. Overall depth is a concern for us. We have a lot of two-way players. Most of our pitchers will be playing other positions if not pitching. We expect a lot from our juniors." Junior Dean Anderson is expected to return from a knee injury in April and gain playing time in the outfield. Foerster counts Clay White, Michael Gonzalez, Jack Koeckritz and Tom Sobeski among the juniors challenging for starting positions. "I'm excited to see what this group can accomplish at the year goes on," he said.

Elgin Academy HilltoppersCoach: Steve Shapiro (first year)

Conference: Independent School League

Top returning athletes: seniors Kevin Realzola (RHP), Max Swienton (RHP); junior Gannon Cottone (C); sophomore Karl Rauschenberger (SS)

Top newcomers: freshmen Justin King (RHP), Andrew Wilson (SS/RHP), Ian Wilson (IF/OF)

Season outlook: The Hilltoppers return to varsity competition for the first time since 2006. Elgin Academy gained confidence by succeeding against a junior varsity schedule last season. Because most teams in the Independent School League don't have enough players to field varsity and junior varsity teams, Elgin Academy's 2013 JV schedule was played mainly against varsity reserves. A 12-4 record against such lineups makes the 'Toppers cautiously optimistic about their 2014 prospects. "We rarely played anyone at our level last year because most ISL schools are (Class) 2A or 3A, which was good for our development," said coach Steve Shapiro, who played for Kirby Smith at Barrington and played collegiately at St. Louis University. "We're going to be pretty strong within our conference, which should be a good springboard to the (Class) 1A playoffs. Our worry is weather and depth. We don't have that plethora of guns ready to reload if someone goes down." Max Swienton, also a competitive snowboarder, had the lowest ERA of any pitcher last season. He is joined in the rotation by Kevin Realzola. Junior Gannon Cottone catches and swings a big bat. Sophomore Karl Rauschenberger led the team in stolen bases a year ago. The Hilltoppers will get ahead of the cool spring weather by traveling to Disney World to play 6 games between March 31-April 4, though Swienton will miss that trip to compete in a snowboarding competition in Colorado. The Disney trip is sponsored by the school's boosters and alumni, who also invested in a new indoor batting cage. Both moves signal Elgin Academy's intent to build a competitive baseball program that competes for Class 1A state titles. They hope to attract players who aspire to continue their academic and athletic careers at Ivy League-caliber schools, Shapiro said. Elgin Academy plays all home games at nearby Trout Park. "It's an electric atmosphere with home games at Trout," Shapiro said. "There's a buzz. We get 50-75 people showing up and supporting us. We're treating baseball like a football program. We bus kids over to the park. It's really an enjoyable, old-time baseball atmosphere."

Hampshire Whip-PursCoach: John Sarna (third year)

Conference: Fox Valley Fox

2013 record: 16-17, 6-13 FVC Fox (fifth)

Top returning athletes: seniors Brandon Bowen (OF/RHP), Andrew Brown (LHP), RJ Consigny (3B), Dillon Kuhn (IF/RHP), Michael Merchut (MIF/RHP)

Top newcomers: juniors Michael Kruse (OF), Nick Mohlman (OF), Trey Schramm (SS/RHP)

Season outlook: The Whip-Purs were a .500 team last May before losing to rival Burlington Central in a Class 3A regional title game. They look for improvement in 2014 with a good mix of proven veterans and an infusion of talented juniors. Leading the way is senior Brandon Bowen, an all-Fox Valley Fox selection last year. He led the Whips with a .357 average, scored 16 runs and drove in 17. Infielder Mike Merchut is poised to improve upon a season in which he hit .296 with 4 doubles and 11 RBI. Dillon Kuhn is the team's most experienced starting pitcher. Last season he went 2-1 with an ERA of 5.00 in 21 innings. He also hit .254 in 59 at-bats. Lefty Andrew Brown and right-handers Michael Merchut and junior Trey Schramm are expected to bolster a staff that finished with a 3.61 ERA. "We have a fundamentally sound baseball team this spring with veteran leadership in all three phases," coach John Sarna said. "Pitching depth will be our strength with situational hitting being our weakness. The ability to make adjustments will be the main obstacle that could sand in our way toward a successful season."

Huntley Red RaidersCoach: Andy Jakubowski (ninth year at Huntley, 15th overall)

Conference: Fox Valley Valley

2013 record: 25-7, 14-5 FVC Valley (Tied-first)

Top returning athletes: seniors Troy Cantu (2B/U), Nick Constantino (P), Dillon Dell' Aquila (OF), Anthony Dodge (1B), Brendan Fitzgerald (OF), Tommy Kiriakopolus (1B), Eric Luecht (P), Mason Martin (P), Jon Nugent (3B/2B/C), Kyle Sabie (P), Mark Skonieczny (C/OF), Matt Sullivan (SS), Trevor Symbal (P/OF); junior Adam Kalish (P)

Top newcomers: juniors Brandon Altergott (P/OF), Matt Blain (P/C/OF), Jacob Ciskowski (P/SS/OF), Brandon Duvall (P/OF), Bobby Hecker (3B), Ryan Mills (P/OF)

Season outlook: The Red Raiders are poised for yet another 20-win season, fueled by the return of Illinois-bound senior Mark Skonieczny and staff ace Eric Luecht, committed to Lewis University. Named an honorary co-captain of the Daily Herald All-Area team last season, Skonieczny hit .432 (51-for-118), led the area in RBI (36) and runs scored (43) and was second in home runs (7). He smacked 11 doubles and stole 12 bases. He and Luecht were among four Red Raiders selected to the Stevenson Showcase. The others were veteran shortstop Matt Sullivan and junior pitcher Adam Kalish. Committed to Chicago State, Sullivan hit .393 last season (35-for-89) with 7 doubles, 3 home runs and 23 RBI. Kalish went 2-0 with a save as a sophomore on the varsity team. He struck out 11, walked 2 and did not give up an earned run in 18.1 innings. He will be Huntley's closer. Nick Constantino returns. As a junior, the Drury University commit finished 3-0 with 1 save. He struck out 11, walked 2 and posted a 4.42 ERA. Another key veteran is first baseman Tommy Kiriakopolus (. 337, 4 2B, 2 3B, HR, 26 RBI, 19 R). The Red Raiders were so deep last year that six players now committed to play college baseball rarely gained opportunities to play, including infielder Troy Cantu (Illinois-Springfield), pitcher Mason Martin (St. Francis), outfielder Dillon Dell' Aquila (Dominican), Brendan Fitzgerald (Purdue-Calumet), Kyle Sabie (St. Xavier) and infielder Jon Nugent (Harper). Huntley is hungry. After getting knocked out of the state playoffs in a regional final, the Red Raiders went on to advance to the summer state quarterfinals. Pitchers responsible for 13 of Huntley's 25 wins a year ago return. Huntley has "a lot of speed up and down the order and will be looking to put pressure on the opponent's defense," coach Andy Jakubowski said. "On the mound (we) are very fortunate to hae a deep staff and this will be one of the strengths of the team."

Jacobs Golden EaglesCoach: Jamie Murray (third year)

Conference: Fox Valley Valley

2013 record: 25-12, 12-7 FVC Valley (sixth), Class 4A sectional champion

Top returning athletes: seniors Grant Kale (2B), Ben Murray (1B), Reilly Peltier (RHP), Ryan Sargent (CF/RHP), Danny Vandewalker (OF)

Top newcomers: juniors Vince Coletti (C), Matt Kozlak (SS); sophomore Brendon Heiss (RHP); freshman Mike Addante (OF)

Season outlook: The Golden Eagles hope to maintain program momentum on the heels of the best season in school history in 2013, when they set a record for wins and reached the Elite Eight for the first time. Top pitchers Evan Blunk and Nick Ledinsky graduated, but talented senior Reilly Peltier returns to anchor a rebuilt staff. Last season the right-hander went 4-1 with a 1.69 ERA. He started the supersectional game against St. Charles East and was later relieved by Ryan Sargent, who likewise returns. Sargent also hit .286 (14-for-49) and drove in 8 runs. Others expected to throw innings include Tim Hubner, sophomore Brenden Heiss, Ryan George and Ryan Jones. Heiss "is one of the special talents you don't see too often," Jacobs coach Jamie Murray said. Grant Kale and Ben Murray return to the right side of the infield. Second baseman Kale batted .317 (32-for-101) with 7 doubles, 20 RBI and 19 runs. First baseman Murray hit .312 (35-for-112) with 7 doubles, 2 home runs, 16 RBI and scored 27 runs. Murray and Peltier were also members of the basketball team that won a regional title earlier this month. A player to watch is freshman outfielder Mike Addante, a five-tool player who could have an immediate impact. "This is by far our most talented team in three years," said third-year coach Murray, "but they know that our 2013 team was a great "team," and that is what we are working toward this year." Murray said the team's top goal is winning its first championship in the rugged Fox Valley Conference. Jacobs was in the hunt until late in the season but finished sixth in a bunched-up race. The Golden Eagles should get some games in next week when they travel to Rent One Ballpark in Marion, Ill. They will play a split doubleheader on Monday against Warren and Wauconda, followed by single games against Vernon Hills (at John A. Logan C.C.), Pleasant Plains and Rantoul.

Larkin RoyalsCoach: Matt Esterino (sixth year)

Conference: Upstate Eight River

2013 record: 11-20, 7-18 UEC River (fifth)

Top returning athletes: seniors Rob Bond (LF/CF), John Jowaski (C), Tyler Kalusa (CF), Jack McCracken (P/3B/SS/2B), Brayden Royse (P/1B/OF); juniors Will King (P/1B), Dan Lenz (3B/C), Jon Lenz (SS/P/2B)

Top newcomers: senior Cam Powers (2B/SS); juniors Johnny Avila (OF), Andrew Chimola (OF/P), Tanner Gordon (P/1B); sophomore Zach Edgar (2B/SS/P)

Season outlook: An experienced core of returning players who took some lumps last season while learning the varsity ropes is poised to capitalize on their collective experience. "Our team goals include taking the next step to compete with and beat teams more consistently within the conference and to be playing our best baseball at the end of the year as we prepare for the playoffs," Larkin coach Matt Esterino said. Team strengths will be pitching and defense. Returning to the top of the rotation are pitchers Brayden Royse (2-3, save, 30 K, 3.73 ERA, 45 IP) and Jack McCracken (5-5, 19 K, 2.91 ERA, 48 IP), athletes fresh off Larkin's Upstate Eight River champion basketball season. Also returning is junior Will King, who last season went 3-4 with a save in 38 innings. He struck out 24 and should lower his 5.76 ERA in his second varsity season. Expect the same from junior pitcher Jon Lenz, who went 1-1 with 18 strikeouts and a 5.12 ERA in 26 innings. Together, Royse, McCracken, King and Lenz were responsible for all 11 Larkin victories a year ago. They were also responsible for 12 losses while gaining experience. Junior Tanner Gardon is expected to see his share of innings as well. Defensively, seven position players return, including speedy center fielder Tyler Kalusa (. 313, 9 2B, 9 RBI, 17 R), left fielder Rob Bond (. 291, 9 RBI, 5 SB, 14 R), catcher John Jowaski (3 2B, 9 RBI), third baseman Dan Lenz (. 296, .400 OBP, 4 2B, 9 RBI, 12 R) and Royse (. 242, 5 2B, 7 RBI, 13 R). The Royals hope to improve upon last year's .258 team batting average and 119 runs (3.8 avg.). "We are striving to stay as consistent as possible offensively," Esterino said. "Manufacturing runs, quality at-bats and putting the ball in play will be vital to our success. We are not extremely deep, but we believe we have the right players to compete on a game-to-game basis with good ballclubs. Our ability to execute the fundamentals in all phases of the game will directly correlate to our achievement. This team has a good amount of experience and will relish the underdog role all season."

South Elgin StormCoach: Jim Kating (eighth year)

Conference: Upstate Eight Valley

2013 record: 18-15, 14-11 UEC Valley (fourth)

Top returning athletes: seniors Tyler Brown (RHP/OF), Nate Brummell (C), Ryan Nutof (RHP/1B); juniors Antonio Danesi (IF/OF), Dane Toppel (SS)

Top newcomers: juniors Danny Asa (OF), Kyle Hays (3B), Max Keough (RHP), Chase Lazopoulos (RHP), Nick Menken (IF/OF), Austin Sayre (RHP), Ryan Weiss (RHP)

Season outlook: The Storm return Ryan Nutof, the finest pitcher to grace the program in its eight years of existence. Committed to Michigan, the senior right-hander led the area with a 0.76 ERA in 37 innings pitched, highlighted by a 5-hit shutout of 19-win Glenbard North in a regional semifinal. Nutof went 5-1, struck out 56 and walked 12. "I think pitching will have to carry us," said South Elgin coach Jim Kating, whose mobility will be limited this season due to extensive back surgery two months ago. "We'll be solid defensively, but we'll have to work on timely hits and work on offense. If our offense clicks a little bit, we'll be a tough team to beat." Hard-luck Tyler Brown also returns. His record last season was 1-4 despite a solid 2.84 ERA, 30 strikeouts and 10 walks in 32 innings. Beyond Nutof and Brown, the rotation order is far from set. Pitchers vying for innings include juniors Ryan Weiss, Austin Sayre, Erik Dauksavage, Max Keough and Chase Lazopoulos. Returning to catch that talented group is senior Nate Brummel. The defensive whiz is a third-year varsity backstop and one of the team's only returning positions players. Most positions will be up for grabs early in the season due to heavy graduation losses, Kating said. Juniors Dane Toppel and Antonio Danesi were both called up during the 2013 season and started in the playoffs. Kyle Hays gained some experience at third base filling in for an injured starter. Versatile Nick Menken and Danesi will likely play multiple positions, as will seniors Jason Foy and Zach Filippo and junior Jared Kramer. Otherwise, many are new to the varsity level. "We have a lot of parity," Kating said. "We'll move people around and plug people in different spots. It's going to be interesting. There has always been real good balance on our side of the conference where it has been a real good battle. I'll be curious how the kids react and go about things." The Storm play only 12 of their 33 games at home this season.

St. Edward Green WaveCoach: Tim Dovichi (third year)

Conference: Suburban Christian Gold

2013 record: 16-9, 10-6 SCC Gold (third)

Top returning athletes: seniors Nick Boulay (RHP), Mikey Castoro (2B), Tighe Koehring (C), Ryan Nudd (SS), Tyler Tomaka (LF); juniors Jake LaFrenz (LHP/1B), Jack Tierney (P/RF)

Top newcomers: juniors Vicente Cammarena (IF), Mike Dazzo (IF), Gino Domel (2B), Alex Lara (RHP/CF), Joe Martel (IF/OF), Scott Palmer (RHP/IF)

Season outlook: St. Edward is built to win this season with experience on the mound, in the field and at the plate. St. Edward returns two of last season's three starting pitchers and two others who gained varsity experience. Lefty Jake LaFrenz, playing his second varsity season, finished 3-4 with 44 strikeouts, 22 walks and a 3.63 ERA in 34.2 innings as a sophomore. LaFrenz will anchor the rotation along with junior Jack Tierney, who went 4-2 with 26 strikeouts, 10 walks and a 5.08 ERA in 30.1 innings. Rounding out the rotation are a pair of junior right-handers who got their feet wet in 2013: Scott Palmer (23.2 IP, 3-0, 22K, 20 BB, 3.25 ERA) and Alex Lara (5 IP in 2 appearances, 4.20 ERA). Boulay will be the first pitcher out of the bullpen and is likely to gain multiple starts if the schedule becomes backlogged with makeup games as expected. Two-time all-area selection Tighe Koehring is back behind the plate. He led the Green Wave last year with a .395 average (30-for-76) with 15 extra basehits (10 doubles, 2 triples, 3 HR). He hit .500 with runners in scoring position, drove in 26 and amassed a 1.151 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Second baseman and leadoff hitter Mikey Castoro tore his ACL in the final regular-season football game on Oct. 25. Thanks to advances in orthopedic surgery and his adherence to physical therapy, Castoro is expected to be cleared to play baseball on April 1, said Green Wave coach Tim Dovichi. Last year Castoro hit .392 with 4 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs, 15 RBI and scored a team-best 29 runs. Ryan Nudd (11 RBI) takes over at shortstop this season. Elsewhere, Tierney (. 377, 5 2B, 3 HR, 24 RBI) will play right field, Tyler Tomaka (. 256, 5 RBI) returns in left and LaFrenz (. 250, 14 RBI, 2 HR) plays first base when he isn't pitching. All four starting pitchers will return again next season, but the time to strike is now for the Green Wave due to its core of experienced, senior position players. "If we're going to make a run, this is the year we have to do it," St. Edward coach Tim Dovichi said. "We have every key component. We have defense, we've got offense, got pitching and we've got the mentality. They've been waiting for this since that last game against Aurora Central Catholic. Our guys felt they got the short end of the stick and they are hungry for more."

Streamwood SabresCoach: Ryan LaSota (second year)

Conference: Upstate Eight River

2013 record: 6-24, 5-20 UEC River

Top returning athletes: seniors Chad Caminitti (IF/RHP), Kevin Drwal (OF/RHP), Eric Hamlin (IF), Kevin Sojda (OF/LHP), Collin Tatone (OF/RHP)

Top newcomers: juniors Zach Campbell (IF/P), Hayden Holota (OF)

Season outlook: The Sabres aim to at least double their win 2013 win total, a real possibility since they lost 8 games by 2 runs or less a year ago. How will they make the improvement? "I think pitching and defense will be our big strengths this year," coach Ryan LaSota said. "We have four guys that saw meaningful time on the mound last year." Those four are seniors Kevin Sojda (3-4, 2.40 ERA, 36 IP), Chad Caminitti (1-4, 3.90 ERA, 32 IP), Collin Tatone (0-2, 3.80 ERA, 25 IP) and Kevin Drwal (1-0, 2.20 ERA, 15 IP). Junior Zach Campbell will likely see some innings, too. Together, their experience is likely to correlate to an improvement over last season's 5.35 team ERA, highest among the 14 schools in the Daily Herald Fox Valley coverage area. Offense was another weakness last season as the Sabres finished 11th areawide in team batting average (. 261). The plan is to manufacture more runs than a year ago, when the Sabres scored 111 runs in 30 games (3.7 avg.). Sojda led the Sabres in limited at-bats as a junior, when he hit .319 (15-for-47). Eric Hamlin hit .287 (31-for-108) with 5 doubles and 18 RBI. No other returning player hit over .250. "Last year we really struggled to score runs," LaSota said. "Hopefully, this year we can do a better job manufacturing runs. We have spent a lot of time working on the fundamentals to help us improve in that area. I think we have a group that can compete just like we did last year; the main goal will be taking the next step and playing a complete game more consistently."

Westminster Christian WarriorsCoach: Brance Rivera (first year)

Conference: Northeastern Athletic

2013 record: 10-10, 8-2 NAC

Top returning athletes: senior Clay DeHaan (RHP/OF), Tyler Mamrot (2B/SS); juniors Frank Anqiulo (RHP), Ian Merlak (MIF), Brendan Ruffolo (IF), Luke Weston (3B); sophomore Justin Rasmussen (RHP)

Top newcomers: freshmen Nic Angiulo (RHP), Tyler Schoemann (LHP)

Season outlook: The Warriors embark on a new era under coach Brance Rivera. A Muscatine, Iowa native, Rivera played four seasons at Texas Christian University before graduating in 2012. He spent last season as a volunteer assistant coach at Dallas Baptist University. He holds dual roles at Westminster as baseball coach and assistant athletic director. Rivera's first team has promise. The Warriors return their top two hitters, senior Tyler Mamrot (. 400, 5 2B, 2 3B, 20 RBI, 24 R) and junior third baseman Luke Weston (. 400, 17 RBI, 13 R). Brendan Ruffolo hit .286 with 3 doubles. Pitching figures to be a strength for the Warriors, led by senior Clay DeHaan. Last season DeHaan finished 2-3 with a 2.85 ERA. He struck out 39 and walked only 9 in 27 innings. Sophomore right-hander Justin Rasmussen has developed into the team's No. 2 starter, according to his coach. That pair will be joined by junior right-hander Frankie Angiulo, who Rivera says "has a high ceiling." Freshmen Nic Angiulo and Tyler Schoemann, a lefty, will be in the mix. "I'm excited about our pitchers," Rivera said. "I think we're pretty deep. And Rasmussen has really impressed me all-around with his pitching, hitting and fielding. I've never seen the competition we'll be playing, but I know we're Class 2A come postseason. Based on what I've seen the guys be able to do in the batting cage and throwing inside, this team should be able to do well." The Warriors begin the season with a bus trip to Texas on Saturday. They will play Southwest Christian at TCU on Monday, play at Trinity Valley High School in Ft. Worth on Tuesday and play Dallas Lutheran at Dallas Baptist University on Wednesday. On the way home next Friday, the Warriors will stop in tornado-ravaged Washington, Ill., for a day of public service. They will end the day in Eureka with a nonconference game at 4:30 p.m.

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