Hinsdale South baseball coach Paul Hoel is happy with his decision.
An Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, Hoel considered hanging up his uniform and cleats after last season.
Hoel and his players are both happy he decided to come back for one more season.
Hinsdale South has relied on a unique pitching staff to come within one win of hitting the 20-win mark. The Hornets (19-7, 11-3) remain in contention for the West Suburban Gold title, battling Willowbrook (19-4, 11-3) on Thursday in the final game of a three-game series in a big tuneup before the Class 3A playoffs later this month.
“I wasn’t 100%, but I was thinking I was done (coaching), but I had a couple of kids talk me into it,” Hoel said. “I’m glad that I came back. It’s been a great season.”
Senior closer Justin Hill tied a single-season program record with his sixth save on Saturday, and kept his record spotless with six saves in six situations. Hill said he’s glad that Hoel returned for one more season.
“This is the most fun I’ve had on a baseball team,” Hill said. “Every game we’ve had a chance to win. Our team chemistry is so great. We want to win a state championship. We’re also fighting for conference. Coach came back for us. We want to send him off on the right foot.”
Senior first baseman Parker Bozzi, a North Central College recruit, said the seniors were motivated for many reasons, mainly to give Hoel a winning season after a 10-12 record last season. Bozzi has smashed three home runs and leads the team with 22 RBIs. Catcher Kyle Jannenga, a Heartland College recruit, is a solid two-way player, batting .370 with a pair of home runs. Left fielder Nicholas Dunwoody is batting a robust .470 from the No. 5 spot.
“I spent a lot of time in the offseason working on my swing,” Bozzi said. “I’m seeing the ball so well, but I’m also motivated by the team. Every kid is on their feet cheering for each other. We’ve been really playing as a team, and our goal is to win a state championship and send coach off the right way.”
Senior shortstop Eliot Fulscher, a Milikin recruit, is playing stellar defense, helping a mixed pitching staff – the four top pitchers are from different graduation classes – build confidence against a tough schedule.
“We’re working for a state championship,” Fulscher said. “We have a lot of gym rats on this team. We knew we were good last year but just needed to fill in some pieces. We’ve been playing well as a group.”
Hoel said his pitching staff is one of the more unique groups in his coaching tenure. Senior Drew Duckhorn is healthy after missing the last half of last season. Duckhorn (4-2) has been a steady presence on the mound. Junior Robbie Sprang became a rock in the rotation after a promising sophomore season and has won his first six decisions. Sophomore Nathaniel Fundator, who was 1-1 in 17 innings last season, has won three of his five games. Freshman Brandon Elting (5-0) has emerged as a future ace for the program.
“We’ve pitched very well, played good defense and had timely hitting,” Hoel said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games because of our pitching. Drew’s stuff has been electric and he’s pitched in a lot of big games. Robbie’s been so solid and keeps guys off base and doesn’t walk a lot of hitters. Nathaniel has tons of ability and potential. He’s pitched well since spring break. Brandon has unbelievable composure and is unflappable on the mound.
“I’ve never had a situation before where we’ve had a pitcher from (every class). But it’s worked out well. I’m very excited for the rest of the season.”
Timothy Christian inching closer to 20-win mark
A year after winning 21 games, Timothy Christian is headed toward another 20-win season this spring. The Trojans (15-7, 9-3) have won 14 of their last 17 games since their return from their spring break trip. The Trojans returned six starters back from last season.
“As a team we’ve been focused on taking one game at a time this year,” Trojans coach Brian Whartnaby said of his team’s recent run of wins. “We’ve had so many different lineup combinations and guys step up on the mound and at the plate in clutch situations. I think that takes the pressure off of the top guys when it’s a whole lineup that can do damage or a whole pitching staff that can keep us in games. It’s a good recipe for success.”
Offensively, sophomore shortstop/pitcher Casey Folkerts is one of the leaders, batting .463 with an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.105. Senior third baseman/catcher Fletcher Roemmich is hitting .355 with 22 RBIs and has only struck out four times in 82 at-bats. Junior catcher/pitcher Donald Tober is batting .345 with 23 RBIs to go with a 3-1 record and a 1.55 ERA. Tober has struck out 52 batters in 31 2/3 innings and earned a save.
“Last year, Casey stepped up as a freshman and was in the two-hole all year and played like a guy who belonged on varsity,” Whartnaby said. “His sophomore year has been everything we could have asked for. Casey is batting in the heart of the order and hitting well over .400, driving the ball to both gaps and getting clutch hits for us. On top of that, he’s played a solid shortstop and has been a reliable option on the mound in relief. Fletcher has been our leader by example in the field, at the plate and on the base paths. He’s got a high baseball IQ and has been a tough out all season. He’s got power to all fields.
“Donald has been our ace. He’s the guy we look to when we need a win versus a tough opponent. He’s gotten hot lately at the plate and has been adding to his extra base hit total. He’s also a smart catcher with a strong arm and solid blocking ability.”
Nazareth one win away from No. 20
Nazareth has endured injuries to its top two pitchers, but remained on track for a 20-win season. The Roadrunners (19-7, 6-6 East Suburban Catholic) defeated Marmion 8-1 on Monday behind a solid pitching effort from Finn O’Meara (2-0).
“Our team has shown resilience battling through a tough conference with our top two pitchers out for six weeks,” Nazareth coach Lee Milano said.
John Hughes came back on Saturday for 25 pitches after being out for six weeks. Luca Fiore, meanwhile, is still out and hasn’t pitched in five weeks.
Leadoff hitter Lucas Smith, shortstop Cooper Malamazian and pitchers Nick Drtina (7-1) and David Cox (2-0 with a 1.59 ERA) have played solid all season, Milano said. Smith is batting .457 and Malamazian is at .405.
“Lucas has been great leading off and playing center field,” Milano said. “Cooper is another defensive standout and offensive threat.”