Aurora Central Catholic
Coach: Sean Bieterman
Last year: 27-8, 13-3 in the Suburban Christian Conference Gold (second), regional champions. Top returners: Andrew Bruss, P/OF, sr.; Michael Fidler, P/IF, sr.; Matt Rahn, P/OF, jr.; Hunter Fiorito, IF/P, jr.; Andy Czerak, INF/P, sr.; Josh Feltes, OF, sr.; Pat Canning, P, sr.; Cam Otting, OF, sr.; James Cerza, C, sr.
Key newcomers: Ryan Poplawski, C, so.; Chris Saltijeral, SS, jr.; Jared Smith, INF, jr.; Roman Padilla OF, jr.; Brandon Babler, OF, jr.
Outlook: The Chargers are a program on the climb, coming off a regional championship and a runner-up conference finish. They return five starters and 17 wins on the mound, including 7 from Bruss. Fidler has signed with Tennessee-Martin and topped out at 90 mph last summer. Rahn has recovered from an ACL injury suffered in the summer and Bieterman said he "looks very strong." Canning will give ACC some innings from the left side. Offensively, Fiorito, Rahn, Bruss, Fidler and Czerak return as starters. Bieterman said Saltijeral will provide strong defense up the middle and add offense at the top of the order. Bieterman is looking for Czerak to play multiple positions as one of the team's top pitchers and also position players. Poplawski and Cerza provide depth at catcher. Feltes, Otting, Padilla, Czerak and Babler will all contribute in the outfield. "Continuing to build off of the success of last year will be the key," Bieterman said. "Our facility has seen drastic improvements as well. We will be completing these improvements as the weather clears."
Coach: Andy Zorger
Last year: 10-18 overall, 4-12 in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue (fifth). Top returners: J.T. Baksha, LHP/OF/1B, sr.; P.J. Cole, C, sr.; Brandon Walgren, INF/P, sr.; Tristin Withrow, 1B/P, sr.; Stephen Buhrt, OF/P, sr. Drew Wagner, SS/P, so.; Dustin Barrett, OF/P, so.; R.D. Lutze, P/INF, so.
Key newcomers: Cody Worst, 3B, sr.; Jonathan Harrell, OF, sr.
Outlook: Zorger begins his seventh year at Aurora Christian with an ace in Baksha, who has signed with Western Illinois. Withrow, Lutze, Wagner, Buhrt, Walgren and Barrett also have experience as the Eagles return every inning from last season. "Pitching should be very strong," Zorger said. "The defense has a few question marks but six starters return." With plenty of returnees at the plate as well, Zorger is expecting to score more runs. Leadoff hitter Ian Livingston is one of just two players the Eagles have to replace. "We struggled at the end of last season to score runs so hopefully we can find more consistency this year," Zorger said. "I think being now the second or third year on varsity for most of the lineup should help in terms of knowing what to expect and making adjustments." The Eagles have their hands full against the likes of Marmion, Montini and St. Francis in the Blue Division. "The SCC Blue is very competitive," Zorger said. "I think we will improve on our 4-12 record from 2013 but I imagine we will be right around third to fifth in the conference race. I think we should be in the mix for the regional, depending on where we are and who we are with. We should have the pitching to make a run. Hopefully our offense can get on track by the end of the season."
Coach: Matt Holm
Last year: 27-7, 19-6 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division (tied for first). Top returners: Dino Simoncelli, C, sr.; Micah Coffey, 1B/SS/3B, sr.; Laren Eustace, CF, sr.; Jake Piechota, P/DH, sr.; Andrew Siegler, SS, sr.; Jeremy Schoessling, 2B, sr.; Colby Green, P, sr.
Outlook: After sharing the Upstate Eight Conference River Division title last year, Batavia's season came to a quick end in the postseason against Hoffman Estates. Many key players return from that team, including two future Big Ten players in Coffey (Minnesota) and Eustace (Indiana). "I am excited, as I am every year, about the returning talent we have," said Holm, starting his 23rd year. "We had successful seasons last spring and summer, and look to build on that. We have a good deal of talent in our senior class (and) some juniors and sophomores who are very capable of contributing." Simoncelli, Coffey and Eustace were named captains last summer, and Piechota was added as another in the off-season. Simoncelli is a two-year starting catcher who was leading the team in RBI last season before being knocked out of the lineup with a broken thumb. Coffey and Eustace are both three-year starters. Coffey was last year's All-Area captain while Eustace will be a nightmare for opponents to try to slow. "His bat and speed make him one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the state," Holm said of Eustace. "He covers ground in the outfield that few can equal." Piechota won 6 games last year and will play next year at Western Michigan. The Bulldogs should be strong up the middle defensively starting yet another college-bound player in Siegler with Schoessling returning at second base. "We will be quite strong at the plate with experienced bats returning," Holm said. "The same can be said for the field. Piechota is the only seasoned starter returning, but Green started before injury and Van Kempen was an effective middle reliever. Eustace will continue his role as closer."
Schoessling will play Division III baseball as well McReynolds, Olson and Bleidorn while Green has decided on Upper Iowa. "This team is unique simply because of the number of college-bound players," Holm said. "These guys are hungry to play ball. That is not to say other Bulldog squads haven't been, but this team is incredibly focused. Even in this arctic spring our practices are high energy, efficient and very productive." Batavia has scheduled three games on the turf at Wheaton College's Pfund Field against Sycamore (March 31), Willowbrook (April 1), and Naperville North (April 4). Holm also is excited about upgrades to the dugout and backstop on their home field.
Coach: Matt Hahn
Last year: 20-16, 14-11 in the Upstate Eight Conference River (third). Top returners: Nick Derr, SS, so.; Jack Wassel, OF/SS, so.; Max Novak, RHP, sr.; Ben Chally, 3B/RHP, sr.; Nate Montgomery, C, jr.; Garrett Davis, LHP, jr.
Key newcomers: Jason Croci, 2B, jr.; Nick Porretto, 1B, jr.; Alex Lobrillo, OF/RHP, jr.
Outlook: You can count on the Vikings to be in the mix for conference and postseason championships every year, and this one should be no different. Derr is back for his second year after stealing 12 bases, batting .320 and playing shortstop as a freshman last season. Wassel also played varsity as a freshman and batted .292 while Montgomery was called up during the season and hit .304 with 2 home runs in 46 at-bats. While the Vikings have 3 sophomores and 12 juniors on their 20-player roster, they aren't all young -- Chally made all-conference last year with a .391 average and 13 doubles. The righty Novak and lefty Davis give Geneva more strength on the mound. Novak had a 2.33 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 45 innings while Davis went 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA. "We have a great team, great camaraderie with all the players," Hahn said. "We are young." Hahn noted Bryan Callaly, one of the team's top pitchers, is recovering from ACL surgery while Mason Anderson, a senior pitcher, is out for the season with a shoulder injury. "As always, our goals are to win 20-plus games, compete for a conference championship and regional championship. Those goals will not change." Hahn expects a competitive conference race. "Until someone knocks off St. Charles East, they are the team to beat," Hahn said. "Batavia and St. Charles North are always very difficult series to play. Larkin has a strong core of players too."
Coach: Brian Aversa
Last year: 13-18, 8-7 in Northern Illinois Big XII East (fourth). Top returners: Curtis Thorson, P-OF, sr.; Tyler Carlson, 1B-U, sr.; Nate Hopkins, P-OF, sr., Nick Stahl, P, sr.
Key newcomers: Joe Laudont, C, so.; Anthony Holubecki, P-OF, so.; Jacob Bachio, 3B, jr.
Outlook: Even with a losing record last year, the Knights weren't far from something special. They lost to eventual Class 3A runner-up St. Francis 5-4 in the regional title game, and Aversa's eighth team has a mix of veterans and newcomers to make this a memorable spring. Holubecki has an electric arm, and he committed to Notre Dame this fall after getting interest from many of the top college programs in the country. Kaneland has won the conference title three of the past four years, and the Knights will be battle tested early including a spring trip to Cincinnati where they will play some of the best teams Ohio has to offer including 17-time state baseball champion Elder High School along with defending state champion and a top 20 nationally ranked Archbishop Moeller High School which is the alma mater of Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin. Aversa said Kaneland's strengths will be pitching and defense. "If we can put some runs on the board we will be dangerous," Aversa said. "We want to put ourselves in a position to win conference and enter the regionals as a high seed and get another regional championship."
Coach: Dave Rakow
Last year: 13-11, 9-7 in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division (third). Top returners: Alex Troop, 1B/SP, sr.; Brady Roberts, C, sr.; Brian Simon, OF/P, sr.; Zach Siwiec, 3B/1B/P, sr.; Josh Meyers, SS, sr.; Jake Esp, P, jr.
Key newcomers: Edgar Sanchez, 2B/SS, jr.
Outlook: Marmion will try to stay alive longer in the postseason than it did in last year's loss to West Aurora behind Troop, who has committed to Michigan State, and Roberts, who broke Marmion's batting average last year as a junior. Simon, Siwiec, Meyers and Esp give the Cadets a solid nucleus in the field, their lineup and on the mound. Only five seniors graduated off last year's team, and seven of nine starters return. Four of the returnees made all-conference last year. "We expect to be very competitive this year, and hope to be one of the top teams in the SCC," Rakow said. "We have 12 pitchers on the roster who we trust to give us innings. Assuming that we can avoid injuries, we hope to be legitimate contenders in the 4A playoffs this year, which is something that has given us problems in the past." Marmion has gone back and forth between 4A and 3A during Rakow's seven years. In the two years the Cadets have been 4A they lost their first game in both 2009 and 2013. In the years they have been 3A they have won the regional all four times (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012).
St. Charles East
Coach: Len Asquini
Last year: 28-12, 19-6 in the Upstate Eight Conference River (third place). Top returners: Brannon Barry, CF, sr.; Adam Rojas, C, sr.; Adam Eck, P, sr.; Mike Boehmer, P, sr.
Key newcomers: Kyle Cook, P/OF, jr.; Austin Reglebrugge OF/P, jr.; Ryan Schreiner, P, jr.; Mick Vyzral, P, jr.; Ben Smith, 1B, jr.; Alex Abate, 2B/3B, sr.; Jake Clodi, 2B, jr.; Jake Milosch, SS/3B, jr.; Jake Asquini, SS, jr.; Reed Olson, 3B, sr.; Max Powers, OF, jr.; Jake Rykoskey, OF/C, jr.; Mike Settle, OF, jr.; Erik Anderson, OF, sr.
Outlook: With only two starters back from last year's team that beat Neuqua Valley to finish third in the Class 4A state tournament, it might seem the odds are long the Saints could pick up where they left off. Then came the summer season and this year's junior class showed they can play too, leading St. Charles East back to state. As Asquini says, the state berths in both the spring and summer for the first time in program history leave this year's team with "a lot of defending to do." Add in a share of the Upstate Eight Conference River title with Batavia and there's a lot the Saints want to do again. "We're hoping that what happened in the summer is a good springboard for this group and it might bode well," Asquini said. "I liked how they came around at the end of the summer, we're really happy with the development and progression." The Saints' two returning starters come in center field with Barry, an Illinois State football recruit, and behind the plate with Rojas, already an elite defensive player who is becoming more of an all-around threat. "He's done some work on his swing and in the weight room, his swing is better, looks a whole lot better than last year," Asquini said. "We're excited to see him swing in a game situation. Having him back defensively is heaven sent." Rojas won't have an ace like Matt Starai, who went 11-1 last year with a 0.54 ERA. That doesn't mean there isn't plenty of talent on the mound led by the tall lefty Eck and righty Boehmer. "We're hoping those two spearhead the staff," Asquini said. "We've got a handful of kids who can really throw, no Matt Starai, but they are very good, they pound the zone. Will these guys be able to get guys out consistently throughout the year? We believe they can." Asquini said there are still position battles around the infield other than Smith at first base. Abate and Clodi are battling for second base, juniors Milosch and Jake Asquini at shortstop, and Olson, Abate and Milosch at third. It's similarly competitive in the corner outfield spots including Powers, a transfer from Burlington Central, and "a very good addition to the junior class," Asquini said. Reglebrugge, Rykoskey (also the backup catcher), Cook and Settle are all in the running. Then there's Anderson, who hit cleanup this summer but is currently out after shoulder surgery. Asquini said Anderson's return is about a month away. The coach really likes the seniors and his junior class but knows they have big shoes to fill. "We graduated 10 seniors, they all contributed greatly," Asquini said. "Usually a couple guys don't get a lot of time, but all of them did. It's a big gap for us to fill."
St. Charles North
Coach: Todd Genke
Last year: 19-18, 11-14 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division. Top returners: Frankie Farry, P/SS/3B, sr.; Cory Wright, P/1B, jr.; Jack Dennis, 1B/OF, sr.
Key newcomers: Mitch Hurst, C, sr.; Kyle Khoury, C, jr.; Carson Schmitt, C, jr.; Riley Coomes, 2B, sr.; Zach Mettetal, SS, fr.; Jordan Bergren, 3B, sr.; Nick Drawant, LF, sr.; John Legare, CF, so.; Anthony Lambert, OF, sr.
Outlook: The North Stars lost their regional opener 1-0 to Bartlett which snapped their streak of 20-win seasons at 9. "We have a lot of talent and a lot of potential," Genke said. The North Stars have a great piece to build around in Wright, already committed to Kansas State. He will be the team's ace and also a big bat in the lineup at first base when he doesn't pitch. Farry and the junior right-hander Hubble will make up the top three in the rotation with a number of others competing for innings. "It will all come down to pitching," Genke said. "We think we can hit, we can score runs." Genke also has three catchers vying to replace Ryan Thomas. He said he'll take a long look at the three during the team's trip to Dyersburg, Tennessee from April 1-5. After going to Marion the past five years, the North Stars are taking a longer trip south for a tournament that has been played for 25 years. They will get at least five games in. Dennis will play first when Wright pitches, Coomes is starting at second and either Farry or Bergren at third. Farry also could play shortstop, or it could be Mettetal, the first freshman Genke has called up to varsity. Genke likes the speed in his outfield.
Coach: John Reeves
Last year: 14-17, 7-14 in the DuPage Valley Conference (tied for sixth). Top returners: D.J. Varney, P/OF, sr.; Mike Golich, SS, sr.; Jared Leibelt, P/OF, jr.
Key newcomers: Kyle Walden, 1B, jr.; Jacob Andalcio, 2B, sr.
Outlook: The Blackhawks beat Marmion 3-1 in their regional opener last spring for their seventh straight win in a strong finish to the season before losing 7-0 to Naperville Central. Varney, an all-area and all-DVC selection, won that game over the Cadets to cap a 6-3 season with a 1.61 ERA, and he also struck out 52 hitters in 56 innings with a 0.98 WHIP. He stole 7 bases and had 19 runs and 16 RBI while winning team MVP. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, Varney is recovering from hip surgery he had in August and is not fully active yet. Golich made honorable mention all-conference last year. "Mike Golich has looked good so far after a strong junior season," Reeves said. "Jared Leibelt looks to lead the staff in the absence of Varney and has looked impressive in the early going."