Scouting Fox Valley baseball
Aurora Central Catholic Chargers
Coach: Sean Bieterman (17th year, 349-192; 7th year at ACC, 132-73)
Last year: 19-15; 7-10 Metro Suburban (Blue); Lost to Kaneland 8-4 in Class 3A Kaneland regional final.
Top returners: Seniors Jeff Albert, CF; Matt Jeter, P/OF; Alex Rakas, SS; Nathan Sundberg, P/OF; Juniors Chris Cartwright, 3B; Mike Elliott, 2B/P
Top newcomers: Seniors Brett Crissie; Rocky Lutz, C; Juniors Dan Kuttner, OF/IF; Tom Musuras, OF/P; Freshmen CJ Cazares, P; Hunter Stroud, C
Outlook: The Chargers have been reclassified from 3A to 2A. They could be a handful come tournament time. ACC returns six position players and pitchers who threw 100 innings a year ago. Jeter (4-3) is the returning ace. The 5-foot-10 right-hander posted a 1.69 ERA in 37.1 innings, the lowest among staff starting pitchers in 2018. Sundberg likewise rejoins the rotation (3-0, 40 IP, 2.28 ERA, 27 K, 11 BB). Others in the pitching mix include Elliott, Musuras, Zazares and Crissie. The lineup is headed by Rakas, a three-year starter who hit .317 last season with a team-best 4 home runs and 27 RBI. Cartwright batted .357 with 10 doubles, 2 triples and 19 RBI. Albert batted .333 with and scored 17 runs. Lutz will do the catching. He sat out his junior season after transferring from Marmion. The Chargers expect to compete for the MSC Blue title against Riverside-Brookfield, Ridgewood, Fenton, Elmwood Park, Wheaton Academy and St. Francis. "I really like this group," Bieterman said. "They work really hard and they have a goal in mind. They want to win."
Aurora Christian Eagles
Coach: Andy Zorger (12th year, 238-106-1)
Last year: 33-2, 15-1 Northeastern Athletic Conference (first); Defeated Valmeyer 5-1 to win the Class 1A state championship.
Top returners: Seniors Trey Madsen, P/IF; MJ Stavola, OF; Sam Tickel, IF/OF/C; Hunter Thompson, P/IF; Junior Jake Kuntzenorf, P/IF
Top newcomers: Senior Isaac Skogerboe; Juniors Josh Smoot, C/OF; JP Jira, OF
Outlook: The defending Class 1A state champions return top pitchers Kuntzendorf and Thompson along with two thirds of the starting lineup. This time around they will compete in the Class 2A playoff bracket due to the IHSA private school success-factor multiplier. It marks a return to Class 2A for Aurora Christian, which only dropped to Class 1A the last two seasons. The Eagles have switched conferences. The reigning Northeastern Athletic Conference champs are now members of the Metro Suburban Conference. Red Division competition includes St. Edward, IC Catholic Prep, Chicago Christian, Timothy Christian, Guerin and Bishop McNamara. Aurora Christian is led by Kuntzendorf (10-0), a 6-foot-2 right-hander committed to Purdue. As a sophomore he posted a 1.67 ERA in 71⅓ innings over 15 appearances (13 starts), struck out 105 and walked 18. Thompson (7-2) finished with a 2.52 ERA in 41⅔ innings over 14 appearances (8 starts), struck out 41 and walked 11. Four of the top five hitters return, led by Tickel. He batted .536 (60-for-112) with 12 doubles, 8 triples, 2 home runs and 52 RBI. Also back are Stavola (.462, 15 doubles, 40 RBI), Madsen (.457, 7 doubles, 30 RBI) and Kuntzendorf (.438, 13 doubles, 4 HR, 36 RBI). The team lacks depth with a roster of 11-12 full-time players. Some sophomores will be called up from time to time in what is expected to be another successful season. Said Zorger: "It will be interesting to see how we respond to being the targets as everyone is going to want to beat the state champs ... The players are excited to try and repeat the run from last year in Class 2A, which will be no easy task."
Coach: Devin Rosen (third year, 29-33)
Last year: 11-20, 8-8 Upstate Eight (Valley); Lost to Conant 4-3 in Class 4A Hoffman Estates regional play-in game
Top returners: Seniors Matthew Ande, P; Matthew Angelone, C; Max Lewis, IF/P; Michael Vaca, OF
Top newcomers: Sophomores Nick Kantzavelos, 3B/SS; Nathaniel Euliano, P; Nathan Gargano, 1B/P
Outlook: The 10-team Upstate Eight Conference has eliminated divisions so one-game crossovers are a thing of the past. UEC teams will play 3-game sets against each other over a 27-game league season beginning next week. That should benefit a team like the Hawks, who alternate right-handers and left-handers in a pitching rotation led by Ande and followed by three sophomores: Euliano, Kantzavelos and Gargano. "It's pretty cool that we can go righty, lefty, right, lefty," Rosen said. "We have more pitching than last year, which should be a huge benefit." Lewis is a versatile pitcher who can start or close if needed, according to his coach. The roster is a mix of 12 seniors, four juniors and three sophomores. "We have a good balance of younger guys and older guys and it looks early on like they're coming together and focusing on playing hard," Rosen said. "They are learning how to win first. Then playing good ball will take care of itself. This year is all about experience. If we have to go through some struggles, then we go through some struggles. Either way, we have to be patient and learn."
Coach: Alex Beckmann (3rd year, 32-29)
Last year: 18-12, 11-9 Upstate Eight (River); Lost to Marmion 5-0 in Class 4A St. Charles East regional semifinal.
Top returners: Seniors Carter Gette, C; Cole Nelson, 2B; Brad Niedzwiedz, P/OF; Joey Sartain, 3B; Dylan Schick, P; Juniors Adam Bendoraitis, SS; Drew Iutzwig, P; Quinn Urwiler, C/OF/P
Top newcomers: Juniors Ryan Ingold, P/1B; Alex Skupa, OF
Outlook: The Bulldogs should be a competitive team in the inaugural DuKane Conference baseball season. Several key starters return along with the top three pitchers. Nelson leads the way. The second baseman batted .385 as a junior (35-for-91) with 19 RBI and 21 runs. Gette batted .284 (25-for-88) with 20 RBI and 13 runs. Sartain hit .246 (17-for-69) with 2 doubles, 2 home runs and 10 RBI.
Urwiler smacked 2 doubles and a home run in 71 at-bats. Beckmann said newcomers Ingold and Skupa add middle-of-the-lineup power. Pitching should be a strength. The Bulldogs return three pitchers responsible for 11 of their 18 wins a year ago: Niedzwiedz (5-1, 2.43 ERA), Schick (4-1, 2.88 ERA) and Iutzwig (2-0, 1.46 ERA). Lefty Niedzwiedz threw a 4-hit shutout against Willowbrook on Tuesday. Schick and Iutzwig have already made appearances. Iutzwig, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, was cleared to play a month ago after rehabilitating from a knee injury suffered in the football season opener last August. The pitching staff benefits from a pair of experienced backstops in Urwiler and Gette. The experienced Bulldogs should contend in the DuKane Conference. "We have one new starter in the outfield. Otherwise, everyone else is returning," Beckmann said. "If we take care of the ball and throw strikes, our offense will come through most days and pick us up. This group is calm and collected, levelheaded. I don't think we will ever be out of a game. It's a good group of guys to be around and a good group of players." Senior Night will be celebrated under the lights on the Kane County Cougars' home field with a May 18 nonconference game against Kaneland.
Burlington Central Rockets
Coach: Kyle Nelson (14th year, 277-110)
Last year: 24-10, 15-3 Kishwaukee River Conference; Lost to Stillman Valley in sectional final
Top returners: Seniors Danny Kinney, P; Tyler Perez, P; Braden Seyller, IF/P; Colton Wallace, C; juniors Andrew Knowlton, P/OF; Ethan Krieger, 1B/OF; Zak Zuiker, P.
Key newcomers: Juniors Cody Carlson, OF; Kyle Fischer, OF/2B; Jake Jarvis, SS; Luke Thompson, C/DH.
Outlook: The Rockets take a final run through the Kishwaukee River Conference before joining the Fox Valley next year. Several pitchers from last year's sectional finalist return, including four who made 12 of the team's 34 starts: Kinney (4-0, 2.14), Perez (3-1, 2.48 ERA), Seyller (2-0, 3.97) and Zuiker (2-2, 4.70). Knowlton went 2-0 with a 1.05 ERA in 6⅔ innings. Kinney (Loras College) struck out 47, walked 29 and hit 15 batsmen. Lefty Perez pitched the most innings of the group (36⅔). He struck out 35 and walked 15. Nelson said a strong junior class adds bullpen depth. Offensively and defensively, the lineup is mostly unproven at the varsity level. Wallace is the keystone. Committed to Concordia, he batted .449 as a junior (53-for-118) with 15 doubles and a home run and led the Rockets with 33 RBI. He finished with more walks (18) than strikeouts (17) in 140 plate appearances. Wallace is one of three returning position players along with Seyller (.313/.492/.396) and Krieger (.278). "On the mound I think we're pretty good, but I think it's going to take us a little while at the plate to adjust to the speed of the game," Nelson said. "We've only got a handful of guys who played big roles for us last year. This is group is young, so we should be a lot better at the end of the year than we are now."
Coach: Ryan Passaglia (first year)
Last year: 18-12-1, 13-11 Fox Valley Conference; Lost to Grant 8-7 in Class 4A Cary-Grove regional semifinal.
Top returners: Seniors Quinn Priester, P; LJ Waco, SS; Jacob Duncan, 3B
Key newcomers: Senior Ben Taczy, IF; Juniors Ethan Estes, P; Drew Stengren, C; Jack Wenninger, P; Sophomore Ryan Weaver, P/OF
Outlook: First-year coach Ryan Passaglia is a 1994 Cary-Grove graduate who takes over for IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach Don Sutherland, who stepped away after 31 seasons. Passaglia inherits a team led by Priester, one of the top pitching prospects in the country. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound right-handed senior has been committed to TCU since his sophomore year and is considered one of the top prospects in Major League Baseball's first-year player draft this June. An ESPN senior writer recently listed Priester as the No. 19 overall draft prospect. His Cary-Grove starts are becoming appointment viewing for MLB scouts. The behind-the-scenes scouting report is just as positive. "I can't say enough about the kid," Passaglia said. "Not only is he a phenomenal athlete, he's a phenomenal person. Having a guy like that at the top of your rotation really helps out." Priester was limited to 14 innings as a junior due to forearm tendinitis. He is 100 percent healthy and clocking 93 mph on his fastball, his coach said. He was used mostly as a DH as a junior and slashed .367/.457/.422. Priester's is the only experienced varsity bat returning to the lineup. Four sophomores join the roster and several former JV players will crack the order. "We're young and inexperienced but I like our guys. They're baseball guys," Passaglia said. "We'll get better as the season goes on and we get some experience under our belt."
Crystal Lake South Gators
Coach: Brian Bogda (12th year, 240-127-1)
Last year: 13-18-1, 9-15 Fox Valley; Lost to Barrington 8-7 in a Class 4A Crystal Lake South regional semifinal
Top returners: Seniors Patrick Fischer, 3B; Jacob Bimbi, OF/P; Beiker Fuentes, IF/OF/P; Kyle Hetherington, OF; Evan Jewson, C/1B; Nicholas Mannella, OF; Michael Portuese, OF; Henry Tipton, IF; Nick Vollmert, P; Joey Walsh, P; Ray Wolski, P
Key newcomers: Juniors Nick DiBenedetto, 2B/P; Ian Gorken, OF/P; Kyle Green, C/3B; Alejandro Mendez, IF/P; Ben Peltz, C/1B/3B; Nathan Schlaiss, P; Sophomore Dominic Guzman, P
Outlook: The Gators finished five games below .500 last season after winning the Class 4A state title in 2017. They look to return to their winning ways with an influx of young talent that helped the program advance to the summer Elite Eight. Now a Class 3A school due to declining enrollment, CL South returns three top-of-the-order hitters. Bimbi is back in the leadoff spot with Fischer in the two-hole. Hetherington is the No. 3 hitter. Beyond that threesome the lineup is mostly unproven at the varsity level except for Jewson, a designated hitter last year. "After that we're pretty young," Bogda said. "We have a good junior class and some sophomores filling in and some seniors are doing some good stuff. We're just really inexperienced." Green will catch. Peltz and Gorken both played up last year. Bogda said several versatile players can play multiple positions, which gives him the depth to mix and match with pitchers. The rotation includes Bimbi, DiBenedetto, Schlaiss and Guzman. "We have a lot of athleticism and we will go out and compete," Bogda said. "They've had success at the lower levels. Hopefully, that translates to success over the next couple of months."
Coach: Matt Mueller (3rd year, 21-45)
Last year: 7-27, 4-20 Fox Valley; Lost to Elgin 2-0 in regional play-in game.
Top returners: Seniors Riley Fischer, P; Joey Marczyk, IF/P; Evan Wenc, IF; Juniors Nick Cuciarone, IF/C/P; Nick Gregory, OF/P; Justin Lawson, SS; Sophomore Justin Colon, OF
Key newcomers: Juniors Enrique Aramburo, C; Evan Echlin, IF/P; David Guzman, IF/P; Sophomore Alex Stiefel, P
Outlook: Dundee-Crown took some lumps last year while multiple underclassmen navigated varsity waters. A squad led by Gregory, Lawson and Colon could help the Chargers keep their heads above water in one of the state's most competitive public-school baseball leagues. Gregory was the only sophomore named all-FVC last season. He slashed .358/.443/.406. and finished with more walks (14) than strikeouts (13) in 123 plate appearances. Colon batted .385 in 39 varsity at-bats as a freshman and drove in 7. Lawson started every game at shortstop as a sophomore and counted 2 home runs and 5 doubles among his 21 hits.
Gregory and Fischer head a rotation that includes Steifel. Gregory pitched 35.1 innings over 11 appearance (7 starts), struck out 30 and walked 18. A year of seasoning should help, but D-C is still a young team. "We're getting there," Mueller said. "We're still pretty young overall. I think this year there will be lots of ups and downs. We're focusing on the process and getting better every day while working on our culture. A few of these guys are really good ballplayers, so it should be exciting."
Elgin Academy Hilltoppers
Coach: Steve Shapiro (sixth year, 93-52)
Last year: 20-6, 9-1 Independent School League; Won the Class 1A Walther Lutheran regional; Lost to eventual state champion Aurora Christian 11-3 in a Harvest Christian Academy sectional semifinal
Top returners: Seniors Colin Konicek, C/OF; Ethan Plantz, P; Derek Warren, P; Juniors CJ Carani, P/IF; Ethan Hill, P/IF; Ethan Plantz, IF/OF; Christian Rodriguez, IF/OF; Sophomore Reese Zonts, C/1B
Key newcomers: Juniors Connor Reece, C; Carter Ray, P
Outlook: Elgin Academy returns several players who helped win a third straight regional title and the second Independent School League title in program history. Leading the way is Konicek behind the plate. Committed to Cornell, the team's leading returning slugger batted .393 (24-for-61) with 4 doubles and 21 RBI. Another big bat belongs to first-team all-ISL pick Rodriguez (.368, 13 RBI, 33 runs), a strong student who has gained interest from Richmond, Valparaiso, Butler, DePauw and Northern Illinois, Shapiro said. Also back are first-team ISL pick Plantz (.338, 7 doubles, 26 runs) and Carani (.301, 5 doubles, 21 RBI). Cameron Agno (29 at-bats), Murtaza Syed Shah (36) and Reece Zonts (53) each got a taste of varsity pitching. Hill returns as the ace. Named first-team all-ISL two years in a row, as a sophomore he went 4-0 with a 1.39 ERA in 40.1 innings over 9 appearances (7 starts), struck out 67 and walked 18. Carani (4-1, 2 saves) posted a 1.94 ERA in 21.2 innings over 8 appearances (2 starts). Warren (12 IP) and Zonts (4 IP) both gained pitching experience last season. Reece is a transfer from St. Charles North. The hard thrower can be used as a closer or catcher, his coach said. Ray is a left-handed pitcher with good off-speed stuff who transferred from Wisconsin. Can the Hilltoppers repeat as conference and regional champs? "It comes down to how deep we can go with pitching," Shapiro said. "I think our staff might be the strongest we've had. We're very attuned to pitch count, but we go four, five pitchers deep and that will get it done."
Coach: Cody Beck (first year)
Last year: 8-26, 4-20 Upstate Eight (River); Lost to McHenry 8-2 in a Class 4A Cary-Grove regional semifinal.
Top returners: Seniors Kyle Coates, P/IF; Eric Damerow, IF/OF/P; Kejuan Harvey, C/1B/3B; Levondrick Marshall, 1B; Tim Mitchell, OF/P
Key newcomers: Seniors Cameron Kendall MIF/P/OF; Reynaldo Morales, OF; Juniors Michael Caldwell IF/P/OF/3B; Quinton Farace, IF/OF; Edgar Fernandez C/IF/3B/OF; Ben Koziol, OF/IF/P; Luis Pacheco IF/OF; Jon Palmer P/1B/OF; Johnny Villegas P/OF
Outlook: Elgin baseball has a new leader. Beck takes over for David Foerster, who stepped down last June after 12 seasons as head coach. Beck is a Bartlett graduate who pitched at NIU. The Abbott Middle School teacher spent the last three seasons as varsity assistant at Elgin, the same position he held previously at Streamwood for five years. He intends to build the program over time. "We want to set up a foundation for years to come," Beck said. "We're starting from square one with a new philosophy, new ideas and new expectations of what Elgin baseball was and can be." The Maroons and their new coach will deal with a shifting Upstate Eight Conference landscape. UEC baseball programs now consist of a varsity team, a junior-varsity team, a frosh/soph team and a freshmen-only team. Divisions are gone with the exodus of Batavia, Geneva and the St. Charles schools to the DuKane Conference. UEC teams now play each other three times. Elgin has a returning ace in Coates. The 6-foot-1 right-hander committed to Washington University went 4-4 with a 2.10 ERA in 46.2 innings over 10 appearances (8 starts), struck out 62 and walked 15. Coming off an injury, Coates has yet to throw off the mound but should be "good to go when we get into the heart of the season," his coach said. Mitchell is the No. 2 pitcher. He struck out 19 and walked 23 in 20.1 innings as a junior. Damerow, Villegas, Martinez, Caldwell, Fernandez and Palmer all might pitch, some for the first time.
Coach: Brad Wendell (3rd year, 38-24-1)
Last year: 18-12-1, Upstate Eight (River); Lost to Lake Park 6-4 in regional semifinal.
Top returners: Seniors Nick Black, P/3B; Blake Breon, P/1B; Ben Croci, P/OF; Luke Fisher, OF; Chase Jackson, OF; Brendan Krohe, OF; Hunter Venditti, P; Junior Ryan Stempowski, SS/2B/P
Key newcomers: Juniors Jonah Hays, P; Michael Klazura, 1B/P; Jack LaManna, OF; Joey Pantano, OF; Sam Sanchez, P; Sophomore Joey Maynard, C
Outlook: Geneva enters its first DuKane Conference season with a strong pitching staff, headed by Black, Croci and Venditti. Black leads the rotation. The 6-foot-2 right-hander went 4-3 in 11 appearances (7 starts) as a junior with a 3.20 ERA in 35 innings. He struck out 34 and walked 17. Venditti posted a 1.71 ERA in 32⅔ innings with 26 strikeouts and 17 walks. Right-hander Croci, committed to pitch at Wisconsin-Osh Kosh, threw only 2 innings last season due to injury. Wendell calls him a "big, strong athlete with great potential on the mound and in the outfield." Shortstop Stempowski and outfielder Krohe are multisport athletes who should add pop to the batting order after getting limited at-bats a year ago, Wendell said. Graduation left the Vikings inexperienced offensively. Black (.274) and Chase (.263) are the leading returning batters for a team that hit .304 last year.
Harvest Christian Academy Lions
Coach: Matt Ellett (first year)
Last year: 25-8, 14-2 Northeastern Athletic; Lost to eventual Class 1A state champion Aurora Christian 8-4 in the Harvest Christian Academy sectional final
Top returners: Seniors Jack Nohava, OF/P; Brock Wilken, 1B/P; Grant Young, SS/P; junior Gil Duran, 3B/P
Key newcomers: Juniors Sam Bonick, 3B/P; Isaac Martinez, OF/P; Sophomores Graham Brown, C; Matt Ellett, OF/P; Jacob Johnson, P; Jack McMahon, 2B/P; Freshman Tommy Abbatacola, C/2B
Outlook: Four starters return from a team that won the program's third straight regional and advanced to a Class 1A sectional final: Wilken, Nohava, Young and Duran. All-Area and all-NAC pick Wilken (Triton) returns to pitch and play first base. Last year he hit .420 (37-for-88). His 11 doubles, 4 triples and 6 home runs translated to an .841 slugging percentage. Wilken went 6-1 on the bump with a 2.76 ERA in 45⅔ innings, struck out 57 and walked 20. Multisport athlete Nohava returns in the outfield. He batted .493 (37-for-75) as a junior with 12 doubles, 6 triples, a home run and 28 RBI. Leadoff man Young hit .388 (38-for-98) with 13 doubles and 20 RBI. The shortstop stole 49 bases in 51 attempts and scored a team-best 51 runs. Young posted a 2.33 ERA in 21 innings over 12 relief appearances with 33 strikeouts and 13 walks. Duran hit .296 and drove in 17. Ellett called him "a weight room leader" who added 20 pounds. "Obviously, our seniors returning are extremely talented, but what's impressed me most so far is their leadership," Ellett said. "Brock, Jack and Grant have really set the tone at practice and our team chemistry is phenomenal, which is a great sign early in the season." He said these Lions have one goal in mind: "To be playing in Peoria May 31 and June 1."
Coach: Frank Simoncelli (second year, 13-22)
Last year: 13-22, 6-17 Fox Valley; Lost to Harlem 5-4 in a Class 4A regional semifinal.
Top returners: Seniors Anthony DiMarzio, P/RF; Matt Jachec, P/3B; Andrew Krajecki, CF/P; Jonathan Mroz, DH; Logan Nespor, P/3B; Caden Pyszka, 2B/P; Nick Sladek, P/1B; Josh Sulejamani, C; Thomas Ugalde, LF/P
Key newcomers: Senior Nathan Sparks, LF/P; Juniors Gavin Kriegel, SS/RF; Kyle Miller, LF/2B/P; Sophomores Benjamin Benoit, P; Dylan Petrey, P/C/UTIL; Brady Young P/SS/RF
Outlook: Indiana State-signee Jachec is the sharp tip of the Hampshire spear. The right-handed senior is coming off a 3-4 junior campaign with 51 strikeouts and 17 walks and a 3.74 ERA in 43 innings. He enters his third varsity season with a career 7-8 mark, a 3.97 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 86⅓ innings. "I expect Matt to have a great year not only on the mound but as a middle-of-the-order bat for us," Simoncelli said. Jachec batted .355 last year (38-for-107) with 15 doubles. His 22 RBI were one shy of the team lead. Other key hitters include Triton-bound Sladek (.378/.427/.402) and Krajecki (.324/.427/.428). Backing Jachec in the rotation are Nespor, who was limited to 4 innings as a junior due to injury, Sladek (10 IP, 3.50 ERA), Ugalde (18⅓ IP, 3.82 ERA) and DiMarzio. Simoncelli said sophomores Young, Benoit and Petry will be in the starting pitching mix, while Krajecki, Sparks and Pyszka will get opportunities to close. Sulejmani, Mroz (Aurora University) and Petry bring varied strengths to the catching position. "We are definitely a team you can't overlook," Simoncelli said. "I feel like we're solid all around."
Huntley Red Raiders
Coach: Andy Jakubowski (20th year overall, 394-297-2; 14th year at Huntley, 299-182-2)
Last year: 33-7, 19-5 Fox Valley; Class 4A second place; Lost to Plainfield North 4-3 in state title game.
Top returners: Seniors Jackson Broom, P/3B; A.J. Henkle, OF; Dylan Janke, P/C; Kyle Maurer, P; Zach Model, 2B; Eli Paplanus, P; Davis Pasco, P/OF; Jason Peters, 3B/U; Hunter Rumachik, P/1B; Michael Talesky, OF; Josh Tarlin, 1B; Junior Evan Tocmo, P/SS
Key newcomers: Senior Troy Hanson, P/OF; Massimo Mescino, OF; Juniors Brandon Besch, OF; Joey Cauldren, 2B/U; Jimmy Fairley, P/OF; Tommy Giese, P/1B; Zach Isenegger, P; Mitchell Jones, P; Brice Klepfer, C/U; Christian Kasal, P; Jake Lyon, P/SS/U; James Sibert, P/3B
Outlook: Huntley was the state runner-up last spring and followed that with a summer Elite Eight appearance. The Red Raiders are prepared to defend their Fox Valley Conference title with six returning position players and two of the last year's top four pitchers. Proven hitters populate the lineup: Henkle (.342, 26 RBI), Rumachik (.311/.398/.437, 31 RBI), Talesky (.364/.510/.468), Peters (.366/.453/.549), Model (.290/.410/.348) and Tocmo (.286, 23 runs). The rotation is headed by Rumachik (McHenry County College) and Paplanus (Milwaukee School of Engineering). Rumachik went 3-0 last year with a 1.50 ERA, struck out 29 and walked 6 in 32⅔ innings. Paplanus finished 5-1 with 35 strikeouts, 21 walks and a 1.69 ERA in 37⅓ innings. Jakubowski said Maurer (MCC) and Pasco (Loras) are expected to be key pieces of the pitching puzzle along with juniors Tocmo, Fairley, Kasal, Sibert and Giese. "We're pretty deep on the mound but we're not going to be the strikeout team we were last year," Jakubowski said. "Guys will put the ball in play a little more than last year. It puts more onus on our defense and we've struggled a bit defensively so far. We're continually trying to get better." Every FVC team will have games against the Red Raiders circled on the calendar. "They realize that they will be the hunted this season but welcome the challenge," Jakubowski said. "The goal for this year's squad hasn't changed from previous years as we are focusing on getting one percent better each day and being quality teammates."
Jacobs Golden Eagles
Coach: Jamie Murray (8th year, 156-98)
Last year: 18-13-1, 14-10 Fox Valley; Lost to Crystal Lake Central 14-5 in a Class 4A Crystal Lake South regional semifinal.
Top returners: Seniors Brian Belo, SS; Daniel Klein, OF/1B; Christian Scianna, OF; Adam Sonnefeldt, P; Dom Tenayuca, P/C; Bryce Vincent, C/3B; Anthony Wilson, P; Junior Andrew Balkcom, P/OF
Key newcomers: Senior Luke Holub, 1B; Juniors Julian Alba, OF/P; Maruicio Grosso, 2B/3B; Shayne McCullough, P/OF; Jacob Middleton, OF; David Postelnick, P/OF; Krzysztof Solis, P; Sophomore Quinton Schwartz, P/OF/3B
Outlook: Jacobs is young but talented and athletic. Three seniors entering a third varsity season provide leadership: Vincent (Concordia), Klein (MCC) and Scianna (Oakton). Klein is the leading returning hitter. He batted .294 (32-for-109) with 6 doubles, 3 home runs and 15 RBI. Vincent batted 277 (26-for-94) with 6 doubles and 14 RBI. Scianna did not swing a bat last season due to an injury. He hit .231 in 26 at-bats as a sophomore and has 3 hits in 9 at-bats this month. Two transfers add depth: Grosso and Middleton. Grosso is an athletic middle infielder from Chile who can pitch in short relief. Middleton is a left-handed hitter who played two varsity seasons at St. Edward. Belo played shortstop as a sophomore and experienced varsity pitching in 95 plate appearances. He scored 11 runs. Two sophomores Murray characterized as "the real deal" will play regularly and make an impact: Washington and Schwartz. Balkcom (2-1), a starting guard for the basketball team, posted a 2.47 ERA as a sophomore, the lowest of any returning pitcher. He struck out 13 and walked 11 in 34 innings. Sonnefeldt (1-1, 4.13 ERA) threw 18⅔ innings and Wilson (2-2, 2.78 ERA) tossed 22⅔. Wilson tore his ACL playing quarterback last fall and underwent surgery in October. He is expected to be cleared medically to play soon and could make a midseason debut after rebuilding arm strength, Murray said. Tenayuca made one brief mound appearance last year but has started two of Jacobs' first three games. Solis is a closer type out of the bullpen. Is it enough for the Golden Eagles to compete for the FVC title? "It would be premature to say this team will win the conference. It depends on health," Murray said, "but I like us to be a force toward the end of the year when we get some guys back and our young guys are more experienced. This group is fearless, they're hungry and they have a chip on their shoulder."
Coach: Brian Aversa (13th year, 241-156)
Last year: 21-9, 10-4 Northern Illinois Big 12; Class 3A Kaneland regional champs; Lost to Burlington Central 10-8 in Sterling sectional semifinal
Top returners: Seniors Angel Acevedo, P/OF; Alex Buchanan, P; Nik Panico, P/C; Juniors Tommy Shaw, P/3B/C; Mike Rogers, SS/2B
Key newcomers: Juniors Bryce Stair, P/2B/SS; Mason Kottmeyer, P
Outlook: The Knights return some key players responsible for winning the program's fourth regional title in eight seasons. Atop that list is Buchanan, committed to North Central College. The right-hander led the pitching staff as a junior with a 9-0 record and 0.63 ERA in 44⅔ innings over 9 appearances (8 starts), struck out 53 and walked 19. The rotation includes left-hander Angel Acevedo (Bradley) and right-hander Panico (ECC). Shaw will likely catch when Panico pitches. Shaw pitches, too. So does Stair. In fact, half the team can pitch. Aversa, who coached the Knights to the 2011 Class 3A state title, has used 13 pitchers in the first 8 games. "We're deep in pitching. It's a good situation that we're in," Aversa said. "Our defense has to play well behind our pitchers and make it easy on them in every aspect. Hopefully, our bats keep up." Aversa has been tweaking the lineup during nonconference play ahead of the upcoming league opener. Acevedo is the leading returning hitter. He batted .345 (29-for-84) with 3 doubles, a triple, a home run and 27 RBI. Panico hit .306 (26-for-85) with 6 doubles, 2 triples and 3 home runs.
Coach: Niko Morado (first year)
Last year: 9-18, 6-18 Upstate Eight (River); Lost to Crystal Lake South 2-1 in a Class 4A Crystal Lake South regional play-in game.
Top returners: Seniors Max Anderson, P/1B/OF; Kevin Duffy, U; Jeremy Gould, OF; Zachary Hubbard 3B/P; Sebastian Nava IF/P; Anthony Ramirez, OF; Edward Wisser, MI/P; Thomas Woodruff, OF; junior Tayshon Erdman, 1B/P
Key newcomers: Juniors Devin Arendt, C; Kione Williams-Sowers OF; sophomore Kaydin Clark, OF; freshman Javier Cervantes, IF
Outlook: Niko Morado takes over as head coach for Matt Esterino, who stepped down last June after 10 seasons. A 2013 Larkin graduate who played for Esterino, Morado has been helping out with the Larkin baseball summer camps since his sophomore year in high school. Now a Larkin dean's assistant, he first met several current Royals when they were young campers. Morado called pitches behind the plate for three varsity seasons. "This is something (Esterino) has groomed me for," Morado said of the head coaching position. "He gave me the freedom to develop into a leader." The new coach will rely heavily on the senior class. Anderson is the ace. Last year he finished 4-4 with a save in 11 appearances (9 starts), posted a 3.69 ERA in 43/2 innings, struck out 42 and walked 24. Anderson is also the lone returning hitter of consequence. He batted .356 (26-for-73) with 7 doubles, a triple, a home run and a team-best 21 RBI. No other returnee saw more at-bats than Hubbard's 24. Erdman (6-0, 235 pounds) will hit in the middle of the order and could bring some pop to a lineup that batted .253 last year. "He has put a couple of balls in gaps already," Morado said. "He will be somebody we'll depend on. We'll really depend on our seniors. Those eight guys will carry us on the mound and at the plate. It's a matter of putting runs up, playing small ball, manufacturing runs, stealing bases. Any way to get in scoring position will be our focus."
Coach: Frank Chapman (fourth year, 48-58)
Last year: 16-19, 9-7 Chicago Catholic League (Blue); Class 4A St. Charles East regional champion; Lost to Lake Park 6-2 in a Bartlett sectional semifinal.
Top returnees: Seniors Jack Carlson, SS/P; Eric Lundell, P; Nick Talarico, IF/P
Top newcomers: Juniors Mike Gatze, OF/P; Tony Mele, OF/P; Sophomore Cole Green, SS
Outlook: The Cadets look to capitalize on the momentum of last year's regional title, Marmion's first in Class 4A. Two senior right-handers lead the rotation: Lundell (Concordia) and Talarico (Case Western Reserve). Lundell went 2-4 in 10 appearances (6 starts) last year with a 4.31 ERA in 39 innings. Talarico was the winning pitcher in the St. Charles East regional title game against the host Saints. He impressed in limited action, posting a 0.47 ERA in 15 innings over 4 appearances (2 starts) with 13 strikeouts and 3 walks. "They've both been with us for three years now," Chapman said. "They give us an opportunity to be in the game against any team in the state." That statement was proved true last week when Lundell and the Cadets won 10-4 at Marist, ranked No. 1 in Illinois by Prep Baseball Report. Lundell allowed 2 runs (1 earned) in 6 innings and struck out 8 without a walk. The lineup is led by Carlson, a returning first-team all-CCL pick committed to play hockey at Iowa. Last season he slashed .390/.474/.525, scored 42 runs and drove in 21. Talarico batted .322 (28-for-87) with 4 doubles, 2 home runs and 23 RBI. "We have the guys to scrap and scrape and the pitching at the front end to keep us in games," Chapman said. "We just have to figure out the bullpen and stay consistent at the plate."
St. Charles East Saints
Coach: Len Asquini (16th year, 394-168-1)
Last year: 23-10, 21-3 Upstate Eight (River); Lost to Marmion 9-2 in Class 4A St. Charles East regional final.
Top returnees: Seniors Connor Dunfee, P; Nick Manthei, P; Thomas Schroeder, SS; Alec Rupp, P; Juniors Clay Conn, 2B; Cole Conn, C/1B; Sophomore Kyle Hayes, C/1B
Top newcomers: Senior Ben Testo, OF; Juniors Gino Cerrone, OF; Luke Matheny, 3B; Grant Meador, P/IF; Nick Schumann, OF/P
Outlook: St. Charles East can play defense and hit. If a developing staff can fill holes left by graduates who accounted for 75 percent of innings pitched, the Saints could compete for a second straight regular-season title, their first in the new DuKane Conference. The trio of Rupp (23 IP), ECC-bound Manthei (17 IP) and Dunfee (17 IP) lead a rotation with Meador in the mix. "Pitching is the question," said Asquini, who directed the Saints to three of their four state appearances, highlighted by the 1999 Class AA state title. "I believe the other stuff will be there, but will we throw it well enough? I love what we did in the offseason. It's just a matter of getting guys out there and doing it all year." The pitching staff gets a boost from a returning middle infield of shortstop Schroeder (Triton) and second baseman Clay Conn. Catcher/first baseman Cole Conn returns along with Hayes, one of the Saints' top hitters a year ago as a freshman. Hayes bats third behind Clay Conn and Schroeder. "We're hoping he's an RBI-per-game guy," Asquini said.
St. Charles North North Stars
Coach: Todd Genke (14th year, 343-123)
Last year: 24-7-1, 19-4-1 Upstate Eight (River); Lost to Lake Park 3-2 in Class 4A regional final.
Top returners: Seniors Pat Bellock, OF; Tristan Cazel, P; Mike Gattuso, OF; John Hamer, P/OF; Egon Hein, IF; Junior Ryan Thiesse, OF; Sophomore Nick DeMarco, IF/P
Key newcomers: Juniors Kyler Brown, IF; Michael Davis, C/OF; Johnny Lambert, P; Graham Padgitt, OF; Sophomores Zachary Kempe, P; Andrew Jimenez P/IF; Kevin White, IF/P
Outlook: Five returning position players, including a heralded sophomore shortstop, make the North Stars a threat to win the DuKane Conference and more. DeMarco committed to the Notre Dame baseball program last fall while playing running back for a football team that eventually finished second in Class 7A. DeMarco batted .303 as a freshman (23-for-76) with 3 doubles, a home run and 20 RBI and scored 23 runs. Defensively, Genke describes him as a "good defensive glove with strong, accurate arm." Genke considers multisport athlete Thiesse a Division-I prospect. Last year he batted .340 (32-for-94) with 8 doubles, 2 home runs and 20 RBI. His 4.5 speed translated to a team-high 38 runs scored. Gattuso (.310) is the team's fastest player, according to his coach. He will play the outfield and set the table at the top of the order. Bellock hit .328 last year, stole 11 bases and scored 24 runs. Multisport athlete Hein is an infielder with gap-to-gap power. "Offensively, we should be able to score runs in bunches but also execute small-ball opportunities when needed," Genke said. The rotation is anchored by Cazel. The right-hander went 4-2 last year with a 2.70 ERA in 35⅔ innings spanning 11 appearances (8 starts), struck out 46 and walked 17. Hamer did not allow a run in 7⅔ innings over 4 relief appearances. He could start or close. Jimenez is a potential No. 3-4 starting pitcher. Kempe, a hard-throwing right-hander, "could find his way into one of our starting spots," Genke said. "We're young, especially on the mound, but I like our chances." A challenging nonconference schedule includes dates against Naperville Central, Cary-Grove, Libertyville, Neuqua Valley, Marmion, Burlington Central, Kaneland and Barrington.
St. Edward Green Wave
Coach: Mike Rolando (first year)
Last year: 7-25, 3-15 Metro Suburban (Red); Lost 12-7 to Winnebago in a Class 2A Oregon regional semifinal
Top returners: Seniors Ben Boydston, OF/P; Mikey Lopez, SS/2B/P; Joey Mandarino, SS/2B/P; Jack Olson, 3B
Key newcomers: Juniors Jeff Mamrot, C/P; Drew Tilche, SS/2B/P
Outlook: Mike Rolando takes over as head coach. St. Edward's football coach of the last 14 seasons has dugout experience. Not only was he St. Edward's softball coach for three seasons when the Green Wave won three straight regional titles and the school's first sectional, he has been coaching his sons in the Elgin Little League system for several years, highlighted by a 2017 state championship at the intermediate level. He hopes to return St. Edward baseball to a competitive level. "These kids have a talent for the game," Rolando said. "The Wave was a consistent regional contender for years with a strong tradition and we expect to get back to that level." Playing time shouldn't be an issue with a roster of 13 players (eight seniors, four juniors, one sophomore). Third baseman Olson was St. Edward's top hitter a year ago. He batted .340 (32-for-94) with 10 doubles, 3 triples and 15 RBI. Olson, Mandarino and Lopez intend to play college baseball. Tilche was impressive on Monday in a 4-inning stint against reigning Class 1A state champion Aurora Christian, which joins the MSC this year. He held the Eagles to a run on 3 hits, struck out 8 and walked 4 in a promising outing. "Our goal is to be competitive in every game and get the boys playing at their highest level," Rolando said. "Their attitudes and effort have been outstanding, so I have no doubt we'll get there."
South Elgin Storm
Coach: Jim Kating (12th year, 231-149-1)
Last year: 15-9-1, 12-6 Upstate Eight (Valley); Lost to St. Charles East 13-10 in Class 4A St. Charles East regional semifinal.
Top returners: Seniors Austin Doty, OF; Ben Hettelle, P/OF/1B; Patrick Keaty, SS/P; Joe Teschke, P; Garrett Wano, IF; Robert Zagorski, P/DH; Logan Romansanta, C
Key newcomers: Juniors Grayson Downing, P/OF; Joe Haslem, P/SS
Outlook: South Elgin returns the experienced core of Keaty, Hettelle, Doty, Wano, Zagorski and Romansanta. Keaty (Lewis) joined the varsity midway through his freshman year and begins his third full season at shortstop. He batted .360 (27-for-75) as a junior and scored a team-best 29 runs. Hettelle batted .348 (23-for-66) with 5 doubles and 23 RBI, Doty averaged .306 (19-for-62) with 7 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs and 23 RBI. Wano hit .326 (14-for-43). Romansanta (.262, 6 doubles, 20 RBI) returns behind the plate. Nate Gomez graduated but four pitchers with varsity experience return: Hettelle (2-0, 21 IP, 1,33 ERA, 19 K, 7 BB), Teschke (2-2, 20 IP, 2.10 ERA, 12K, 11 BB), Zagorski (3-1, 19⅓ IP, 3.98 ERA, 27 K, 10 BB) and Keaty (2-0, 9 IP, 0.00 ERA, 8 K, 7 BB). Haslem and Baker are expected to make an impact on the mound. "We don't have that one stud pitcher but the majority of guys that threw last year are back and have a full year of experience," Kating said. "Hopefully, that will pay off this year. If we get some timely hitting and score some runs, I think our defense will be there for us as long as our pitching is there."
Coach: Ryan Lasota (seventh year, 56-142)
Last year: 13-19, 6-16 Upstate Eight; Lost to York 2-0 in Class 4A Elk Grove Village regional semifinal.
Top returners: Seniors Anthony Caruso, IF/P; Connor Johnson, 1B/P; AJ Reyna, OF/P; Dillon Skelnik, C/P; Juniors Max Alanis, IF/P; Colin Bielinski, OF/P; Tyler Jones, IF/P
Key newcomers: Seniors Nicholas Lunz, OF; Jared Martinez, IF/OF; Steve Williams, 1B; Juniors Dylan Caruso, IF/OF; Tyler Garza, OF; Jeremy Lunz, OF; Vinny Robles, OF; Sophomore Scott Wolfard, OF/P
Outlook: Streamwood won 9 games in 2016 and averaged 15 victories the past two seasons. The Sabres aim to take the next step in a realigned Upstate Eight Conference. The offense is likely to improve from a collective .242 average last season, when three sophomores were in the everyday lineup. Five position players return. Reyna enters his third varsity season. The slick outfielder batted .293 with 8 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs, 17 RBI and 22 runs. Caruso drove in 17 runs in 80 at-bats. The staff returns hurlers who pitched 70 innings last year and were a team strength in summer ball, Lasota said. Caruso (2-3) posted a 2.63 ERA in 29⅓ innings over 8 appearances (5 starts), struck out 22 and walked 8. Alanis struck out 17 and walked 4 in 16 innings. Reyna went 1-0 in 6 relief appearances. Jones tossed 13⅓ innings as a sophomore. Bielinski and Johnson will pitch, too. "It's one of the deeper staffs we've had," Lasota said. "Quite a few guys will throw for us. We definitely have some talent on this team."
West Aurora Blackhawks
Coach: John Reeves (12th year, 137-117)
Last year: 23-8, 16-5 Upstate Eight (Valley); Lost to Yorkville 1-0 in Class 4A Yorkville regional final.
Top returners: Seniors Alex Diaz, 1B; Alex Losselyoung, 2B; Anthony Malczyk, OF; Paulo Maravillo, P; Danny Marion, OF; Adrian Ruiz, SS/P/OF; Ryan Teuscher, SS; Eddie Wilson, P
Key newcomers: Juniors Darrin Hartkopp, IF; Logan Mont, C/P; Kyler Scroggins, P; Jake Smith, P/OF; Justin Zimmerman, P
Outlook: West Aurora approaches the revamped, 27-game Upstate Eight Conference schedule with a bevy of promising arms mostly unproven at the varsity level. Wilson is the lone returning starting pitcher from the UEC Valley title team. He finished 4-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 28.1 innings over 7 appearances (6 starts), struck out 31 and walked 14. Wilson pitched 5 scoreless innings of 4-hit ball last Saturday in a 12-2 win over Romeoville. Ruiz and Maravillo also gained a bit of experience last year in 7 combined appearances. Medlin, Zimmerman, Smith, Scroggins, Bunnetto and Mont will all see time on the hill, according to Reeves. Medlin did not allow an earned run in 5 innings of a 7-1 win over Joliet Central on Monday. "We have a bunch of young arms," Reeves said. "We're trying to get out there and play and see how they perform. Our defense is pretty good, particularly on the infield. We're just sorting through the arms to see who fits where." Teuscher was named honorable mention all-UEC Valley last spring after batting .303 (27-for-89) with 5 doubles and 28 RBI. However, he had not played in West Aurora's last 3 games through Tuesday due to an injury suffered in the season opener. Hartkopp has played shortstop in the meantime. Losselyoung batted .255 in 98 at-bats last year and scored 25 runs. Marion batted .254 in 83 at-bats and drove in 23. Diaz was on the varsity team last year as a sophomore but missed most of the year due to an early season injury.
Westminster Christian Warriors
Coach: Tom Polka (second year, 18-13)
Last year: 18-13, 9-3 Northeastern Athletic; Lost to Harvest Christian Academy 7-2 in Class 1A Westminster Christian regional final.
Top returners: Juniors Peter DeFalco, OF; Paul Mitofsky, OF/IF; Frankie Schlaffer, P/1B; Sophomores Erik Haegeland, OF/P, Eli Hoon, IF; Connor King, OF; Davis Mitchell Walle, OF
Key newcomers: Juniors Jake Branscom, C/1B; Jared Gomez, OF; Caleb Janschek, IF; Tyler Oman, C/P; Sophomore Vince Johnson, IF
Outlook: Westminster Christian fields a senior-less team with 11-12 players on the varsity roster. The key cog is Schlaffer, who Polka expects to lead the Warriors both at the plate and on the mound after a strong sophomore season on varsity. The team gets a lift from Oman, a transfer from Faith Lutheran. He played the last two seasons for the Alden-Hebron/Faith Lutheran varsity coop team. Another addition is Johnson, a home-schooled sophomore. The middle infielder plays travel baseball but was unable to compete as freshman due to injury, Polka said. DeFalco enters his third varsity season. Several sophomores who did not play much as freshmen -- the Elgin private school no longer fields a sophomore team -- step into expanded roles. Schlaffer and Oman are the team's only experienced starting pitchers. "We'll have to hope the other guys can throw strikes, pitch to contact and hope somebody can make a play," Polka said. "We'd like to see at least a .500 record, especially in conference,"