Baseball: Harvest Christian improving despite injuries, inexperience
The last season Harvest Christian took the field, the Lions were enjoying perhaps the best year they've had, going 24-5 and culminating with a fourth-place finish at the 2019 Class 1A state tournament.
Two years later, only two starters return from that state team, Matt Ellett and Tommy Abbatacola.
Making matters worse, both have been dealing with injuries.
That inexperience and bad luck has played a part in a 7-5 start.
"I knew we were a talented but very young team going into the season and would likely deal with growing pains early," Harvest coach Matt Ellett said. "We are still battling and easily should have 2-3 more wins, even with 7 underclassmen starting. I feel the team is starting to mature and come together, and when we get healthy in a couple weeks, we will be ready for a deep postseason run."
Freshman catcher Eloy Suarez, an Illinois State commit, leads the team with a .470 batting average. Senior Matt Ellett has an OBP over .700, hitting .459, and is 14 for 14 in stolen bases.
Senior Jakob Johnson is the ace of the staff, striking out 38 in 17 innings and has faced some of Harvest's toughest completion including Class 3A Kaneland and Class 4A Jacobs.
Aurora Christian update:
Another small-school power, Aurora Christian, is 8-8 overall and 4-3 in the Metro Suburban Red heading into the week. The Eagles own a couple impressive comeback wins, 6-5 at Kaneland and 9-7 over Harvest when they trailed 5-0 in the third inning.
Senior Jacob Keehma is hitting .472 in 10 games played, missing some time with illness and injuries. Junior Jackson Robertson is hitting .359 with a couple doubles and a homer; on the mound he has a 3-1 record with 30 strikeouts and a 2.10 ERA in 20 innings.
The Vikings (10-7, 8-4 in the DuKane Conference) are playing well despite plenty of adversity, handing St. Charles North its first loss last week and completing a series victory over St. Charles East on Monday.
"It has been a crazy start due to COVID and football overlapping with our season," Geneva coach Brad Wendell said. "We have several football players that are key contributors to our lineup."
Those players include Ethan Mayer at second base and Blake Stempowski at third base. First baseman Noah Zaccanti broke his finger in football was only able to play one baseball game in which he had an RBI double.
"Quarantine due to close contact in the classroom has also affected our lineup greatly," Wendell said. "Dainel Alworth and Blake Stempowski were out for 14 days in the beginning of the season. Now Carson Sprague is currently out for 14 days. Carson was playing great and hitting in the top of the order when he was forced to quarantine. He comes back this Friday."
Due to these issues, in the first week of the season Geneva played its first game with 10 players, its second game with 11, and third game with 15. Only against Wheaton Warrenville South has Geneva fielded its full team.
Wendell said junior Owen Anderson has been a great utility player to fill the holes. Anderson has played catcher, third base, second base, shortstop and outfield while providing quality at-bats.
Joey Maynard has been reliable batting third, with a .381 average, 3 doubles, 3 home runs and 15 RBI. Mayer, Stempowski, Sprague and Garrett Peters also have been hitting well.
Two pitchers have stepped up. Brian Wrenn is 3-1 and Sean Kennedy 2-1. Starting shortstop Aidan Sheehan has pitched well as a closer with saves against St. Charles North and St. Charles East.
St. Charles North update:
North Stars coach Todd Genke has received glowing comments from opposing coaches about junior catcher Jayden Lobliner.
"Almost every coach that we've seen thus far said that he's the best catcher that they've seen, which is a huge feather in his cap," Genke said. "He's just a consummate worker. He works so hard back there and does such a tremendous job. He basically shuts down the running game."
Lobliner, a Kansas State commit, has a team-high 116 putouts as of last Thursday for a slew of pitchers including Zach Kempe, Andrew Jimenez, Evan Suyak, Declan McGrath and closer Nick DeMarco.
"The defensive part of my game for me has kind of built my reputation and built where I am today," Lobliner said. "That's what I take, clearly, the most pride of. To get some of that recognition from other coaches and my own coaches, for me, it feels like the work I've done is continuing to pay off."
Offensively, Lobliner is sporting a .317 batting average, .463 slugging and 9 RBI.
The varying pitch offerings and styles of the North Stars' staff is unique to Lobliner.
"I think, personally, that's why our pitching staff has so much success," Lobliner said. "Not every guy is throwing the same; I like to stay in-tempo. You watch Zach on the mound [and see] how fast he works. Some of the other guys work a little slower, but each of them have different pitches."
Burlington Central update:
Burlington Central freshman pitcher Michael Person is "pitching beyond his years" 12 games into the season.
Person leads the Rockets rotation with 18 innings pitched as of last Thursday and has a 2-0 record in three starts. Person has a rotation-high 29 strikeouts.
"His fastball right now is generally between 83 and 86 [miles per hour] which, for a freshman, is pretty good," Rockets coach Kyle Nelson said. "The thing that's most impressive about him really ... throwing and commanding any pitch in any count. He has four pitches he throws for strikes. He has confidence throwing them in any count."
During the Rockets' 3-2 victory over McHenry on April 27, Person exhibited that confidence.
"He shook me [off] the other day. It was a 3-1 count and I called fastball ... he shook me to a curveball and threw a curveball over on a 3-1 count with runners in scoring position, so he really has a good understanding of the game," Nelson continued. "A good understanding of how to pitch and that ability to throw fastball, curveball, slider and changeup for strikes in just about any count is really impressive for someone his age."
Senior pitcher Aaron Wojciechowski is also eating up innings for the Rockets, coming in second with 16.2 innings pitched. Wojciechowski, a McHenry Community College recruit, has 22 strikeouts and a 2.94 earned run average.
"His fastball took a nice jump between his sophomore year and this year," Nelson said. "He's been in the mid upper 80s this year. Struggling with his curveball command a little bit, but had it the other day against Huntley and threw really well against them."
-- Jake Bartelson contributed