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updated: 3/19/2015 3:31 PM

Tri-Cities area baseball previews

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  • Nick Stratman will be "a staple" in the middle of the Kaneland lineup according to Knights coach Brian Aversa.

      Nick Stratman will be "a staple" in the middle of the Kaneland lineup according to Knights coach Brian Aversa.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Cory Wright went 6-1 with a 1.62 ERA for St. Charles North last season.

      Cory Wright went 6-1 with a 1.62 ERA for St. Charles North last season.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Geneva's Jack Wassel, pictured applying a tag against St. Charles East's Austin Regelbrugge who was safe on the play, will be a big part of the Vikings' lineup after hitting .327 with 29 RBI last year. Regelbrugge is one of the best left-handed pitchers in the area who will play right field when he doesn't pitch.

      Geneva's Jack Wassel, pictured applying a tag against St. Charles East's Austin Regelbrugge who was safe on the play, will be a big part of the Vikings' lineup after hitting .327 with 29 RBI last year. Regelbrugge is one of the best left-handed pitchers in the area who will play right field when he doesn't pitch.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

Aurora Central Catholic

Coach: Sean Bietermann

Last year: 19-16, lost in Class 3A regional semifinals. Top returnees: Matt Rahn, sr., P/OF; Chris Saltijeral, sr., SS; Michael Bieterman, so., C; John Belskis, so., 2B: Jared Smith, sr., 3B; Brandon Babler, sr., OF: Ryan Poplawski, jr., 1B; Chris Nilo, sr., 3B.

Key newcomers: Jake Smith, jr. P/OF; Sean Sinisko fr., P; Jimmy Laurenti so., OF.

Outlook: Rahn is the most experienced player on the team, a 3-year starter. Saltijeral was the team's top hitter last year while Bieterman transferred from Timothy Christian. Belskis, Jared Smith, Babler and Poplawski are all returning starters. "This group reminds me of our 2013 team," Sean Bietermann said of his regional champs. "Strong senior leadership and solid players across the board. Michael Bieterman is as strong as a catcher as there is in the area. This is a really fun group of kids to coach. They understand the expectations of our program." While the experience comes mostly in the lineup, newcomers Jake Smith and Sinisko will give the pitching staff a boost. Bietermann said Smith is a "powerful right-handed pitcher, strong left-handed bat." The coach likes his staff. "Pitching should be solid with Rahn, Smith and Sinisko leading the way." The Chargers will take all their talent to the Metro Suburban Conference and Bietermann expects his group to be as good as any team in it.

Aurora Christian

Coach: Andy Zorger

Last year: 16-12, 7-9 for fifth in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue, reached Class 2A sectional title game. Top returnees: R.D. Lutze, jr., RHP/3B; Dustin Barrett, jr., 1B/RHP; Drew Wagner, jr., SS/RHP; Lucas Kernell, sr., C

Key newcomers: Jacob Daley, jr., OF; Gerald Marrero, jr., 2B/RHP; Tanner Dissell, so., OF/C; Ethan Stoneberg, so., RHP/INF.

Outlook: Lutze moves from the Eagles' No. 2 to the top spot in the rotation after going 3-5 with a 3.58 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 43 innings. Last year's ace, J.T. Baksha, is now at Western Illinois, one of six starters and eight seniors the Eagles have to replace. Barrett hit in the No. 3 hole last year as a sophomore and battled .342 with 19 RBI, 5 doubles and an .895 OPS. "He will provide most of the power this year," Zorger said. Wagner will follow Lutze in the rotation after going 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA in 32 innings. "We have a very strong junior class this year and will need to get some contributions from some sophomores," Zorger said. "Our starting pitching depth should be strong overall, but we have some questions on defense at several spots. Offensively we will be limited in the power numbers most likely but should have more overall team speed than we have had the past couple years. I still feel like we will be able to compete in Class 2A for another regional and hopefully beyond." The conference race takes on a new look with just Marmion, St. Francis and Montini. Each school will play the other three times. "It will be a very competitive league," Zorger said. "I like that fact that we will have to use three different starting pitchers from each team, so you get a true picture of best overall team. We might struggle in the conference games at times, but it should help prepare us for 2A postseason play."

Batavia

Coach: Matt Holm

Last year: 32-4, 23-2, first place in Upstate Eight River, lost to South Elgin in Schaumburg sectional championship game. Top returnees: Evan Acosta, sr., P/OF; Matt Musielak, sr., C; Steve Busby, sr., OF; Kyle Niemiec, jr., SS/3B; Mitch Boyer, sr., P; Nick Rogalski, sr., P; Eric Huizinga, sr., P

Key newcomers: Luke Beckmann, jr., 1B/OF; Glenn Albanese, P, so.; Ben Lynam, jr., P.

Outlook: It was a dream season in 2014 for Batavia, at least until an upset loss to South Elgin two wins away from reaching the state tournament. Still, that group did things no team at the school ever has, setting a record with 32 wins. While the Bulldogs do have to replace the likes Laren Eustace, Micah Coffey and Jake Piechota, talent remains. In the summer this group reached a regional final before losing to Crystal Lake South. "I am excited, as I am every year, about the returning talent we have," Holm said. "We have a good deal of talent in our senior class, but some juniors and sophomores who are very capable of contributing will have to step up." Musielak filled in the past two years behind the plate when Dino Simoncelli was injured. "His defense and arm are very strong," said Holm, who also likes Busby's defense. "He earned one of our team Gold Glove awards. Busby's speed makes him a threat on base." Acosta, headed to Western Kentucky, and Boyer, who is going to Creighton, lead a deep pitching staff that includes reliever Rogalski (North Central College), and Huizinga, Albanese and Lynam. "Our biggest challenge comes in replacing the tremendous talent of last year," Holm said. "We will rely heavily on pitching and have to manufacture more runs this year." Batavia's season gets going next week on Wheaton College's home turf at Pfund Field against York, Willowbrook and Naperville North. Holm expects more of the same in the UEC River race. "Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles North and St. Charles East have tremendous baseball programs, and it is always a battle between the four schools," Holm said.

Geneva

Coach: Matt Hahn

Last year: 20-15, 15-10, tied for third in UEC River.

Top returnees: Jack Wassel, jr., SS; Nate Montgomery, sr., C; Jason Croci, sr., OF; Garrett Davis, sr., OF/LHP; Mitchell Merges, jr., 1B/LHP; Nick Porretto, sr., 3B; Bret Reed, sr., 1B/RHP.

Key newcomers: Bryan Callaly, jr., RHP; Justin Soeldner, jr., OF; Justin Hasegawa, jr., 2B; Matt Simpson, jr., OF.

Outlook: The Vikings have some impressive bats returning including Croci, an all-conference pick who stole 10 bases and batted .343, Wassel who hit .327 with 5 doubles and 29 RBI, and Montgomery, a 3-year starter with 18 RBI. Porretto is moving from first base to third base. Geneva also has some experience on the mound with Davis who was 6-1 with a 1.71 ERA, Merges with a 4-1 record and 1.93 ERA in 29 innings, and Reed who went 3-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 41 innings. Geneva has reached 20 wins in 9 of the past 10 years. "We will work hard to win 20 games again, and we always make it a goal to challenge for conference and regional championships," Hahn said. "I like our pitching staff, which will be healthy for the first time since our 2012 team that went 26-8. We lost Andy Honiotes (who went to Miami, Fl. in 2013) and we lost two solid pitchers at the top of our staff last year. Both those seasons we were able to get to 20 wins." Geneva is taking its first spring trip this year to Louisville. "We're playing some real good competition that will hopefully get us ready for what I believe is one of the top two to three baseball conferences in the state of Illinois." Hahn is expecting another tight conference race. "Tough as always," Hahn said. "Batavia will reload, (St. Charles) North and East are two of the toughest teams on our schedule. West Chicago will be an added challenge, and Larkin, Elgin, and Streamwood always come ready to play. We hope to be right in the race when it is all said and done," Hahn said.

Kaneland

Coach: Brian Aversa

Last year: 18-17, 9-6 in the Northern Illinois Big XII East (third). Top returnees: Nick Stratman, sr., OF/P; Joe Laudont, jr., C; Danny Hammermeister, sr., 1B; Austin Wheatley, sr., 2B; Joe Panico, sr., SS; Jacob Bachio, sr, 3B.

Key newcomers: Matt Rosko, jr., RF; Matt O'Sullivan, jr., LHP/1B.

Outlook: Stratman made all-conference last year after hitting .300. "He will be a staple in the heart of our order," Aversa said. Laudont missed a portion of the season with an injury but returned to help Kaneland win its second regional title. He batted .339. Another key hitter for the Knights will be Rosko. "Matt had a great summer for us and has worked very hard this off-season," Aversa said. O'Sullivan is one of the keys to the season with his work on the mound. "Matt is a great addition to our pitching staff and will be an anchor in our starting rotation," Aversa said. "We have a lot of experience coming back from last year and we had a successful summer. This team is one of the closest teams that I've ever coached as they all get along with each other and care about each other like family. We will be good on defense this year but if we can hit the ball and get an arm or two doing what we need on the mound in addition to what we have coming back, then that would make us dangerous." Rochelle is no longer in the conference -- one that has had tight races year after year that typically come down to the final 3-game series. "I think the five of us all have a really good chance each year of winning conference," Aversa said. "Obviously, Yorkville has the upper hand with what they are returning, but Sycamore, Morris, DeKalb, and us all have pretty strong teams that are capable of going the distance any year. Our goals have always been the same. We want to compete for a conference championship each year and then focus on winning a regional. We also want to have a very difficult schedule."

Marmion

Coach: Dave Rakow

Last year: 16-11, first place in Suburban Christian Conference. Top returnees: Jake Esp, sr., P/1B/OF; Edgar Sanchez, sr., SS/2B.

Key newcomers: Matthew Henkel, jr., SS/2B/P; Will Matthews, jr., 3B/P; Jon Young, jr., SS/2B/P; Adam Prosser, jr., 1B/P.

Outlook: The Cadets graduated a lights-out pitcher in Alex Troop, and it looks like they have another ace to turn to in Esp. The senior, who just finished an excellent season on the basketball court, was 3-3 last year with a 1.93 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 36 innings. He is committed to Villanova. They also have a key piece to their lineup back in Sanchez who hit .341 last year with 25 runs, 12 RBI, 3 home runs and 15 stolen bases. "We are a very young team, but have more depth than we have in recent years at pitcher and in the infield," Rakow said. "We believe that there will likely be a learning curve early in the season, but also believe that we have a very talented group and will have an opportunity to put together a very solid season." The Cadets have won conference championships five of the last six years. There's only four teams in the SCC this year -- Aurora Christian, St. Francis and Montini joining the Cadets. Marmion is back in Class 4A for the postseason. In Rakow's seven ears they have won 3A regional titles each time they have been placed there -- 4 -- but never a 4A title. They did win their first 4A postseason game last year over Downers Grove North. "One of our goals is to win a regional championship at the 4A level this year," Rakow said.

St. Charles East

Coach: Len Asquini

Last year: 24-11, second in the Upstate Eight River. Top returnees: Austin Regelbrugge, sr., P/RF; Kyle Cook, sr., P; Mick Vyzral, sr., P; Jake Milosch, sr., 2B/P; Jake Asquini, sr., 1B/SS; Jake Clodi, sr., 2B; Reid Olson, sr., 3B; Max Powers, sr., CF.

Key newcomers: Anthony Adduci, jr., C; Jim Dale, jr., SS.

Outlook: With 12 of the 24 wins from last year back on the mound, the Saints are positioned for another year with 20-plus wins and fighting it out at the top of the UEC. "We're going to pitch well," Asquini said. "We have guys who can slow you down. Right now we don't have guys like Matt Starai who can shut you down, but we can slow you down. We'll play good defense, we'll get solid pitching and it's just a matter of our offense getting some timely hits." Those returning wins come from Regelbrugge, Cook and Vyzral -- the later who also set a program record last year with 8 saves. "We're pretty happy with what we have on the mound," Asquini said. Asquini also likes the arsenal that a pair of juniors, Matt Breidigan and Steve Podany, possess and expects they will contribute. St. Charles East has a new catcher and he looks like a good one in Adduci who will hit in the middle of the order. "He can swing the bat," Asquini said. "Hopefully he will drive in a bunch of runs and be impactful for us." Asquini's son Jake -- a rare three-sport athlete who has stood out in football, basketball and baseball -- is moving from shortstop to first base to make room for Dale at short. "From an offensive standpoint we're better with Dale at short and Jake at first," Asquini said. "We'll see how it all plays out. He (Jake) knows it strengthens our team." Clodi and Milosch are battling for the second base job while Olson is back and healthy at third after playing at less than 100 percent as a junior. He'll lead off. Powers is taking over for Brannon Barry in center, Regelbrugge will play right when he's not pitching and left field is still up for grabs. Asquini said he's improved the nonconference schedule (Huntley, Lyons Township) to get ready for the likes of St. Charles North and Batavia in the River. "We'll be tested. It's a real nice group of guys. Very athletic group," Asquini said. "I think you will see us, St. Charles North and Batavia throw very well on the mound. It's going to be a dogfight on the hill. We're chomping at the bit to get started."

St. Charles North

Coach: Todd Genke

Last year: 23-12, second in the Upstate Eight River Top returnees: Cory Wright, sr., 1B/LHP; Kyle Khoury, sr., C; Zach Mettetal, so., SS; Tyler Madsen, sr., 2B: Luke Corcoran, jr., 3B; Sam Hubbe, sr, RHP.

Key newcomers: Brendan Joyce, jr., CF; Jack Lambert, jr., LHP; Tyler Mettetal, so., LHP/LF; John LeGare, jr., RF; Sam Faith, so. 3B.

Outlook: The North Stars have a lot of what every team wants -- pitching. Wright went 6-1 last year with a 1.62 ERA. He's going to Kansas State next year. Hubbe committed to Butler six weeks ago and has a fastball in the 90s. "He's a very hard worker who has reaped the benefits of that hard work," Genke said. Two lefties, Lambert and Tyler Mettetal, would be at the top of a lot of rotations. "We feel pretty good on the mound," Genke said. "As we all know pitching is so important at any level. That bodes well to keeping any losing streak to a short streak and hopefully getting some winning steaks that can last for awhile." Genke said seniors Jake Shiltz, Ryan Suyak and Nick Barsanti all can come in late to help finish a tight game. They will be throwing to an experienced catcher in Khoury, going to Morehead State. "He's just a tremendous athlete," Genke said. "He moves so well behind the plate. His pop times are sub-2s. He shuts down the running game which is tremendous and he blocks everything." Genke said there is competition at second and third base. Zach Mettetal started as a freshman at shortstop. The twin Mettetal brothers have been a lot of fun for Genke to coach. "They are really tight," Genke said. "They push each other. But they are different. Zach is more of a quite kid while Tyler voices his opinion more." Wright also hit .358 as the leadoff hitter last year but will likely move to the middle of the order while Joyce goes to the top. Joyce also will man center flanked by Tyler Mettetal in left and LeGare in right. Khory is another bat the team is counting on in the middle of the order. The North Stars went 22-2 this summer. "We got some momentum moving into this," Genke said. "It's an exciting team with the guys back on the mound and this may be our fastest team. The question mark always is defensively. Can we pick it up and throw it where it belongs? If we do that it could be a special year for us."

West Aurora

Coach: John Reeves

Last year: 8-20, 6-15 in the DuPage Valley Conference (7th place). Top returnees: Jared Liebelt, sr., P; Seth Palmby, sr., C; Cole Rundle, sr., P/OF; Kyle Walden, sr., 1B; Logan Love, jr., OF/P.

Key newcomers: Joe Griffin, jr., 3B; Phil Mallory, sr., 2B; Connor Palmby, so., OF.

Outlook: Liebelt, a Villanova recruit, and Palmby, an honorable mention All-Conference selection, head the Blackhawks' returners. Reeves likes what West Aurora has on the mound. "We have some great starting pitching with Liebelt, Rundle and Love," Reeves said. "All experienced starters at the varsity level. Liebelt is in his third season with the varsity. Love, a junior, his second. Rundle threw quality innings last year. We are improved over last season with experienced pitching and solid defense. We are excited about the 2015 season." The Blackhawks begin a new era in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division. "With the switch to the UEC, we have no idea what to expect," Reeves said. "We'd like to think we would be among the top teams in the conference."

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