Baseball: Scouting DuPage County's conferences
Just a few days ago, DuPage County high school baseball players practiced their hearts out in anticipation of the official opening day on Monday.
Now their hearts are on the verge of breaking.
With schools closed and the spring sports season suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everything's on hold. The hope -- and hang on to that word -- is that at least a portion the 2020 baseball season can be saved.
Let's keep that hopeful feeling alive.
Montini's Class 3A championship last season was DuPage County's first since 2013 and its 11th since the IHSA handed out its first trophy in 1940. Every year the area has its favorites and underdogs, but both have found a way to win it all.
Which DuPage County teams are the favorites and underdogs this season?
Let's take a look ... hopefully we'll be hearing these joyful words again soon: Play ball!
Chicago Catholic League Green
Teams: De La Salle, DePaul Prep, Fenwick, Leo, Montini, St. Ignatius, St. Joseph.
Defending champion: De La Salle.
Montini players to watch: Antoine Harris, jr., OF; Michael Koszewski, sr., P-OF; Nate Kremkow, sr., 2B; Michael Sclafani, sr., P-1B.
Outlook: Defending Class 3A champion Montini finished third in a division that featured a sectional champion in De La Salle and a regional champion in DePaul Prep. So there will be no panic if the Broncos don't dominate with seven returning position players and five experienced pitchers. Montini's mound tandem of Koszewski, a Cincinnati recruit, and Sclafani, headed to Lewis, won't have to carry the load.
Teams: Batavia, Geneva, Glenbard North, Lake Park, St. Charles East, St. Charles North, Wheaton North, Wheaton Warrenville South.
Defending champion: St. Charles North.
DuPage County players to watch: Michael Betancourt (Glenbard North, jr., P); Brandon Cole (Glenbard North, sr., 1B); Jackson Kent (Lake Park, jr., P); Aiden Monce (WW South, sr., 1B-P); Andy Nelson (Wheaton North, sr., SS-P); Phil Oddo (WW South, sr., OF-P); Tyler Woltman (Wheaton North, sr., C); Chris Worcester (Lake Park, jr., SS).
Outlook: Can anyone overtake the St. Charles schools? Geneva, which advanced to the IHSBCA summer state title game, has the talent. So does Wheaton North with Iowa-bound Nelson, who last year hit .451 with 7 homers and posted a 2.52 ERA, and Woltman, an Illinois State recruit. Lake Park returns five position players headed by Worcester, an all-DKC selection. Kent and Bradley Patton are healthy on the mound, and they join a staff with Tom Ackerley and Nic Aehlert that returns 150 innings. WW South suffered tremendous graduation losses, although Ray Nepras went 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA. Glenbard North can beat anyone with Betancourt, who struck out 66 and had a 1.83 ERA, on the mound.
DuPage Valley Conference
Teams: DeKalb, Metea Valley, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley.
Defending champion: Neuqua Valley.
DuPage County players to watch: Cooper Avery (Neuqua Valley, sr., P); Clay Billadeau (Metea Valley, sr., C); Nate Brinker (Naperville Central, jr., P-1B); Nolan Clifford (Neuqua Valley, sr., SS); Connor Genovese (Naperville North, sr., P); Will Jaynes (Waubonsie Valley, sr., 3B-C-P); Mitch Rokosz (Neuqua Valley, sr., 3B); Nate Snedic (Naperville North, sr., C); Kyle Steele (Naperville Central, jr., P); Cade Sullivan (Metea Valley, sr., 3B); Ivan Wong (Waubonsie Valley, jr., OF).
Outlook: Neuqua Valley might have the DVC's best pitching staff with Avery, Ryan Auer and Aiden Green. Creighton-bound Clifford, who last year hit .375 with 31 RBI, and Rokosz, who hit .330 with 24 RBI, anchor another strong Wildcats infield. Naperville Central endured growing pains with four sophomores last year, but the experience gained by Steele and Brinker will pay off. Can Naperville North recover from the graduation of DVC Player of the Year Cliff Vickers? Genovese, who notched 4 wins with a 2.38 ERA, is a good start. Metea Valley's Sullivan, a Western Michigan recruit who hit .463 with 8 homers, is a smart pick for this season's player of the year. Waubonsie Valley's Jaynes, committed to Western Illinois, hit .330 last year with 3 homers. He'll be one of the many players needing to step up on the mound for the Warriors.
East Suburban Catholic Conference
Teams: Benet, Carmel, Joliet Catholic, Marian Catholic, Marian Central Catholic, Marist, Nazareth, Notre Dame, St. Patrick, St. Viator.
Defending champions: Notre Dame (North), Joliet Catholic (South).
Benet players to watch: Connor Hincks, sr., SS; Jared Novak, sr., P-1B,; Jack Rodi, jr., P; Ben Wright, sr., C; Chris Perry, sr., P.
Outlook: Benet is hungry to erase the sting of last season's 10-21 record. Notre Dame, Marian Catholic, Marist and Joliet Catholic aren't going anywhere, but this Redwings team will be one of their most talented. Hincks, committed to Virginia, last season hit .433. Novak's headed to Bradley and Rodi to Creighton. That'll match up pretty well with the rest of the league.
Illinois Central Eight
Teams: Coal City, Herscher, Lisle, Manteno, Peotone, Reed-Custer, Streator, Wilmington.
Defending champion: First year of conference.
Lisle players to watch: Anthony Raineri, sr., P-1B; Connor Nigro, sr., P-SS-C; Zach Webber, jr., OF-IF.
Outlook: It's a new conference for Lisle with many of the same rivals and challenges. Between Coal City, Manteno and Wilmington, it'll be tough for the Lions to break into the top half. Raineri was all-Interstate Eight last season after batting .349. He, Webber and Nigro will be counted on to pitch much more.
Metro Suburban Blue
Teams: Aurora Central Catholic, Elmwood Park, Ridgewood, Riverside-Brookfield, St. Francis, Wheaton Academy.
Defending champion: St. Francis.
DuPage County players to watch: Michael Baffa (St. Francis, sr., P); Shane Baumgarten (Wheaton Academy, jr., P-3B); Marcus Bult (Wheaton Academy, sr., 1B-P); Jeffrey Clark (St. Francis, jr., P); Ben Radel (St. Francis, sr., OF-P); Luke Roman (Wheaton Academy, sr., SS).
Outlook: St. Francis graduated immense talent headed by all-stater Nick Kosmetatos, opening the door for the rest of the league to grab the top spot this season. Radel and Clark, though, return 80 innings on the mound. Watch out for the Spartans' young talent ... you'll be seeing them for a while. Wheaton Academy is one of the teams looking to win the title. Baumgarten, regarded among the state's top juniors, Roman and Bult return 90 innings. They'll also form the heart of the lineup.
Metro Suburban Red
Teams: Aurora Christian, Chicago Christian, Guerin, IC Catholic Prep, McNamara, St. Edward, Timothy Christian, Westmont.
Defending champion: Chicago Christian.
DuPage County players to watch: Riley Basit (Westmont, sr., C); Kevin Cooke (IC Catholic, sr., P-SS); Ethan Roemmich (Timothy Christian, sr., Util.-P); Harrison Stanton (Timothy Christian, sr., Util.); Dave Sykora (IC Catholic, jr., P-OF).
Outlook: This league could be dynamite. Aurora Christian finished third in Class 2A last season while McNamara won a sectional and Chicago Christian a regional. IC Catholic Prep, bolstered by 15 seniors, has the arms to challenge with Sykora, Cooke, Andrew Zwolinski and Tommy Ryan. Timothy Christian returns seven position players, including Roemmich, who also pitched 47 innings last year. Pitchers Zak Fischer and Joey Dobrovolny are back for Westmont, but its leader is Basit, who hit .319 with 27 RBI.
Upstate Eight Conference
Teams: Bartlett, East Aurora, Elgin, Fenton, Glenbard East, Glenbard South, Larkin, South Elgin, Streamwood, West Chicago.
Defending champion: South Elgin.
DuPage County players to watch: David Burch (Fenton, jr., IF); Jason Cousineau (Glenbard East, jr., P-1B); Jacob Cyrus (Glenbard South, sr., P-OF); Joe Hamilton (Glenbard East, jr., SS); Aidan Kress (Fenton, jr., 3B-P); Luke Krogh (West Chicago, sr., 3B-P); Michael Nathe (Glenbard South, sr., P-OF); Jared Sennese (West Chicago, sr., P).
Outlook: We'll get a sense of the race pretty quickly when South Elgin and Glenbard South, an IHSBCA summer semifinalist, square off in the first UEC series. Cyrus went 8-2 with a 2.38 ERA last season and hit .383 with 37 RBI. With Nathe, Ty Klayum and Richie Villa, the Raiders have the pitching to endure a 27-game marathon. Glenbard East graduated most of its pitching, but Hamilton hit .424 with 32 RBI and leads a junior-laden group. Krogh and Sennese return about 60 pitched innings for West Chicago. Fenton joins the UEC this season to replace West Aurora.
West Suburban Gold
Teams: Addison Trail, Downers Grove South, Hinsdale South, Leyden, Morton, Proviso East, Willowbrook.
Defending champion: Willowbrook.
DuPage County players to watch: Jack Blazevich (Downers South, sr., SS); A.J. Carlson (Addison Trail, sr., SS-OF); Drew Duckhorn (Hinsdale South, so., P-1B; Noah Edders (Downers South, jr., P); Ethan Patera (Downers South, so., P); James Ruzicka (Hinsdale South, sr., OF); Sam Tumilty (Willowbrook, sr., C); Anthony Yannotti (Willowbrook, sr., 1B).
Outlook: Downers South rates an edge, even with pitcher Chris Gory out for the year due to injury. Blazevich, committed to NIU, last year hit .436. Edders is committed to Bradley. Hinsdale South leans on three sophomores but will compete with Duckhorn, Cole Bozzi and Logan McGinley on the mound. Ruzicka batted .366. Willowbrook was hit hard by graduation, and pitcher Dax Meyer is out with an injury. The Warriors still have solid leadership with Tumilty and Yannotti. Like in football and basketball, Carlson leads Addison Trail. It might come down to young pitching with Patera, committed to Louisville, Duckhorn and Willowbrook's Max Vaisvila poised to be factors as sophomores.
West Suburban Silver
Teams: Glenbard West, Downers Grove North, Hinsdale Central, Lyons Twp., Oak Park-River Forest, Proviso West, York.
Defending champion: Lyons Twp.
DuPage County players to watch: Cam Demos (Downers North, sr., P-2B); Gavin Hepner (Glenbard West, sr., SS); Charlie Huth (Hinsdale Central, sr., 3B-P); Tom Jurack (Hinsdale Central, sr., OF); Jon Meyers (York, sr., P).
Outlook: Lyons Twp. or Oak Park have won at least a share of the last seven Silver titles. Once again, it won't be easy for the other teams to break through. University of Illinois-bound Jurack, who last year hit .444, leads Hinsdale Central's charge. Look for Downers North to improve dramatically with seven returning position players and three experienced pitchers headed by Demos. York always finds a way. This year it'll be with Meyers, Charlie Cmiel and others on the mound. Glenbard West graduated the bulk of its pitching, but Drew Cater saw varsity time as a sophomore. Hepner was all-Silver after hitting .362.
-- Kevin Schmit