The high school baseball season starts this week. Here are previews of teams from around the Record Newspapers coverage area.
Coach: Josh Cooper (4th season, 48-10),
Last season: 21-8 overall. 16-0 Little Ten
Top returning players: Joe Martin, sr., P/IF; Jake Kruser, sr., OF/P; Cole Reibel, sr., IF; Clay Friestad, jr., IF
Top new players: Jackson Walker, so., C; Payton Wills, so., P/IF; Landon Begovac, so., OF/P; Toby Steffen, fr., IF
Worth noting: Martin has committed to playing DI baseball at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville next year and has been a mainstay in the Norsemen lineup for the past three seasons. As a junior, Martin led Newark at the plate with a .434 batting average and on the mound recording a 7-2 record with 110 strikeouts. Kruser (.384 BA) was next in line while Reibel (.301 BA) proved effective at the plate as well. Friestad was rock-solid defensively posting a .850 fielding percentage. Cooper has 14 players in the varsity program this spring that include six seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and one freshman.
– Bill Lidinsky
Coach: Joe Giarrante (seventh season).
Last season’s record: 19-14, 8-7 Southwest Prairie Conference (fourth place.
Top returning players: Tyler Stack, sr., C; Cade Duffin, sr., 1B/OF; Eddie Scaccia, sr., P; Bryson Mello, sr., P; Chase Gerwig, sr., SS/P; Trey Hernandez, sr., 3B; Ethan Valles, sr., 2B; Luke Voelker, sr., OF; Troy Vosburgh, sr., OF; Owen Corbet, sr., P; Dylan McGee, sr., OF/P;
Top new players: Nick Tickle, jr., P/C/OF; Anthony Comperda, jr., IF; Drake Dunnit, jr., IF/OF/C.
Worth noting: The Panthers made a memorable run last postseason to their first sectional final since 2009, where they lost an 11-inning thriller to Plainfield North. The ace of that staff, Joey Cecola, has graduated, but a strong senior class returns. Stack, a Xavier recruit in his third varsity season, posted a .465 on-base percentage with seven doubles, a triple and 12 RBIs, and was the catcher of a pitching staff that posted a 2.81 earned run average. Mello, who will play collegiately at Fort Scott, is a returning all-conference pitcher who posted a 6-3 record with a 2.10 ERA and 47 strikeouts over 57 innings last spring. Scaccia is another all-conference pitcher. Much of the postseason lineup returns including Spoon River commit Gerwig, Waubonsee commits Hernandez and Voelker, Illinois-Springfield commit Duffin and College of DuPage recruit Vosburgh.
A challenging schedule starts March 16 and 17 at the Prep Baseball Report Kickoff Classic in Edwardsville.
Coach: Brian Schaeffer (second season)
Last season’s record: 10-19, 6-9 SPC West, 7-13 overall in Southwest Prairie Conference
Top returning players: Josh Polubinski, sr., 3B/P; Mike Polubinski, sr., OF; Zach Polubinski, sr., 1B/OF/P; Mason Blanco, sr., MIF; Eric Lewis, sr., C; Griffin Sleyko, sr., P; Cody Haynes, sr., 1B/OF.
Others back: Spencer Knauss, sr., OF; Liam Mitchell, sr., OF; Jack Biala, sr., IF; Patrick Flynn, sr., P.
Top new players: Jackson Petsche, jr., 1B/P; Bode Begar, jr., P; Christian Martyn, jr., U; Logan South, jr., IF/P.
Worth noting: Oswego East had two pitchers selected in the MLB Draft: Noah Schultz by the Chicago White Sox in the first round and Ashton Izzi by the Seattle Mariners. This is a more experienced group. Last year, the Wolves began the season with 29 total varsity at bats of experience. Now, almost all athletes that will be playing earned at least 30 at bats individually last year. Sleyko posted a 3-0 record with a 3.26 ERA and 42 strikeouts as a junior. Haynes, who will play collegiately at Black Hawk College, hit .324, and Knauss hit .304. Lewis returns as Oswego East’s starting catcher. Josh Polubinski slugged four homers in 101 plate appearances. Pitching is a question mark early as most of the Wolves’ starting pitchers graduated.
“We will continue to grow defensively as well as many of our position players are returning from last year,” Schaeffer said. “Having lost most of our starting pitchers, we will be relying on several players that have some varsity experience. We hope to compete in conference this year and look to demonstrate great improvement behind a team that will be led by solid senior leadership.”
Coach: Nate Hill (fourth season).
Last season’s record: 13-21, 5-9 Interstate 8 Conference.
Top returning players: Kaden Aguirre, jr., P/OF; Jake Decker, jr., 3B/OF; Nick Serio, jr., IF/P; Jake Klatt, jr., C.
Top new players: Jason Phillips, fr., 3B/SS/C; Josh Stellwagen, so., OF/P; Jake Dixon, so., OF/IF; Matthew Bruell, jr., P/3B; Julius Trevino, jr., P/IF.
Worth noting: The Reapers are rebuilding after graduating all but four starters. Outside of Plano’s four returning juniors, there is limited varsity experience. Two sophomores and a freshman have been added to the mix. Aguirre threw a no-hitter against Ottawa last season, highlighting a spring that saw him post a 4-4 record with a 3.84 ERA and 38 strikeouts. He also posted a .371 on-base percentage with 16 runs scored. Decker hit .277 with 15 runs scored and eight RBIs in 28 games.
“Although we will be very young, the team has shown progress each day in practice and will come ready to compete and learn each game,” Hill said. “I look forward to watching the progressions that take place throughout this season and finding out who will step up to produce for us over the next few months.”
Coach: Jason VanPelt (12th season)
Last season: 1-22 overall. 0-14 Interstate Eight
Top returning players: Austin Marks, sr., CF; Hunter Pavia, sr., P/OF; Chance Lange, jr., P/IF; Taylor Adams, jr., P/C; Tyler Lissman, jr., P/OF; Quinn Rome, so., P/IF; Dino Barbanente, jr., IF/P
Top new players: Doug Taxis, sr., C; Chris Barbor, jr., P/IF; Lucas Kryztosek, jr., P/IF.
Worth noting: The Indians struggled mightily last season, notching only one victory and going winless in the I-8. But Sandwich is returning eight starters, and veteran coach VanPelt is encouraged that fact will provide a much better result this year. “We are looking to be much improved,” Van Pelt said. “We play in a very competitive 3A conference with some of the best-coached teams in the state, so conference wins will not come easy. We have five players who will be on the varsity level for their third straight season. … so we are very excited about getting out to play games this year.” Sandwich is the only 2A school within the Interstate Eight.
– Bill Lidinsky
Coach: Tom Cerven (second season).
Last season’s record: 29-8, 12-3 Southwest Prairie West, first place.
Top returning players: LeBaron Lee, sr., P; Nate Harris, jr., OF/P; Simon Skroch, jr., P; Kam Yearsley, jr., OF/P.
Other returning players: Everett Ford, jr., MIF; Dale Horstmann, sr., P.
Top new players: Kyle Munch, sr., OF; Jackson Roberts, jr., 3B/P; Daniel Rodriguez, jr., MINF; Brenden Mack, jr., P; Carter Schaffner, so., P.
Worth noting: The Foxes come off a banner season. Yorkville won its first Southwest Prairie West title and came a win shy of matching a program record for wins, a year after reaching a sectional final. Yorkville must replace seven defensive starters, but pitching should remain a strong suit with three returning starters. Big lefty Lee, an Illinois State recruit, posted a 4-2 record with a 2.93 ERA last year with 59 strikeouts and only 10 hits allowed over eight appearances, six of them starts. Fellow lefty Skroch went 7-1 with an impressive 1.346 ERA with 77 strikeouts over 12 appearances, 10 of them starts. Harris, a Northwestern recruit, hit .412 with a 1.196 OPS and 11 doubles, three triples, six homers, 30 RBIs and 35 runs scored as a sophomore and is also a hard thrower on the mound. Yearsley, a fourth starter back, hit .308 with a .793 OPS, nine RBIS and eight runs scored as a sophomore. Ford is committed to Waubonsee, Horstmann to Huntington University and Munch to Aurora.
“We will look to sustain the success that we have had over the last two years,” Cerven said. “Pitching will remain our strong suit. Offensively, we will take our lumps as this relatively inexperienced, junior-led team adjusts to the quality pitching we will see on a daily basis.”
Coach: Sean Bieterman (first season).
Last season’s record: 10-12-1.
Top returning players: Cody Hazzard, sr., P/OF; Trey Lombardo, sr., 3B; Bryce Edwards, sr., OF; Nolan Hooper, so., P/OF; Reese Seng, so., SS.
Top new players: Jess Seaton, jr., C; Brody Davis, so., IF/P; Austin Vugteveen, fr., IF/P; Barrett Diaz, fr., OF/P.
Worth noting: Bieterman, who has won more than 400 games in a 20-year coaching career at Driscoll, Lincoln-Way Central and, for the past 10 years, Aurora Central Catholic, was brought aboard as head coach at Yorkville Christian over the summer. Three seniors return to lead a talented young group. Hazzard, who will play collegiately at Missouri S&T, struck out 85 over 41 innings last year. Judson commit Lombardo hit .357, Edwards .323 and Hooper hit .316 while posting a 1.77 ERA with 44 strikeouts.
“Exciting times are ahead for the Yorkville Christian baseball program,” Bieterman said. “This team will compete with a very challenging schedule to prepare itself for a 1A postseason run.”