Here is a look at the baseball seasons ahead for Earlville, Newark, Leland, Serena, Somonauk, Fieldcrest and Sandwich.
Editor’s note: Baseball previews for Woodland/Flanagan-Cornell, Seneca, Marquette, Streator and Ottawa have been published individually.
Coach: Dillon Reel (5th season)
Last season: 4-17 overall, 3-14 Little Ten
Top returning players: Garrett Cook, sr., P/UT; Trenton Fruit, jr., P/IF; Ryan Browder, jr., OF/P; Trey Gauer, jr., 3B/P
Top new players: Isaac Vazquez, fr., P/OF; Scott Brandt, fr., C/UT; Rocco Morsovillo, jr., P/OF
Worth noting: Reel returns only one senior in Cook to go along with five juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen. Cook led the way for the Red Raiders last year by hitting a healthy .474 with 14 RBIs and nine stolen bases. Along with Cook, Fruit is going to be one of the team’s main arms on the mound, while Browder also will throw a lot, said Reel, who also believes Gauer is an “absolute vacuum” at third base and provides fine offense to the lineup. Reel also is encouraged by freshmen Vazquez and Brandt along with junior Morsovillo, who missed all of 2022 with a knee injury. “Younger players are going to have to step up and fill the holes that were left by the graduation of last year’s senior class,” Reel said. “Everyone is going to see a lot of innings played throughout the year.”
Coach: Chris Bickel (7th season)
Last season: 2-14, 2-14 Little Ten
Top returning players: Porter Thrall, sr., P/CF; Matthew Grzanich, sr., SS/2B; Mitchell Henne, sr., P/1B; Alex Todd, sr., OF
Top new players: Billy Stockman, jr.; Van Roth, jr.; Matthew Rodriguez, jr.
Worth noting: The Panthers played all 16 of their games last season within the Little Ten and will seek to do the same this year, with only league games scheduled. Bickel was the head baseball coach of the Earlville-Leland co-op for three seasons before the two schools split and has been the leader on the diamond for Leland during the past three seasons. The Panthers have a roster of 13 competitors consisting of four seniors, three juniors and six sophomores.
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 D-I 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 – six seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and one freshman.
Coach: Chad Baker (25th season, 308-293-2)
Last season: 15-12 overall, 12-4 Little Ten
Top returning players: Cam Figgins, sr., SS/P; Hudson Stafford, sr., CF; Todd Smith, sr., 1B; Leo Brennan, sr., LF/DH; Braxton Hart, sr., RF; Bryce Shannon, sr., 3B; Tanner Faivre, jr., SS/OF/P; Carson Baker, jr., P/SS/2B; Hunter Staton, jr., C/P; Beau Raikes, so., P/3B
Key new players: Payton Twait, fr., C
Worth noting: This year marks a quarter of a century with Chad Baker leading the Serena baseball program. He has a solid group of seven seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen, many of whom lifted the Huskers to historic levels of success in soccer and basketball this school year. “One goal this spring is to wrap up this superb 2022-23 Serena Huskers sports year with a successful baseball season,” coach Baker said. “Obviously, that means going deeper into the postseason than we’ve been able to in the past. We feel we have some big hurdles to overcome to get there … but we think we can compete with almost every team on our schedule, and I’m looking forward to the spring with this group of guys.” That group will be led by Figgins, who batted .373 last season and pitched 34 2/3 innings with a 3.23 ERA, along with Faivre (.397 BA, 27 R, 16 SB), who was an all-conference selection as a sophomore. Carson Baker tossed 25 1/3 innings during his sophomore season and recorded a 4.62 ERA. The progress of Twait behind the dish also has been a plus.
Coach: Troy Felton (8th season)
Last season: 16-8 overall, 13-2 Little Ten
Top returning players: Broc Slais, sr., P/OF; Carson Bahrey, jr., P/IF; Noah Brandt, so., C/UT; Justin Lee, sr., C/P/IF; Coleton Eade, sr., P/IF
Top new players: William Mosley, so., IF/P; Patrick Short, fr., IF/P; Luke Rader, so., OF; Luke Wernsman, so., IF/OF/P; Silas Johnson, so., IF/OF/P; Wes Hannibal, so., IF
Worth noting: Slais led the Bobcats last season as an all-conference pitcher, recording 80 strikeouts and a 1.72 ERA. Bahrey was also an all-conference performer, registering a .368 batting average. Both players will be Somonauk’s primary pitchers along with Eade. Noah Brandt (.280 BA) will handle the trio behind the plate, catching along with Lee. The Bobcats also have a good influx of new faces Felton will be relying on. “We are looking forward to the season … and will be a fairly young team with a lot of potential and talent,” Felton said. “I believe we will be somewhere at the top of the conference and striving to return to a regional championship game.”
Coach: Jason VanPelt (12th season)
Last season: 1-22 overall, 0-14 Interstate 8
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 the veteran 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 lone Class 2A school within the Interstate 8.
Coach: Mark Brown (21st season, 269-229)
Last season: 7-11 overall, 6-5 Heart of Illinois
Top returning players: Koltin Kearfott, jr., SS/3B; Jordan Heider, so., 2B/SS; Tyler Serna, so., C/3B; Coltin Perry, sr., 3B/C; Kade Kearfott, so., OF; Zach Johnson, so., 1B
Top new players: Eli Gerdes, fr., 2B/OF; Lucas Anson, fr., C/OF; Layton Gerdes, fr., SS/3B; Lucas May, fr., OF/1B
Worth noting: Brown finds 13 players in his program this year with only one senior, one junior, seven sophomores and four freshmen. Serna paced the returning Knights last season as a freshman with a .286 batting average, 15 hits and 11 RBIs. Classmate Heider also clicked by hitting .278 and recorded a .490 on-base percentage, gaining him honorable mention All-HOIC. “We are very young for the second year in a row … however, we return six key players from last year’s roster,” Brown said. “All gained an incredible amount of baseball experience last season, and while the remaining lineup will be newcomers, they have had success coming up through our junior high program, and we’re confident they’ll step in and play well this season. Our expectations are high … and our kids are anxious to get out on the field and start competing.”