While the baseball season officially began Monday, typical Northern Illinois weather has prevented any games from being played so far.
But with a (slight) warmup in the cards for next week, here are five things to watch for as the season begins in earnest.
1. Exactly how far can Sycamore go?
Last year, the Spartans were four runs away from a state berth. It was the third time coach Jason Cavanaugh has guided the Spartans into a supersectional, but the team hasn’t gotten over the hump to state.
Jimmy Amptmann and Owen Piazza are strong on the mound for the Spartans. Tommy Townsend was a lights-out closer, a rarity in the high school game. Joey Puleo and Conner Williar give the rotation some depth.
And all those guys can rake too. Throw in standout leadoff hitter Kiefer Tarnoki, Hunter Britz and new catcher Kyle Hartmann, and that’s a scary lineup top to bottom.
2. How big of a thorn will Kaneland be in Sycamore’s side?
Any of Sycamore’s goals this year involve knocking off a very, very good Kaneland team. Want to win the Interstate 8? The Knights will be right there. Want to go on a postseason run? The Knights will likely be there too, as they were last year in a sectional final.
Kaneland, like Sycamore, has a lot of returning talent on the bump but are down some top-of-the-rotation firepower. But the offense has a lot of talent back, including Parker Violett, who blasted seven home runs last year. Anthony Campise, Johnny Spallasso and Alex Panico all had solid years as well and should make leaps.
It sure seems the two teams are going to see plenty of each other this year.
3. Senior talent everywhere
Obviously, Sycamore (see above), but there are also standouts on the other teams that have played tremendously for years. On last year’s all-area team, there were as many juniors as seniors on the first team.
Nate Nunez has been a reliable backstop for DeKalb. Sam Genslinger emerged as an ace for Indian Creek last year. Nolan Perry has been a multi-sport standout for Genoa-Kingston, with this baseball season his last go-round for the Cogs.
Sure, there are some younger guys like Violett or Martin Ledbetter at Hinckley-Big Rock - not to mention whatever freshmen burst unexpectedly onto the season - but it’s scary to think what this group can accomplish this year.
4. Player of the year race is wide open
Won by graduated Sycamore pitcher Ethan Storm last year, all those seniors means a lot of strong preseason contenders for the award and no clear-cut favorite.
If you had to pick a favorite, it may be Townsend at this point. But Tarnoki is also a formidable leadoff hitter and strong-fielding center fielder. Amptmann has always had pop and will be a top-of-the-rotation guy for the Spartans.
Then there’s the non-Sycamore contingent. Ledbetter is going to put up scary good numbers in the Little 10, hitting over .500 with six home runs as a freshman last year. It’s scary to think what his sophomore campaign will look like.
There’s also Nunez, who hit .462 playing in the DuPage Valley Conference against some of the top 4A competition in the state. Not to mention Perry at Genoa-Kingston, who has a career full of eye-popping numbers at the plate and looks to solidify on the rubber this year.
Like we said, wide open.
5. Can someone other than Sycamore or Kaneland win a regional?
It’s been a while since a team other than the Spartans or Knights claimed a regional title, last happening when the Barbs finished 10-26 in 2017 but had an improbable postseason run that included winning the Hampshire Regional.
For the smaller schools, it’s been even longer. Hinckley-Big Rock (2015) and Indian Creek (2014) are going on a decade in their title droughts. For Hiawatha, the Hawks last won a regional in 2012. And for Genoa-Kignston, it’s been even longer, since 1999 according to IHSA archives.
So can Genoa or one of the Little 10 schools party like it’s 1999?