Baseball: Warren looking to pick up where it left off

  • Warren's Bradley Vondruska left, gets a fist bump from head coach Clint Smothers during a game last season.

    Warren's Bradley Vondruska left, gets a fist bump from head coach Clint Smothers during a game last season. Daily Herald file photo

  • Warren pitcher Ryan Scanlon celebrates in the dugout during a game last season.

    Warren pitcher Ryan Scanlon celebrates in the dugout during a game last season. Daily Herald file photo

 
By Bill McLean
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 3/14/2020 5:51 PM

Nobody should be surprised by Warren baseball coach Clint Smothers' heightened expectations for his Blue Devils this spring.

His junior-laden squad won 23 straight games en route to a program-best 32-5 record and fifth consecutive Class 4A regional championship last spring.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And the same man, back in 1990, had no problem raising the bar -- as a pole vaulter. Smothers didn't just wield a potent baseball bat for downstate Marion High School's Wildcats 30 springs ago; he also found the time to grip a pole, plant and soar to the Class AA state championship in the pole vault, one year after taking state runner-up honors in the taxing event.

Smothers can't wait for his 2020 club's ... takeoff.

"Some teams have batting orders with five guys who can hit, with the other guys hidden," said Smothers, whose 2019 crew won the North Suburban Conference title with a 13-1 record. "Well, I have 12-13 kids who can hit, who can drive the ball. The challenge for me this spring will be finding positions for kids in order to get them at-bats."

Blue Devils senior second baseman Mikey Kocen hit a stellar .390 with 22 extra-base hits (including 3 HRs) and 41 RBIs last spring. He fanned a grand total of five times. Five. Look for at least five other returning standouts to sparkle again on diamonds: C/DH Nate Rentas (. 344 BA, 10 HRs, 41 RBIs in 2019); sidearm RHP Dru Jasnoch (9-1, 2.14 ERA, 81 IP, 51 Ks); C Thomas Kenney (. 334 BA, 28 RBIs); pitcher Ryan Scanlon (5-1, 2.25 ERA); and OF Ryan DeVries (. 299, 2 HRs, 19 RBIs).

The memory of DeVries' second homer of '19 still prompts chills. It busted a 3-all contest in the bottom of the eighth inning and gave Warren a sudden 4-3 defeat of St. Viator in a regional title game in Gurnee.

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"What I love most about all of our seniors is what all of them believe -- nobody is bigger than the team," Smothers said. "They're close, hang out together, respect each other, and they play the game the right way. And they won't get upset, or roll their eyes, if we ask them to bunt a base runner over."

They won't mind playing behind senior pitcher and Iowa recruit Reece Lawler. The righty chose not to play prep baseball last season after finishing his sophomore year on varsity with a 6-2 record and 2.20 ERA in 2018. He also saved a pair of games and struck out 61 in 41 innings; he walked only 16.

"I'm excited Reece is back to compete with such a great group," Smothers said. "His teammates are excited, too."

Warren junior shortstop Brian Rapanan (. 347, 26 RBIs) rapped 11 doubles on his way to a .347, 26-RBI campaign on varsity last spring. His classmates in the 2020 fold include Alex Carruthers (P), Kyle Panek (P), Michael Rivera (P/IF), Nick Shiu (IF) and Ryan Risch (P/IF/OF). Blue Devils senior outfielder Gabe Schmitt batted .310 and knocked in 15 runs for the NSC champs. Another senior to watch is first baseman Cam "I throw a baseball, not a football" Newton.

"All of our guys started working out right after Christmas," said Smothers, whose boys of spring fell to Fremd 6-5 in 8 innings in a sectional semifinal last year. "We didn't have to chase anybody down to show up; they wanted to be there. You have to buy in, and they do. One guy can ruin a team's chemistry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I'm not worried that we have a guy like that."

Decades ago, the men's track and field team at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale fretted that it would have to battle at the 1991 Missouri Valley Conference indoor meet without a strong contingent of pole vaulters.

Word got out that SIU's baseball team featured a player who had amassed 14 varsity letters (baseball, football, track and field) at nearby Marion High School. That same former Wildcat had collected some serious hardware as a pole vaulter.

SIU tracksters and coaches recruited a fellow named Clint Smothers, who agreed to launch his frame, instead of a fastball, at the big meet.

He placed in the pole vault, helping the Salukis capture the conference title.

Jim Thorpe.

Bo Jackson.

Clint Smothers.

But only one of those multisport athletes can claim to have served successfully as a pinch pole vaulter.

TOP RETURNERS (LAKE COUNTY)

CENTRAL SUBURBAN LEAGUE NORTHJack Barszcz, Vernon Hills, sr., IF/OF

Ethan Bowers, Vernon Hills, jr., IF

Antonio Brown, Vernon Hills, sr., IF

Brendan Holloway, Vernon Hills, sr., OF

Jordan Krasner, Vernon Hills, Vernon Hills, sr., C

Josh Liu, Vernon Hills, sr., IF/P

Michael Moore, Vernon Hills, sr., P

NORTH SUBURBAN CONFERENCEFrank Carris, Stevenson, sr., P

Noah DeLuga, Lake Zurich, sr., P/OF

Ryan DeVries, Warren, sr., OF

Dylan Drumke, Libertyville, sr., OF

Cole Fiorenza, Libertyville, sr., OF/C

Matt Flaherty, Lake Zurich, sr., C

Brandon Frankel, Stevenson, sr., P

Jake Freed, Stevenson, sr., P

Sam Holtz, Lake Zurich, jr., IF

Matt Jacobson, Libertyville, jr., IF

Dru Jasnoch, Warren, sr., P

Thomas Kenney, Warren, sr., C

Mikey Kocen, Warren, sr., IF

Reece Lawler, Warren, sr., P

Connor Lockwood, Libertyville, jr., P

Conner Lutes, Libertyville, jr., P

Anthony Mangano, Lake Zurich sr., IF

Will Murphy, Libertyville, sr., IF

Patrick O'Malley, Lake Zurich, sr., P

Sam Paden, Libertyville, sr., OF/P

Jack Pfeifer, Lake Zurich, sr., IF/P

James Piggott, Lake Zurich, sr., P/OF

Brian Rapanan, Warren, jr., IF

Nate Rentas, Warren, sr., C/DH

Benji Ries, Stevenson, jr., C/IF

Drew Ruchim, Stevenson, sr., C/OF

Ryan Scanlon, Warren, sr., P

Gabe Schmitt, Warren, sr., OF

Jake Surane, Stevenson, sr., OF

Zach Taylor, Stevenson, sr., C/IF

Justin Tumpowsky, Stevenson, sr., IF/P

AJ Weine, Stevenson, sr., IF

NORTHERN LAKE COUNTY CONFERENCEChance Andell, Lakes, sr., OF

Mikal Ashley, Grant, sr., P/OF/IF

Cord Babcock, Grant, sr., OF/P

Anthony Bonk, Wauconda, sr., OF

Charlie Burton, Round Lake, sr., IF

Nathan Casper, Grayslake Central, sr., P/OF

Valentin Cerna, Grant, sr., P/IF

Santino Cirelli, Round Lake, sr., OF/P

Ethan Clark, Lakes, so., IF/P

Cody Connealy, Grant, jr., C/P/IF/OF

Wesley Daniels, Round Lake, sr., P/OF

Anthony Figueroa, Grant, sr., IF/P

Alex Hair, Round Lake, jr., OF/P

Logan Hanson, Lakes, sr., P/IF

Tyler Heinz, Wauconda, sr., C

Camden Janik, Wauconda, jr., C

Jesse James, Grant, sr., C

Josh Kehl, Wauconda, sr., IF/P

Riley Kirk, Wauconda, jr., IF/P

Sam Kuch, Wauconda, sr., IF

Daniel Laughery, Grant, sr., OF

Zachery Lee, Round Lake, sr., OF/P

Aaron Lieberman, Grayslake Central, sr., P

Ethan Mackey, Lakes, sr., IF

Marcus Maristela, Grayslake Central, sr., IF

Ryan Meyer, Wauconda, sr., P

Nate Mieszkowski, Grayslake Central, jr., IF

Clark Morgan, Wauconda, sr., P

Brad Nolan, Wauconda, sr., P

Jeremy Pones, Wauconda, sr., OF

Lennard Pureza, Round Lake, sr., C

Logan Queen, Lakes, sr., IF/P

Daniel Rogers, Grayslake Central, sr., C

Mason Sekulich, Grant, sr., P

Marcus Sperling, Wauconda, jr., OF/P

Justin Surovitz, Wauconda, sr., INF/P

Jimmy Taylor, Grant, sr., C/P/OF

Aaron Vertuno, Grant, sr., OF/P

TOP NEWCOMERS (LAKE COUNTY)

CENTRAL SUBURBAN LEAGUE NORTHNoah Kalicki, Vernon Hills, jr., P

Tyler Klene, Vernon Hills, jr., P

Jordan Pinsky, Vernon Hills, jr., P

Danny Wizceb, Vernon Hills, so., P

NORTH SUBURBAN CONFERENCEGavin Bennett, Libertyville, jr., C

Colin Callahan, Lake Zurich, jr., OF/IF/P

JD Carpenter, Lake Zurich, jr., P/OF

Alex Carruthers, Warren, jr., P

Cole Collins, Libertyville, so., IF/P

Liam Crawley, Stevenson, jr., IF

Eddie Dlatt, Lake Zurich, sr., OF/P

Stone Gomberg, Stevenson, jr., P

Hayden Lynch, Libertyville, sr., P

Brendan Max, Libertyville, so., IF/OF/P

Cam Newton, Warren, sr., IF

Zach Oh, Stevenson, jr., P/OH

Danny Orgler, Stevenson, jr., OF

Kyle Panek, Warren, jr., P

Ryan Risch, Warren, jr., P/IF/OF

Michael Rivera, Warren, jr., P/IF

Jake Robertson, Lake Zurich, sr., P

James Schmidt, Libertyville, sr., IF/P

Nick Shiu, Warren, jr., IF

Griffin Siegel, Libertyville, sr., P

Jordan Skolmar, Stevenson, so., OF/P

Joey Splansky, Stevenson, jr., P/IF

Brady Wells, Libertyville, jr., P

NORTHERN LAKE COUNTY CONFERENCEAustin Bean, Grayslake Central, jr., P

James Bills, Round Lake, jr., OF/P

Kellen Botha, Wauconda, jr., P/IF

Connor D'Ambrosia, Wauconda, sr., OF

Manny Gomez, Round Lake, jr., P/IF

Mark Guckenberger, Grayslake Central, jr., C

Michael Herbst, Wauconda, jr., OF/P

Colin Husko, Wauconda, so., IF

Carter Kaye, Grant, so., P/IF

Brett Landmeier, Wauconda, jr., P/IF

Jack Lochner, Lakes, sr., OF

Aiden Loebman, Grayslake Central, jr., IF

Davis, Maifield, Grant, jr., P/IF

Charlie Marisca, Grayslake Central, so., C/IF

Kyle Niebow, Lakes, so., P/OF

Dayvin Olaiz, Grayslake Central, jr., OF

Ethan Olsen, Round Lake, so., P

Mike Olsen, Wauconda, sr., P/IF

Quentin Ott, Grayslake Central, jr., OF/P

Hunter Parkman, Grant, jr., P/OF

Jack Proeschel, Wauconda, jr., P/C

Jacob Rolon, Round Lake, so., C/IF

Caleb Royer, Grant, so., IF

David Russ, Round Lake, so., P/IF

Kas Seebacker, Round Lake, sr., IF/P

Tyler Shannon, Grayslake Central, jr., IF

Mike Szyzska, Grayslake Central, jr., IF/P

Joe Taylor, Grant, so., P/IF

Brendan Whalen, Grayslake Central, so., P

Jarrett Williams, Wauconda, sr., P/IF

Jake Willsie, Wauconda, sr., P/IF

Antioch, Carmel and Grayslake North did not respond.

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