Baseball: Scouting the Fox Valley
Aurora Central Catholic ChargersCoach: Sean Bieterman (14th year, 288-153)
Conference: Metro Suburban West
2015 record: 25-10, 13-6
Top returning athletes: Jake Smith (sr., P/OF), Ryan Poplawski (sr., 3B), John Belskis (jr., SS), Sean Sinisko (so., P/1B), Michael Bieterman (jr., C), Jimmy Laurenti (jr., OF) Mario Magana (sr., P), Austin Berens (sr., P).
Season outlook: Bieterman has a solid nucleus with 6 returning starters. Those returnees include Michael Bieterman behind the plate, Belskis at shortstop, Poplawski at third base, Sinisko at first base, and a veteran outfield with Smith and Laurenti. The Chargers are especially experienced on the mound bringing back 6 of their top 7 pitchers from last year's team including Smith, headed to Heartland Community College. Smith, Sinisko, Magana, Berens, Laurenti and Bieterman combined for 17 wins. "Smith and Sinisko are as good of a 1-2 punch as there is in the area on the mound," coach Bieterman said. "Belskis, Poplawski, Bieterman and Laurenti return to a formidable lineup alongside Smith and Sinisko." The coach likes having experience at key spots defensively with Bieterman behind the plate and Belskis at shortstop. The Chargers could be the team to beat in the Metro Suburban Conference and poised for much success after that. "If the team meets potential we could make a deep run the state playoffs," Bieterman said.
Aurora Christian EaglesCoach: Andy Zorger (9th year, 157-88)
Conference: Northeastern Athletic
2016 record: 17-11, 3-6 in the SCC
Top returning athletes: RD Lutze (sr., P/3B), Drew Wagner (sr., SS/RHP), Dustin Barrett (sr., 1B), Gerald Marrero (sr., 2B/SS/RHP), Jacob Daley (sr., CF), Tanner Dissell (jr., C/OF), Ethan Stoneberg (jr., RHP/INF).
Top newcomers: Eric Hernandez (so., OF/LHP), Jacob Brothers (jr., LHP/OF), Drew Henning (jr., INF).
Season outlook: The Eagles have quite a 1-2 punch on the mound. Lutze, headed to Division II University of Illinois-Springfield, is the ace with upper 80s velocity and a wipeout curve ball. He went 6-2 last year with an 0.70 ERA, 88 strikeouts in just 50 innings. Also hit a team-high .364. Wagner, committed to Division II Southwest Baptist in Missouri, follows Lutze in the rotation with his mid-80s fastball he mixes with a changeup. He'll hit near the top of the lineup. Led by those two, the Eagles return every inning pitched last year. "Pitching is where it starts for us," said Zorger. Other bats to watch include Barrett, who will likely hit third or fourth after batting .333 last year with 18 RBI. Aurora Christian only graduated 2 seniors and 1 starter. "We are looking to pick up right where we left off," Zorger said. "We have the experience and the talent, just need to continue to improve our offensive consistency." The Eagles move to the NAC, and Zorger said he expects Westminster Christian, Luther North and Christian Life-Rockford to be the main competition. They also are looking for a third straight regional title and fourth in five years. "With the pitching we have, we expect to make a deep run in the 2A playoffs this year," Zorger said. "We are looking to breakthrough with a sectional title and hopefully beyond."
Bartlett HawksCoach: Chris Pemberton
Conference: Upstate Eight Valley
2016 record: 16-18, 13-12 UEC Valley
Top returning athletes: Shane Donovan (sr., OF/P), Dru Gonzales (sr., 1B/DH), Austin Hilvert (sr., OF), Johnny Johnson (sr., IF), Matt Johnson (sr., P/1B), Kyle Kucharski (sr., C), Cameron Mays (sr., OF), Brad Nowak (sr., OF/P), Scott Palmer (sr., P), Tripp Paris (sr., 3B/P), Mike Prang (1B/P),
Top newcomers: Eric Johansen (jr., IF/C), David Jaske (jr., IF/P), Brandon Kendall (jr., P), Martin Moreno (jr. SS), Frank Novello (jr., 1B), Scott Reudel (jr., C), Alex Rodriguez (jr., 3B/C), Ryan Sharko (jr., P/1B), Max Smithberg (jr., P), Ryan Temesvary (jr., OF/P)
Season outlook: The Hawks have reason for optimism, thanks to a deep pitching staff led by a trio of Division-III talents and the return of several senior position players. Returning to the mound are seniors Paris (Wisconsin-Oshkosh), left-hander Donovan (Webster) and Prang (Loras). Paris was all-area and all-UEC Valley as a junior after posting a 5-4 record and 1.82 ERA with 47 strikeouts and 20 walks in 57⅔ innings. In 16 innings last season, Donovan went 1-1 with 13 strikeouts and 10 walks. Prang was slowed by injury as a junior but coach Chris Pemberton expects him to be a factor on the mound and at first base. Another key piece of the pitching staff is Palmer. The senior got his feet wet last season with a 2.21 ERA in 12⅔ innings with 8 strikeouts and 2 walks. Palmer allowed only 2 earned runs in 17 innings in summer-league action. Other pitchers expected to contribute are senior lefty Johnson and junior Kendall. Kendall should be a regular part of the rotation. He was called up to the varsity late last season and finished with a 4.27 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 12 walks in 19⅔ innings. "Our pitching staff has some depth," Pemberton said. "We hope that this aspect of our team can drive us throughout the season." The Hawks return some senior hitters from a team that batted .311, including outfielder Mays (. 333, 7 2B, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 35 R), outfielder Hilvert (. 295, 7 2B, 13 RBI), second baseman Johnny Johnson (. 236, 4 2B, 12 RBI), catcher Kucharski (4 RBI) and first baseman/DH Gonzales (. 323, 3 2B). Paris is Bartlett's leading returning hitter. As a junior his split line was .394/.423/.586. He swatted 13 doubles, 2 home runs, drove in 30 runs and scored 19. "We will have many decisions to make about our lineup as many guys have shown that they can contribute," Pemberton said.
Batavia BulldogsCoach: Matt Holm (24th year, 424-329)
Conference: Upstate Eight River
2015 record: 16-19
Top returning athletes: Luke Beckmann (sr., 1B/OF), Tyler Kledzik (sr., 2B), Kyle Niemiec (sr., OF), Glen Albanese (jr., P), Ben Lynam (sr., P), Andrew Costigan (sr., 3B), Alex Kielion (sr., P), Jimmy Roach (sr., OF), Michael Fosslali (sr., P).
Top newcomers: Jared Martin (so., SS), Tyler Munoz (jr., C), Brent Norkus (jr., OF).
Season outlook: After serving as the nucleus of last year's team as juniors, Batavia has a senior class ready to return the Bulldogs to their winning ways in Holm's 24th season as coach. "Last year they were up to the challenge. Now, they are the leaders of our team. That being said, we have a number of newcomers that will contribute greatly this season and I'm excited to watch them succeed." Batavia does have to replace All-Area pitcher Evan Acosta (5-2, 2.24 ERA, 77 strikeouts) and catcher Matt Musielak. They have a couple big arms in Albanese, committed to Louisville, and Lynam, headed to Parkland College. "Both saw a lot of innings last year and will need to be our workhorses this year as well," Holm said. Beckmann, Kledzik and Niemiec are all returning starters and will provide offense. Niemiec, a 3-year starter who played on Batavia's 32-win team in 2014, is moving from shortstop to outfield this season as Martin, a sophomore, takes over at shortstop. Holm said defense is a priority this spring. "Our biggest challenge comes in reducing the numbers of defensive mistakes from last year," Holm said. "We were on the losing end of many one-run games that came down to an error or defensive lapse. We have made that our biggest point of emphasis in the summer and offseason. Our starting pitching looks strong, but our bullpen will need to step up and shut down opposing offenses. We have the offense to score runs and we need to keep the pressure on opposing teams all season long." Holm said he's once again expecting Batavia to be in a race with Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North for conference supremacy. Holm said in addition to Lynam, he has at least five more seniors who will play college baseball: Kledzik (Elmhurst), Beckmann (Carthage or North Central), Kielion (Elmhurst), Roach (undecided) and Fosslali (Elgin Community College).
Burlington Central RocketsCoach: Kyle Nelson
Conference: Big Northern (East)
2016 record: 24-9, 11-1 (first BNC-East)
Top returning athletes: Dylan Berry (jr., LHP), Kyle Creadon (sr., RHP/OF), John Murphy (sr., C/3B/DH), Craig Schuring (sr., OF/P), Kilian Vasica (jr., 1B/DH)
Top newcomers: Ryan Knowlton (so., 3B/1B/RHP), David Lauber (jr., OF/3B/RHP), Paddy McKermitt (so., 2B/SS), Clay Milas (jr., SS/RHP), Clay Noeska (jr., OF/RHP), Matt Termini (jr., C), Brandon Van Buren (jr., LHP/OF)
Season outlook: The reigning Big Northern East champion Rockets are a promising but largely unproven group at the varsity level. "We are a very young team and will be a totally different team in May than we are in March," 11th-year coach Kyle Nelson said. "We have a lot of very young, talented pitchers who will need to get some variety of innings under their belt. Depth is our strong suit as we go two, three deep at most positions and have 12 quality arms." The most experienced members of the pitching staff are junior left-hander Berry (4-0, 3.06 ERA, 38 K, 7 BB, 31 IP) and senior right-hander Creadon (2-1, 2.17 ERA, 15 K, 6 BB, 19.1 IP). Returning position players include Murphy, a senior catcher/third baseman who finished the 2015 season with a split line of .347/.426/.486, 2 home runs and 28 RBI. Junior first baseman Vasica provides power. As a sophomore on the varsity, he batted .358 and slugged .627 with 4 home runs and 24 RBI.
Cary-Grove TrojansCoach: Don Sutherland
Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)
2016 record: 24-9-2, 16-2
Top returning athletes: Quinn Celske (sr., OF), Matt McCumber (jr., P), Tyler Pennington (jr., C/IF/OF), Mark Smith (sr., 3B/P),
Top newcomers: Dom Calamari (sr., IF), Ben Dolezal (sr., P), Michael Eleftheriou (Jr, P), Nick Kirk (sr., IF/OF), Max Neilson (jr., P/1B), Thomas Neilson (jr., P/1B), Collin Walsh (jr., OF)
Season outlook: Though only two regulars return from last year's FVC Valley championship team, coach Don Sutherland believes this unit is poised to finish among the top tier in the competitive Valley Division yet again. "Just because we started mostly seniors last year didn't mean the juniors were bad," Sutherland said. "I wasn't sure how committed this group was until this winter when I saw a lot of them working out with weights and doing agilities after school. I was encouraged by the way they dedicated themselves." Pennington moves from left field to his natural position at catcher now that Wyatt Mascarella (UIC) has graduated. In his second varsity season as a sophomore, Pennington batted .346 (36-for-104) with 11 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs and 30 RBI. Smith returns to play third base. McDonough, a transfer from Marian Central, played first base and had 2 hits in Tuesday's season opener. The speedy Walsh and Underwood will play outfield spots. The Trojans must replace their top two pitchers. One likely contributor is McCumber. He was expected to be a key piece of the pitching staff as a sophomore until he hurt his chest lifting weights, Sutherland said. Senior Danny Schmidt gained some starting experience in McCumber's place and saw mixed results, though he pitched a 1-hitter against Dundee-Crown. Other rotation candidates are former JV pitcher Max Neilson, who pitched 3 innings on Tuesday, Thomas Neilson and Dolezal. The latter did not play for Cary-Grove last spring but still managed to gain the attention of the Augustana. Thomas Neilson was the top pitcher for the sophomore team a year ago. "I think every team in our conference is going to be good again," Sutherland said. "You just have to make sure you don't lose games because of errors and walks."
Crystal Lake South GatorsCoach: Brian Bogda
Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)
2016 record: 24-9, 15-4
Top returning athletes: Tyler Carlson (sr., OF/LHP), Cam Geisser (sr., IF), Tim Siesennop (sr., LHP), Michael Swiatly (jr., C/OF), Nick Van Witzenburg (sr., C/OF)
Top newcomers: Keven Amren (sr., RHP), Griffin Bright (jr., 2B/OF), Luke Dunham (jr., RHP), Andrew Engelking (jr., RHP), Kyle Lang (so., 1B/RHP), Nick Wolski (jr., 1B/OF)
Season outlook: Whereas last season there was little variation in coach Brian Bogda's starting lineup from day-to-day, this year's lineups will vary as the ninth-year coach seeks the right mix. "We have a lot of competition at each of the spots and we also have a lot of versatility from some of our players, so you might see different combinations out there," Bogda said. "I think this is something everyone is going to have to get used to and adapt to." The Gators return some key players from a 24-win team that tied Jacobs for second place in the competitive FVC Valley, led by senior catcher/outfielder Van Witzenburg (. 330, 2 HR, 9 RBI), senior infielder Geisser (. 265, 12 RBI, 16 R) and junior catcher/outfielder Swiatly (. 233, 7 RBI, 12 R). Juniors Bright and Wolski and sophomore Lang will find their way into the lineup. Pitching is expected to be a strong suit. Returning are senior left-handers Siesennop (1-1, 2.69 ERA, 18 K, 26 IP) and Carlson (1-2, 2 saves, 3.09 ERA, 12 K, 20 IP). Others expected to join the rotation include Amren, a right-handed senior back playing baseball after a year off, 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior right-hander Dunham and 6-2, 165-pound junior Engelking, a right-hander who pitched 7 scoreless varsity innings as a sophomore. "We have a nice mix of returners and younger players ready to commit to the process and step into those larger roles," Bogda said. "Our pitching staff will be a strength."
Dundee-Crown ChargersCoach: Jon Anderson (fourth year, 45-51)
Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)
2016 record: 20-13, 10-7
Top returning athletes: Carson Barcer (sr., P/IF), Nathan Clark (sr., IF), Danny Denz (sr., LHP/1B), Pat Harvey (sr., OF), David Hamelbrg (sr., P/C), Erik Hedmark (so., LHP), Jacob Kieltyka (sr., P), Nick Musielewicz (sr., OF), Alec Rivas (Sr., OF), Andrew Rodriguez (sr., C), Tayler Schmidt (sr., IF), Jim Welzien (sr., OF), Matt Wiechmann (sr., RHP), Andrew Zimmer (sr., IF)
Top newcomers: Brett Buske (jr., P/IF), Ryan Denz (jr., IF), Alex Haas (jr., OF), Sean Jay (jr., IF), Alex MacDonald (jr., IF), Matt Marczyk (jr., IF), Jonathan Mays (jr., C), Conor Ryan (jr., P/IF), Ben Schilf (jr., P/IF), Rem Stewart (jr., P/IF), Greg Williams (jr., C), Scott Wojcik (jr., P/IF)
Season outlook: Sure, District 300 rival Jacobs finished third in the state last season and returns a lot of talent, but so do the Chargers, the team that nearly derailed Jacobs' 2015 postseason run before it started. Dundee-Crown won 20 games last season before losing a regional semifinal heartbreaker at Jacobs, 5-4, on an unearned run in the 12th inning. The Chargers led that game 4-1 in the sixth inning. The two pitchers who did the heavy lifting for D-C that day were the right-hander Wiechmann and left-hander Hedmark, though neither is considered the team ace. That distinction belongs to left-hander Denz, the goggle-wearing Memphis recruit. In 60 innings as a junior, Denz went 7-4 with a save, a 1.75 ERA, struck out 87 and walked 19. Wiechmann, now a senior finished 2-2 with an ERA of 4.00 in 35 innings with 21 strikeouts, 19 walks and 35 hits allowed. Hedmark burst on the scene midway through his freshman season and posted a 2.07 ERA over 20⅓ innings. That trio gets support from a promising crop of juniors. "Although we lost some key players from last year, we have a great junior class looking to contribute this season," said fourth-year coach Jon Anderson (45-51). "Everyone has been working extremely hard in the off-season as we look to improve on last year's success. We welcome back some pitching that will help us be successful this season." Denz is D-C's leading returning hitter (. 315, 11 RBI). Also returning are senior outfielders Welzien (. 283, 9 RBI) and Musielewicz (. 238, 10 RBI, 21 R).
Elgin MaroonsCoach: David Foerster
Conference: Upstate Eight River
2016 record: 9-28, 4-21
Top returning athletes: Pat Gallagher (sr., OF/P/C), Miguel Perez (sr., OF/P), Eddy Ramos (sr., SS/2B/P), Rigoberto Sanchez (sr., IF/OF/P), Brandon Stork (sr., IF/P/C), Will Welch (sr., P/1B/OF)
Top newcomers: R.J. Bartlett (so., IF/OF/P), Ethan Densmore (jr., OF), J.C. Fortmann (so., SS/2B/P), Hayden Gibson (jr., C), Payton Reynolds (so., IF/OF/P)
Season outlook: Due to a short roster and little depth, the Maroons will likely forego the designated hitter in most games because their pitchers need to hit. "Most of our pitchers will be playing other positions when not pitching," 10th-year coach David Foerster said. "It is a relatively inexperienced staff so any innings that our pitchers get early in the year will be very important." Stork, Ramos, Welch and Perez form the heart of the rotation while Stork, Sanchez and Ramos are expected to double as offensive leaders. Three promising sophomores -- Bartlett, Fortmann and Reynolds -- have been elevated to varsity to plug some holes. Each "will get plenty of at-bats and opportunities at different positions throughout the year," Foerster said.
Elgin Academy HilltoppersCoach: Steve Shapiro
Conference: Independent School League
2016 record: 11-16, 2-9
Top returning athletes: Jonathan Cruz (so., SS/P), Karl Rauschenberger (sr., CF), Andrew Wilson (jr. 2B), Ian Wilson (jr., 3B/P)
Top newcomers: Kevin Kuykendall (fr., IF/P)
Season outlook: The Hilltoppers hope to make more inroads in the fourth season since the school's baseball program was revived. Junior Ian Wilson returns to the heart of the batting order. Last year he hit .475 (29-for-61) with 3 doubles, 3 triples, 4 home runs and 28 RBI. He's not the only accomplished hitter returning. Also back is shortstop Cruz, who burst on the scene as a freshman by batting .370 (33-for-89) with 6 doubles, 3 triples, 13 RBI and 30 runs. Junior second baseman Andrew Wilson returns after hitting .367 (25-for-68) with 5 doubles. Senior center fielder Rauschenberger batted .383 (28-for-73) with 2 home runs. Cruz was also a leader on the mound last year, leading the team in victories and ERA. Cruz, Ian Wilson and freshman Kuykendall will be key arms in the starting rotation. Coach Steve Shaprio said he hopes to see Elgin Academy, a Class 1A team in the mostly 2A Indpendent School League, raise its win total in league play. He also said he wants "to see the baseball IQ of each and every player surpass last year so they can execute with a purpose."
Geneva VikingsCoach: Matt Hahn (12th year, 234-141)
Conference: Upstate Eight River
2015 record: 22-11, 16-9
Top returning athletes: Jack Wassel (sr., 3B), Mitchell Merges (sr., P), Bryan Callaly (sr., P), Matt Simpson (sr., OF), AJ Hostman (sr., 1B), Justin Hasegawa (sr., 2B).
Top newcomers: Jeremy Davis (jr., OF), Josh Rose (so., C), Dylan Baer (jr., OF).
Season outlook: Headed to Minnesota, Wassel heads the top returnees for Geneva after hitting .413 last year with 16 stolen bases. Simpson (Augustana) batted .302 last year, and Hasegawa (Judson) hit .308 while only making 4 errors in 109 chances. Hostman started at third last year and is moving to first. On the mound, the lefty Merges struck out 35 in 31 innings. He went 3-1 with a 2.94 ERA. Callaly was 5-2 with a 3.39 ERA. "We have several seniors back from last season," Hahn said. "The conference is as strong as ever. We hope to be competitive in an extremely strong conference. Our goals have never changed."
Hampshire Whip-PursCoach: John Sarna
Conference: Fox Valley (Fox)
2016 record: 17-17, 8-11
Top returning athletes: Michael Kruse (sr., CF/P), Jake Manning (sr., IF/P)
Top newcomers: Pawel Barnas (jr., DH/RHP/1B/C), Kyle Homa (jr., 1B/LHP), Matt Wians (so., C)
Season outlook: A combination of graduation losses, injuries and ineligible players leave the Whip-Purs with an uphill climb. The good news is they return of a pair of smart, talented athletes in seniors Kruse and Manning, both named academic all-state. The right-handed duo heads the pitching rotation. Last season Manning went 5-3 with a 2.27 ERA in 37 innings. He struck out 37, walked 7 and limited opponents to 29 hits (. 973 WHIP). Kruse led the team with a 1.09 ERA in 19⅓ innings. He notched 20 strikeouts, allowed 16 hits and issued 7 walks. Beyond that pair comes a mix of "Johnny All-staff," fourth-year coach John Sarna said. Kruse (. 294, 6 2B, 18 RBI) and Manning (. 269, 4 2B, 9 RBI) will be mainstays in a batting order that otherwise lacks varsity at-bats. Junior catcher Carter Lawler will miss the season due to a knee injury, thus, Sarna promoted sophomore Wians to play the position. Two newcomers who could make an impact are Barnas, a 6-foot-1, 285-pound junior designated hitter who plays football and wrestles, and Kyle Homa, a 6-2, left-handed junior first baseman. "As far as proven players, we just don't have that," Sarna said. "On the mound we'll mix and match and have kids throw and inning here, an inning there. It'll be an experiment this season. Hopefully, some players step up and we're playing well at the end of the season." Hampshire will face Woodstock North in its annual "K Cancer" game on May 14.
Harvest Christian LionsCoach: Jeff Halter
Conference: Northeastern Athletic
2016 record: 6-14
Top returning athletes: Dayne Frederick (so., OF), Chad Jakel (sr., RHP/SS), Drew Lewis (so., RHP/3B), Dominick Olech (so., UTL), Zach Pawelek (so., LHP)
Top newcomers: Jack Nohava (fr., C/RHP/IF), Joey Pepper (so., RHP/C/3B), Brock Wilken (fr., 1B), Grant Young (fr., 2B),
Season outlook: Entering their second season as a varsity program, the Lions are still an extremely young team with sophomores forming the core. On the plus side, most players have a year of varsity experience under their belts and know what to expect the second time around. Sophomore Lewis and senior Jakel were the Lions' leading hitters a year ago. Lewis batted .333 (39-for-117) with 5 doubles and 16 RBI. Jakel hit .327 (18-for-55) with 3 doubles and 9 driven in. Also back is Pawelek, who as a freshman hit .278 (15-for-54) with 2 doubles and 14 RBI. Three sophomore pitchers return, though none finished with an ERA below 5.00 as freshmen competing against upperclassmen. Will a year of maturity help the Lions make a leap forward? "We will be young and have to limit mistakes, while educating," Harvest Christian Academy coach Jeff Halter said. "We need to be prepared for the highs and lows with a majority young roster."
Huntley Red RaidersCoach: Andy Jakubowski
Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)
2016 record: 9-27, 3-14
Top returning athletes: Jeff Heinrich (jr., P/3B/OF), Noah Konie (jr., LHP/1B), Ryan McGran (sr., OF), Charlie Nugent (sr., SS), Trevor Ranallo (sr., 2B/UTL.), Cameron Reed (jr., RHP), Joe Rizzo (jr. C/2B/3B), Patrick Sexton (sr., RHP/OF), Luc Sibert (sr., RHP)
Top newcomers: Mike Ahmer (jr., RHP), Joe Boland (jr., SS/UTL), Alec Coss (jr., OF), Logan DeWulf (jr., RHP), Tyler Koss (so., C/UTL), Nick Laxner (so, RHP), Brad Maurer (jr., 2B/UTL), Eric Maurer (jr., 2B/UTL), Brad Model (jr., LHP/OF), Kyle Morgan (so, LHP), Trevor Nemes (jr., RHP), Tyler Novak (jr., C), Cole Raines (jr., RHP), Denny Smith (jr., RHP), Adam Smylie (jr., LHP/1B)
Season outlook: Huntley aims to bounce back from a 9-27 campaign with nine returning players and an infusion of new blood. The basis for optimism is a talented young pitching staff that 300-game winner Andy Jakubowski says is "deep and will be the backbone for this season and for years to come." Rotation candidates include juniors Heinrich, Konie, Reed and Smylie and sophomores Morgan, a left-hander, and Laxner. The most experienced pitchers of the group are Reed (36 IP, 3.31 ERA, 31 K, 17 BB, 37 H), Heinrich (28 IP, 4.25 ERA, 15 K, 16 BB, 23 H) and Konie (25 IP, 6.44 ERA, 30 K, 10 BB, 38 H). Of the returning position players, the most seasoned are McGran (. 379 in 29 at-bats, 5 2B, HR), Rizzo (. 182 in 55 at-bats, 2 2B, 7 RBI), Konie (. 321 in 78 at-bats, 5 2B, 9 RBI), second baseman Ranallo (. 223 in 49 at-bats, 2 2B) and Heinrich (. 250 in 64 at-bats, 14 RBI). Outfielder Sexton is committed to Eureka College. The Red Raiders plan to win with pitching, glovework and manufactured runs. "We have always prided ourselves on pitching and defense as a program," Jakubowski said. "We have a deep pitching staff as well as a strong defensive unit. This team us full of character guys who are unselfish. The expectation is to play in the Huntley sectional and see what happens. We are very excited about this team and the possibilities."
Jacobs Golden EaglesCoach: Jamie Murray
Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)
2016 record: 29-11-1, 12-5
Top returning athletes: Mike Addante (jr., OF), Jeff Anders (sr., P), Casey Dennison (sr., P/1B), Brendan Heiss (sr., P), Stevie Krueger (sr., OF), Evan Liebau (sr., P), Nate Meland (sr., SS/2B), Loen Nelson (sr., UTL), Bryce Pahl (sr., OF/DH), Tim Randl (sr., 3B), Johnny Rohde (sr., P), Daniel Salomon (sr., C), Cam Wilson (sr., C/DH)
Top newcomers: Joe Becker (jr., LHP), Brad Demkovich (jr., LHP/OF), Adam Kale (jr., OF), Ryan McGorian (jr., 1B), Nick Washington (jr., OF), Jacob Sonnefelt (jr. SS/2B)
Season outlook: The Golden Eagles return 15 players from a team that finished tied for third in Class 4A, won a school-record 29 games, a third straight regional, a second sectional in three years and the program's first supersectional. Leading the way is a talented, veteran pitching staff headed by Arkansas signee Heiss, one of the top-ranked prospects in Illinois who throws his fastball as high as 96 mph and consistently at 93-94. A three-year varsity starter, Heiss enjoyed an impressive summer after an injury plagued junior season in which he posted a 2-2 record and 2.66 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 23 walks while allowing only 9 hits in 26⅓ innings. Heiss was the winning pitcher in a 3-1 supersectional victory over Stevenson. He is joined in the rotation by Dennison (4-2), a senior who pitched some big innings in last year's playoff run. The right-hander registered a 1.51 ERA in 46⅓ innings, struck out 29, walked 9 and allowed 34 hits (. 928 WHIP). Also back is Rohde, a fireballer who set a school record last season with 12 saves in 13 attempts. Rohde will transition to a starting role this season after a dominant junior year when he finished with an ERA of 0.85. In 24⅔ innings the right-hander struck out 34, walked 8 and allowed only 13 hits. A fourth starter is right-hander Liebau. Committed to Judson, Liebau as a junior went 3-3 with a 2.63 ERA in 24 innings, struck out 17 and walked 10. Anders, a senior signed with Coe College, takes over as closer. Left-handed juniors Becker and Demkovich add to the bullpen depth. Jacobs hit only .244 during the regular season but swung hot bats in the postseason. The Golden Eagles figure to hit better over the long haul with the return of Nebraska recruit Addante at the top of the order. The fleet-footed junior hit .250 as a sophomore (26-for-104) with 4 doubles, 2 home runs and 16 RBI. He is followed in the lineup by returning seniors Randl (. 255, 2 2B, 6 RBI), Krueger (. 253, 11 RBI), Pahl (. 175, 7 RBI), catcher and Judson recruit Salomon (. 263, 4 RBI) and middle infielder Meland (. 161, 4 RBI). Jacobs will play a tough nonconference schedule that includes Brother Rice, Metamora, Notre Dame, St. Charles East, St. Viator and Maine South. "Our goals have never changed," said fifth-year coach Jamie Murray (97-53-1). "We want to be the most prepared team for the postseason and to win our first 4A state championship."
Kaneland KnightsCoach: Brian Aversa
Conference: Northern Illinois Big XII East
2015 record: 22-13, 9-3
Top returning athletes: Joe Laudont (sr., C), Jake Marczuk (sr. CF), Matt O'Sullivan (sr., P/1B), Jacob Violett (sr., P/1B/DH), Matt Rosko (sr., RF), Ryan David (sr., P), Colin Turner, Brandon Murabito,
Season outlook: The Knights are coming off a conference and regional championship season and are poised to do both again with a roster full of college bound players. They include Laudont, a 3-year starter, headed to Elgin Community College. Marczuk, moving to center field, is undecided along with Noah Jones, but the Knights have five other college recruits like their top returning pitcher O'Sullivan (Wisconsin-Whitewater), middle-of-the-order bat Violett (Judson), Rosko (Quincy) who can "run down almost anything," Aversa said, Turner and Murabito are headed to College of DuPage. "We should be in the thick of things in competing for the top spot in conference again," said Aversa, in his 10th year at Kaneland after 4 at Macon Meridian. Aversa is once again stacking his schedule with 4A teams and top programs preparing for the postseason. "We strive to have one of the toughest schedules in the state so that we are prepared for the postseason," Aversa said. "Our schedule last year helped us win that (Hampshire) regional. We have to prepare ourselves with our schedule each year because you never know what is going to happen come playoff time."
Larkin RoyalsCoach: Matt Esterino
Conference: Upstate Eight River
2016 record: 10-23, 7-18
Top returning athletes: T.J. Beavers (sr., P), Zach Edgar (sr., SS/2B/2B/P), Cy Kerber (so., IF/C/P), Seth Morford (sr., OF/P), Joey Rahn (sr., C), Kevin Roberts (sr., 2B), Kordell Thomas (sr., 1B)
Top newcomers: Andy Bonnot (so., OF), Gunnar Boley (so., IF/P), Tony Cervantes (jr., OF), Kobe Mounivong (so., 1B/P), Jackson Reuter (so., OF), Michael Rodriguez (jr., MI)
Season outlook: While coach Matt Esterino won't bypass a chance to win now with his six returning seniors, the program is simultaneously looking to the future with seven juniors and five sophomores on the roster. "This season represents a chance for us to retool and rebuild for the future of our program with our youth leaning on the guidance of our experienced leaders." Some of those leaders include Edgar, who last season hit .337 with 11 RBI and scored 21 runs. Also back is Morford, who batted .273 in 11 plate appearances before his season was cut short by a hand injury. The most seasoned varsity player beyond that pair is Kerber, a sophomore who played in 19 games as a freshman. The Royals must rebuild their pitching staff after graduating the top four hurlers from a year ago. Kerber, Beavers, Mounivong and Boley will all get a shot on the mound. "Our goals include improving with each game by making the necessary adjustments, developing players through the leadership and guidance of the upperclassmen and eliminating mental mistakes as we progress," Esterino said.
Marmion CadetsCoach: Frank Chapman
Conference: Chicago Catholic League Blue Division
2016 record: 15-17, 3-6
Top returning athletes: Jon Young (sr., P), Will Matthews (sr., INF/P), Chase Stanke (so., C), Brandon McPherson (so., UTL).
Top newcomers: Nick Brummel (jr., P), Collin Gibson (jr., P/INF), Zack Lentz (jr., P), Bobby Pierce (jr., INF/OF), Eric Lundell (fr., P).
Season outlook: Chapman takes over for Dave Rakow as the Cadets' head coach. He has coached high school baseball for 10 years, beginning in Las Vegas. He coached the sophomores at Burlington Central for three years, and spent the past four years at Freeport High School. Chapman does have experience at Marmion, serving as a varsity assistant in 2011. The Cadets graduated pitcher Jake Esp (Villanova) and All-Area shortstop Edgar Sanchez from last year's team that lost its regional opener 6-5 to Naperville North. This year's squad has a major challenge in front of them joining the Chicago Catholic League. Chapman called 2-time defending Class 4A state champion Providence Catholic, 2015 Class 4A runner-up Mt. Carmel, and 2014 4A runner-up St. Rita the teams to beat in the CCL Blue Division. "The development of a young pitching staff will be key to success and a deep postseason run," Chapman said. "We will rely on strong senior leadership, fundamental defense, and an aggressive offensive system this spring." The Cadets have talent. Matthews is going to St. Mary's University in Minnesota. Chapman said Stanke is being recruited by schools in the Big Ten, SEC, and ACC, and that McPherson also is gaining interest from Division I schools.
St. Charles East SaintsCoach: Len Asquini
Conference: Upstate Eight River
2015 record: 25-10
Top returning athletes: Matt Breidigan (sr., P), Steve Podany (sr., P/3B), Shawn Ligocki (sr., P), Anthony Adduci (sr., C), Corbin Marucco (sr., CF), Austin Gift (sr., RF), Jimmy Dale (sr., 2B/3B), Monty Carbonell (sr., 1B), Aiden Wright (sr., 1B), Brendan Benvenuti (sr., LF), Joey Sciarrino (sr., LF).
Top newcomers: John DelloStritto (so., SS), Kyle Tiltges (jr., 1B), Niko Klebosits (jr., LHP/1B), Keegan Kochis (jr., P), Thomas Adams (jr., LF), Justin Galante (jr., LF), Thomas Paul (jr., LF).
Season outlook: The Saints hope to carry momentum from reaching the summer state tournament into the spring season. "Maybe it will be a nice springboard for us, we'll find out," Asquini said. "We know the competition gets a whole lot tougher in the spring than the summer. But we like where we ended up and how we improved from start to finish in the summer and we like we got those extra games in and some more pressure-packed situations. Hopefully that carries over into the spring." The Saints return Breidigan and Podany on the mound, who went 5-1 and 4-0 last year, respectively. "Those are two guys who will lead us," Asquini said. Ligocki and juniors Klebosits -- the lone lefty -- and Kochis follow Bredigan and Podany. Those five will be throwing to Adduci, a powerful hitter headed to Tennessee-Martin. "Having him back and spearheading the middle is great," Asquini said. "You've always got to be strong up the middle and plus we kind of like his bat too." Asquini also likes several other returning hitters like Marucco, who hit over .300, Gift who finished at .295 in 100 at-bats, and Dale, second on the team in runs. "We're looking to those guys to help us and jump start the offense," Asquini said. The sophomore DelloStritto takes over at shortstop while there are position battles in both left field -- Benvenuti, Sciarrino, Adams, Galante and Paul, and first base where Carbonell has been sidelined with a broken wrist, leaving Klebosits, Tiltges and Wright vying for playing time. "Might be a little of a revolving door early and we'll see what happens," said Asquini who is upbeat about the season. "It's a very close knit group which is excellent," Asquini said. "They seem to be very comfortable with themselves which can go a long way. We're going to run with that. We think we can be pretty good. A lot depends on how those pitchers develop. We should play very solid defense."
St. Charles North North StarsCoach: Todd Genke
Conference: Upstate Eight River
2016 record: 33-5, 22-3
Top returning athletes: Brendan Joyce (sr., CF), Jack Lambert (sr., LHP), Erik Rabin (sr., C), Christian Sidoti (sr., RHP), Zach Mettetal (jr., SS), John LeGare (sr., RF), Sam Faith (jr., 3B), Tyler Mettetal (jr., LHP/1B), Kyle Novotney (sr., LF), Luke Corcoran (sr., 1B), Zach Fick (sr., 2B).
Top newcomers: Tim Hasto (jr., RHP), Westin Muir (jr., RHP), Ryan Litavecz (jr., RHP), Ryan Pieczko (jr., RHP).
Season outlook: The North Stars are coming off an outstanding season. They have a lineup filled with college bound players returning from that team. And they are hungry to use a 1-0 sectional semifinal loss to Glenbard North as motivation for an even better year this spring. "That's still fresh in our mind," North Stars coach Todd Genke said. "We have a lot of similar goals as we did last year. We have a lot of experience coming back. We're excited about this season. The kids are working hard, that's what's most important to me." The North Stars are in great shape on the mound with Tyler Mettetal (South Carolina) throwing in the upper 80s with a sharp breaking ball while working on improving his change-up. Lambert (Parkland), after an injury-plagued junior season, is back, another lefty in the No. 2 slot. Genke also likes newcomers Hasto, Pieczko, Muir (move-in from Texas) and Litavecz (6-0 in the summer and no earned runs). Sidoti (Parkland) returns to close out games. "I really like what I've seen so far," Genke said. "We've got some hard workers." St. Charles North's lineup is just as strong. Joyce (Parkland) and LeGare (Purdue) are back in the outfield and at the top of the lineup. Genke calls Joyce the sparkplug of the team, an outstanding center fielder, and the coach says LeGare has the potential to be an all-stater. The North Stars have some thumpers in the middle with Tyler Mettetal, Novotney and Faith (Oregon). "The middle of the order is sick," Genke said. "Zach Mettetal (Memphis) will probably hit sixth or seventh which is ridiculous because he would hit in the 3-hole on most teams." Fick will take over at second base while at catcher Genke really likes the defense that Rabin provides and at first base Corcoran will probably play when Tyler Mettetal pitches. "Catcher and first base are kind of the two spots we've been honing in on the summer and the fall," Genke said. The North Stars open the season with a 64-team tournament in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
St. Edward Green WaveCoach: Tim Dovichi
Conference: Metro Suburban
2016 record: 10-19, 5-14
Top returning athletes: Jason Allen (sr., IF), Karl Bibler (sr., P/OF/1B), Noah Enright (sr., P/IF), Joe Esposito (sr., C/OF), Dylan Murray (sr., IF/OF), Nolan Theriault (jr., P/IF/OF)
Top newcomers: Daniel Falco (so., P/IF/OF), Ben Harrington (so., OF/IF), Tyler Holte (so., P/OF), Tommy Melidones (so., IF), Trevor Odegaard (jr., OF/IF/P), Jack Olson (jr., OF/IF/P), Matt Schimbke (so., IF/P)
Season outlook: The Green Wave enter a rebuilding phase after graduating the entire starting lineup from last year's team. Few returnees have much experience at the varsity level. Seniors Allen, Bibler, Enright, Esposito, Murray and junior Theriault in limited at-bats last season combined to hit .172 (23-for-134) with 3 doubles, 2 triples and 9 RBI. Bibler and Enright showed promise on the mound as juniors. Bibler, a left-hander, went 1-0 with a 4.55 ERA, 16 strikeouts and 23 walks in 27⅔ innings. Enright posted a 1-3 record and a 4.76 ERA. The right-hander struck out 9 and walked 5 in 17⅔ innings. "We have some key returners along with some key underclassmen that will learn from the upperclassmen," fifth-year coach Tim Dovichi said. "We have a good group of guys that will mesh well and feed off each other. A lot of learning will be done this season."
Streamwood SabresCoach: Ryan Lasota
Conference: Upstate Eight River
2016 record: 5-28, 3-21
Top returning athletes: Jose Aguilar (jr., SS), JR. Alvarez (sr., P/DH), Keagan Cordone (sr., 2B), Tim Crom (sr., OF/P), A.J. Knox (sr., C), Anthony Matuszak (sr., 1B), Dan Mikosz (sr., 1B), Jake Painter (sr., C), Adam Sojda (jr., P/OF)
Top newcomers: Ryan Fitzgerald (jr., IF/P), Mike Hart (jr., IF/OF), Jesse Rico (jr., OF), Joe Sheehan (jr., IF), Erik Williams (jr., P/IF)
Season outlook: The Sabres have reason to believe their fortunes can turn around in coach Ryan Lasota's fourth season, thanks to a veteran pitching staff led by Sojda and Alvarez. Sojda led the Sabres last season with a 4-4 record and 2.70 ERA. He struck out 40 in 46⅔ innings. Alvarez posted a 3.90 ERA and struck out 26 in 44⅓ innings. That's good news for a pitching staff that finished at the bottom of the rankings last year with a 6.22 ERA. Likewise, the Sabres seek to improve on their area-low team batting average of .196. Helping the cause will be Aguilar, a .261 hitter who got on base at a .371 clip, and Crom, the team's leading returning hitter (. 294 avg., .371 on-base). Alvarez hit .232 and knocked in 13. Everyone on the roster of 15 will get a chance to contribute. Painter, a veteran catcher, and second baseman Cordone also return for the Sabres, who hope to use last spring's playoff victory as a springboard. "We are looking to compete for 7 innings every game and that should mean more wins for us than last year," Lasota said. "We will try to limit some of the mistakes we made last season and try to minimize staying out of the big inning. To do these things we have to be strong defensively."
South Elgin StormCoach: Jim Kating
Conference: Upstate Eight Valley
2016 record: 24-8, 17-6
Top returning athletes: Kyle Alvarado (sr., IF/RHP), Kevin Barry (jr., OF), Mitch Butvilas (sr. C), Justin Howard (sr., IF), Joe Roberson (sr., 1B/LHP)
Top newcomers: Bryant Diel (jr., OF), Jack Stancl (jr., RHP/UTL), Adam Walker (jr., RHP), Dylan Wells (jr., RHP)
Season outlook: The Storm were thrown a curveball during basketball season when projected 6-foot-9, left-handed ace Tyler Hankins (Central Michigan) suffered a torn ACL that will keep him from pitching as a senior. South Elgin returns only two pitchers with varsity experience in Roberson and Alvarado. Roberson, who in 15 innings over 3 starts and 4 appearances went 2-2 with a 4.20 ERA, struck out 8 and walked 13. In 9⅓ innings over 5 relief appearances, Alvarado posted a 1.50 ERA, struck out 7, walked 7 and allowed 7 hits. Ninth-year coach Jim Kating (171-124-1) and pitching coach Ben Erickson, who last season guided the Storm to their second straight sectional title-game appearance, are counting on an influx of junior talent to fortify the rotation with Diel, Stancl, Walker and Wells all candidates to throw innings. Roberson is the team's leading returning batter (. 311). He led the Storm with 2 home runs and finished tied for second with 21 RBI. Other returning position players include Howard (. 286, 9 RBI), Butvilas (. 244, 2 2B, 11 RBI), and Barry (. 269, 3 2B, 15 RBI), who was originally brought up late in his freshman year.
West Aurora BlackhawksCoach: John Reeves
Conference: Upstate Eight Valley
2015 record: 9-25 (7-18)
Top returning athletes: Logan Love (sr., OF/P), Jacob Lipscomb (sr., OF/P), Connor Palmby (jr., OF), Matt Desjardine (sr., OF/2B), Ryan Becker (sr., SS/2B), Win Kipp (sr., P).
Season outlook: Love is a third-year varsity player, but he is the exception to the rule this year for the Blackhawks who have just one returning starter. Reeves likes what he has seen so far even with the inexperience. "We will need our pitching to come through consistently," Reeves said. "We like what we have seen from our other guys so far. We may have to be unconventional at times in order to be successful. A major weakness last year was our play on defense and so we have stressed improved play on defense since June." Love had a 3.23 ERA last year in 21 innings, striking out 13 and walking 6. Kipp went 1-5 but was a tough-luck pitcher with just a 2.74 ERA in 46 innings with 35 strikeouts. Becker has the highest returning average at .296, Lipscomb batted .277 and Palmby .276. Reeves also wants to see how the conference landscape looks this year. "With the departure of the Valleys, it will be interesting to see how the race shapes up," Reeves said. "Everyone knows South Elgin has great pitching. I'm sure the rest of the coaches would all say the same thing. You believe that your team can compete for a conference title. We fully expect to go out and play well on a daily basis and do the things that will help you win ballgames."
Westminster Christian WarriorsCoach: Steve Gallaher
Conference: Northeastern Athletic
2016 record: 18-19, 11-1
Top returning athletes: Nic Anquilo (jr., P), Nathan Martinez (so., P/3B/1B), Ian Merlak (sr., SS/CF/C), Justin Rasmussen (sr., P), Matthew Schulenburg (so., OF/C), Tyler Schoemann (jr., 1B/P)
Top newcomers: Luis Aguinaga (jr., OF), Nick DeMaira (sr., OF/C), Theron Dorsey (so., 3B), Sam Huguley (so., OF/P), Mason Runkel (so., IF/OF/P), J.T. Stoll (so., OF)
Season outlook: The IHSA sends the Warriors back to Class 1A this season after a several years as a 2A team. The Warriors won the Class 1A state title in 2010. While they don't have their sites set quite that high a year after graduating six starting position players, they have enough returning players with experience to make some noise in the Northeastern Athletic. The Warriors return pop to the lineup in the form of Merlak and Schoemann. Merlak last year hit .370 (40-for-108), scored 44 runs, smacked 11 doubles and had 12 RBI. Schoemann hit .292 (19-for-65) with 15 RBI, Rasmussen (. 222) drove in 11 runs and Martinez (. 234) drove in 6. In their limited opportunities Schulenburg went 8-for-22, Runkel went 4-for-8 with a triple and Huguley was 4-for-6. Pitching will be a strong point for the Warriors. Staff ace Rasmussen (6-3, 48 IP, 2.92 ERA, 76 K, 30 BB, 40 H) returns to a rotation that also returns Schoemann (23 IP, 3.65 ERA), Martinez (24 IP, 5.54 ERA) and Angiulo (18⅓ IP, 4.20 ERA). "Being back in the 1A will help our chances to make a deep run in the playoffs," second-year coach Steve Gallaher said.
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