The 2021 baseball season for Northwest Herald area teams ended up with Prairie Ridge, a team that finished .500 in the Fox Valley Conference, nearly bringing home its second state title.
The Wolves lost to Springfield, 8-7, in a thriller for the Class 3A Baseball State Tournament championship, a game the Wolves led early, 6-0.
It was the second consecutive season – tossing out 2020, which was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic – in which a middle-of-the-pack FVC team made it to the state tournament. Hampshire took fourth in Class 4A with a pair of close losses in 2019.
Huntley (32-3, 16-2) won the FVC title last season and returns most of its top players, along with two NCAA Division I pitchers. The talent level, along with the disappointment of losing to Hononegah, 3-2, in nine innings for the sectional title, should make the Red Raiders a dangerous team again.
The FVC should be no easy trek though, with runner-up Jacobs returning two of its best pitchers, both headed to D-I schools, and McHenry bringing back most of its lineup.
Prairie Ridge’s graduation losses were substantial, but the Wolves have one of the best traditions anywhere.
Burlington Central has most of a strong pitching staff returning and also could be a factor.
Crystal Lake South gets a D-I arm back with Ysen Useni (Illinois-Chicago) back after missing most of 2021 with a leg injury.
Defending Kishwaukee River Conference champion Richmond-Burton looks like the favorite again in that league, led by catcher Hayden Christiansen, a starter since his freshman season and a Xavier signee. Christiansen led the area in homers (11) and RBIs (47) and was the 2021 Northwest Herald Player of the Year.
Fox Valley Conference
Coach: Kyle Nelson (17th season).
Last year’s record: 16-12, 9-9 FVC (tied for fourth).
Top returning players: Aric Beaman, sr., 1B-P; Brady Gilroy, so., OF-SS; Luke Pedrigi, sr., OF; Michael Person, so., P-SS; Nick Carpenter, sr., 3B-P; Tyler Haines, sr., P; Josh Rodge, sr., P-SS; AJ Payton, so., C-3B.
Top new players: Ishaan Patel, sr., 1B-DH; Chase Powrozek, fr., OF-P; Jake Johnson, fr., C; Cater Kotwica, sr., OF.
Worth noting: The Rockets’ pitching should be a strength after recording a 2.06 ERA last season and losing only Aaron Wojciechowski (now at McHenry County College). Person (5-1, 2.02 ERA) was an All-Area second-team pick as a freshman and Carpenter had four saves. … Tyler Haines (D-II Grand Valley State) is healthy and will help offset the graduation of Wojciechowski. … Burlington will have five players who are freshmen or sophomores in the lineup a lot, but there are seven regulars back from last season.
Coach: Ryan Passaglia (fourth season).
Last year’s record: 11-9, 11-7 (third in FVC).
Top returning players: Toby Splitt, sr., IF; Dane Schuster, jr., IF; Zack Labrec, sr., P-OF: Ben Hurt Haller, sr., OF.
Top new players: Logan Leach, sr., P-1B; Jack Taczy, sr., P-1B; Antonio SantaCruz, sr., OF-IF; Nathan Crick, jr., C; Nolan Pociejewski, jr., IF.
Worth noting: C-G often finds a way to be among the top teams in the conference. The Trojans do not have a lot of returning experience, although Splitt back at shortstop will help. … Passaglia feels the core returning can provide solid defense. “I love our team and our work ethic,” he said. “Our ability to pitch it and hit it will dictate our end results.”
Crystal Lake Central
Coach: Andy Deain (fourth season).
Last year’s record: 10-13, 8-10 FVC (tied for fifth).
Top returning players: Ryan Kempf, sr., C; Braydon Gibour, sr., Corner IF; Nico Acevedo, sr., Util.; Aidan Alig, sr., Middle IF; Brian Preshlock, sr., OF; Buzz Macke, sr., P-1B; Andrew Proper, sr., P.
Top new players: Kolton Altergott, sr., Middle IF; Mason Lechowicz, jr., P-IF; Tommy Korn, so., Util.; Jayden Obaldo, so., Middle IF; Sean Kempf, so., Util.
Worth noting: The Tigers have a strong senior class and will look to Ryan Kempf, Acevedo and Gibour to be run producers in the middle of the lineup. … Ryan and Sean Kempf and Korn will make Central strong at catcher. They all can hit and will play at other positions. … Deain looks for Macke, Acevedo and Proper to lead the staff. … Lefty ace Caleb Zautke moved to Florida recently, which is a huge loss for the Tigers. He was an All-Area second-team player.
Crystal Lake South
Coach: Brian Bogda (15th season).
Last year’s record: 10-19, 4-14 (10th in FVC).
Top returning players: Mark DeCicco, sr., 1B-3B-P; Ysen Useni, sr., P-DH; Mason Struck, sr., 2B; Aidan Stratton, sr., P; Chris Kahle, sr., IF-OF; Johnathon Carlson, sr., P; James Allie, jr., P; Dayton Murphy, so., SS; Ryan Skwarek, jr., IF-C-P.
Top new players: Kyle Kuffel, jr., C; C.J. Regillio, so., OF-P; Jayden Gumprecht, jr., OF-P; Cole Tilley, so., 1B-P; Joey McEnery, jr., OF-P.
Worth noting: The Gators will have a bona fide ace with Useni, who suffered a leg injury and pitched only 13 innings last season. He will pitch at D-I Illinois-Chicago. … DeCicco knocked in 22 runs last season and Murphy, who moves from second base to shortstop, hit .345 and drove in 18 as a freshman. … Struck hit .293 and had a .433 on-base percentage with 26 runs and 13 stolen bases.
Coach: Pat Conlin (third season).
Last year’s record: 11-19, 5-13 (ninth in FVC).
Top returning players: Isaac Santos, sr., P-IF; Edgar Salinas, sr., P-IF; Justin Parchomenko, sr., IF-P; Hunter Guyon, sr., OF-P; Josh Pribel, sr., P-OF.
Top hew players: Aidan Gatenby, sr., OF-IF; Matt Schuring, jr., C; Ben Hrinowich, jr., OF; Cam King, jr., IF-P; Nate Benton, jr., P-OF.
Worth noting: The Chargers’ pitching staff was hit hard by graduation. They will have a lot of seniors in the lineup and hope that a handful of juniors can play significant roles. … D-C will look for consistency and to build confidence.
Coach: Frank Simoncelli (fifth season).
Last year’s record: 18-17, 5-12 (eighth in FVC).
Top returning players: Austin Leonard, jr., C; Tyler Doonan, jr., P-OF; Austin Ernst, jr., P-OF-1B; Matthew Karbowski, sr., SS-P; Dominick Kooistra, jr., 1B; Colin Miller, jr., P-Util.; Daniel Rodriguez, jr., 3B; Evan Spenk, jr., OF; Benjamin Yale, sr., P-OF.
Top new players: Nathaniel Buehrer, jr., P-OF; Dominic Borecky, so., P-2B-SS; Cooper Jaworski, jr., P-C; Kyle Johnson, jr., P-OF; Casey Kaszniak, jr., P-IF-OF; Luke Mejdrich, so., P-C-DH; Nick Randell, so., OF; Victor Rodriguez Jr., jr., P-IF-OF; Jaryd Vence, so., P-IF-OF.
Worth noting: Karbowski returns as the starting shortstop and one of the Whip-Purs’ top pitchers, and will hit in the No. 2 spot. … Leonard was terrific as a sophomore, hitting .363 with three homers and 30 RBIs at catcher. … The Whips return a majority of their lineup and Simoncelli thinks they will be able to put up some runs. Simoncelli considers pitching the team’s biggest question mark. “We need some guys to step up when given the opportunity,” Simoncelli said. “If that happens, we will definitely be a tough opponent.”
Coach: Andy Jakubowski (16th season).
Last year’s record: 32-3, 16-2 (FVC champion).
Top returning players: Brandon Hanley, sr., C-3B; Ryan Bakes, jr., C-OF; Brayden Bakes, jr., OF; Adam Guazzo, sr., P; Ryan Kelly, sr., P-C-DH; Michael Vitellero, sr., P; Chase Jetel, sr., 1B-OF; Lucas Goldstein, sr., 2B-SS; Harout Meyer, sr., P-Util.; Joe Williams, sr., 1B; Josh Good, sr., P-SS; Andrew Ressler, jr., P; C.J. Filipek, jr., P-1B; Nick Martino, sr., OF; Ryan Quinlan, jr., 2B; Malachi Paplanus, so., P.
Top new players: Payton Barr, sr., P; Michael Wanhala, sr., OF; Kyle Alther, sr., 3B; Ryan Stary, sr., C-Util.
Worth noting: The Red Raiders return 16 players from a team that lost to Hononegah, 3-2, in nine innings for a Class 4A sectional. … Ryan Bakes (South Carolina), Brayden Bakes (Wichita State) and Ressler (Butler) are juniors who have committed to D-I schools. Guazzo signed with D-I Valparaiso and Hanley is headed to Wisconsin-Whitewater, a D-III powerhouse. … “Our players are focused and excited for the 2022 season,” Jakubowski said. “The goal hasn’t changed from previous years as we are focusing on getting 1% better each day and being quality teammates.”
Coach: Jamie Murray (11th season).
Last year’s record: 25-8, 15-3 (second in FVC).
Top returning players: Anthony Edge, jr., SS-P; Nathan Chapman, sr., P; Keegan Connors, sr., C-OF; Joey Fiorenza, sr., OF; Nick Gottfried, jr., OF; Grant Helbig, sr., P-DH; Owen Drummon, sr., P; Brian Kobige, sr., P; Kyler Kennen, jr., P; Tanner Carlson, sr., C-DH; Drew Bennett, sr., 2B-SS.
Top new players: Christian Graves, jr., 3B-1B-P; Nathan Jonas, jr., 1B-OF; Jake Simpson, jr., OF; Quinn Butera, sr., C-2B; Gavin Feck, jr., P; Ethan Looper, sr., P.
Worth noting: Jacobs returns 14 players with varsity experience, led by two of its top pitchers, Chapman and Edge, who was the Golden Eagles’ closer. Chapman, an All-Area first-team selection, will pitch at Eastern Illinois University and Edge is committed to Bradley. … Fiorenza and Connors are two of the other top starters coming back. … Graves was an All-Area honorable-mention pick at Marengo last season and transferred. … “This is one of the deepest and most competitive pitching staffs we’ve had since 2012,” Murray said. “They are close and are excited to compete in one of the toughest conferences in the state.”
Coach: Brian Rockweiler (15th season).
Last year’s record: 18-18, 8-10 (tied for sixth).
Top returning players: Kyle Kaempf, sr., P-SS; Ricky Powell, sr., P-OF; Gavin Micklinghoff, sr., P-IF; Eddie Synek, sr., OF; Cole Kersten, sr., P-3B; Connor Rodgers, sr., C; Cooper Cohn, jr., C-P-2B; Lleyton Grubich, jr., 1B-P; Logan Wirtz, sr., P-OF.
Top new players: Owen Micklinghoff, so., OF-P; Chase Witt, sr., P; Sam Martorano, jr., OF; Ryan Nagel, so., IF-P.
Worth noting: McHenry has high expectations as it returns its regular lineup from last season, with four of those players (Grubich, Cohn, Powell and Kaempf) as their top pitchers. … Powell and Gavin Micklinghoff were All-Area second-team picks last season. Kaempf and Cohn return as the Warriors’ middle infielders. … Rockweiler passed 300 victories for his career last season. He feels like McHenry should be able to contend for the FVC title.
Coach: Glen Pecoraro (22nd season).
Last year’s record: 19-14, 9-9 (tied for fourth in FVC).
Top returning players: Trace Vrbancic, jr., P-3B; Jack Tobin, sr., 1B-P; Tyler Vasey, jr., SS-P.
Top new players: Braden Thelander, sr., P-2B; Noah Schlup, sr., P-OF; Aiden Preves, sr., C-3B; Nathan LaFever, sr., C-2B; Zach Bentsen, P-OF; Davis Eimen, sr., P-OF; Ty Lee, sr., P-Middle IF; Mason McKim, jr., P-OF; Braeden Hatter, jr., P-OF; Ryan Wiles, jr., P-Middle IF.
Worth noting: The Wolves lost to Springfield, 8-7, in the Class 3A state championship game, a contest they led, 6-0, after two innings. Prairie Ridge was .500 before the postseason started before winning four one-run games in a row to reach the title game. … The Wolves were hit hard by graduation, with Tobin, Vasey and Vrbancic as the main returning starters. … The returns of Thelander and Schlup, both of whom were recovering from surgeries last season. … “Our tradition and kids working hard every day to improve,” Pecoraro said. “We hope to be playing our best baseball in May.”
Kishwaukee River Conference
Coach: Adam Ulen (fourth season).
Last year’s record: 5-12, 4-11 (sixth in KRC).
Top returning players: Myles Brincks, jr., C; Dimitri Bourmas, jr., OF-P; Ricky Bennett, jr., 1B-P; Caden Scott, sr., OF; Bailey Livdahl, sr., 3B-P; Lee Galarza, sr., SS-P; Connor Flores, sr., 2B-OF; Gerardo Cortez, sr., 3B.
Top new players: Johnathan Brummett, jr., SS-P; Connor Pedersen, jr., OF-P; Jovon Ratcliff, jr., 2B-SS-P.
Worth noting: Ulen credits Scott and Galarza with bringing quality senior leadership and likes how Brincks and Bourmas have provided positive attitudes. … “We will be strong at the plate and working hard to limit mistakes defensively,” Ulen said. “Ilook forward to watching this group come together to compete for each other on a daily basis.”
Coach: Mark Landvick (first season).
Last year’s record: 13-13, 7-8 (fourth in KRC).
Top returning players: Jake Metze, jr., OF; Alex Delulio, sr., C; Ian Boal, jr., P-OF; Luke Conroy, sr., P-IF; Joe Wolff, sr., IF; Nick Thill, sr., P-IF; Camden Comstock, jr., P-1B; Landon Banaszynski, jr., P-OF.
Top new players: Jacob LaMotta, jr., P-IF; Logan Kordik, jr., P-IF; Ryan Larson, so., P-C-IF; Jack Nelson, fr., P-IF-OF.
Worth noting: Landvick wants the Skyhawks to rely on sound fundamentals and team-first play and wants them to capitalize on athleticism and energy. … “I am thankful and fortunate to have a loyal and enthusiastic coaching staff who have committed themselves to working hard to develop our players,” Landvick said.
Coach: Nick Naranjo (second season).
Last year’s record: 14-13, 8-6 (second in KRC).
Top returning players: Ty Serpien, sr., C-P-SS; Collin Aubry, sr., OF; Caden Vogt, jr., P-OF; Carter Heimsoth, jr., OF-1B.
Top new players: Devin Moehrlin, jr., 3B-P; Andrew Johnson, so., 1B-P; Quinn Lechner, fr., SS-P.
Worth noting: Naranjo hopes to have strong seasons out of Vogt and Heimsoth, as well as Serpien. … The Indians want to stay away from the COVID-19 problems they had last year, losing some key conference games because of player losses. … Marengo suffered one key loss when junior Christian Graves transferred to Jacobs.
Coach: Mike Giese (17th season).
Last year’s record: 25-6, 12-3 (KRC champion).
Top returning players: Hayden Christiansen, sr., C; Brock Wood, sr., 1B; Joey Mrowiec, sr., P-IF; Connor Wallace, sr., SS-P; Kaden Neuman, sr., P-IF; Ethan Demers, sr., OF; Jason Miller, sr., OF; Ethan Fischer, sr., P; Storm Duncan, jr., P.
Top new players: Carsten Szumanski, jr., P-IF-OF; Johnny Larsen, jr., IF; Nick Falasca, jr., OF; Ethan Schoeps, jr., C-OF; Colin Kriz, jr., P-IF.
Worth noting: The Rockets won the KRC and a Class 2A regional and finished two wins short of the school record for wins. … Hayden Christiansen, the 2021 Northwest Herald Player of the Year, returns at catcher after hitting .505, with area-bests of 11 homers and 47 RBIs. … Wallace, Wood, Mrowiec and Neuman are some of the other top returning players. … “We return a large core of our team last spring,” Giese said. “We have high expectations this spring. For us to move deeper into the 2A playoffs, our pitching must improve from last spring.”
Coach: Matt Prill (seventh season).
Last year’s record: 7-19, 7-8 (tied for third in KRC).
Top returning players: Ben Baker, sr., P-IF; Braden Barrette, jr., C; Kaeden Bogott, sr., P-IF; Sam Chapman, so., OF-P; Travis Cote, sr., IF; Hayden Haak, jr., IF; Gavin Loiselle, sr., P-IF; Caden Monti, jr., OF-P; Lucas Owcarz, sr., OF; Clark Shulfer, sr., P-IF.
Top new players: Brady Heeren, jr., P-IF; Bowen Lopez, jr., P-IF; Jackson Lyons, jr., P-OF; Kaden Perkins, jr., P-OF; Thomas Sieck, jr., OF.
Worth noting: Woodstock returns 11 players from last year’s roster and Prill expects the Blue Streaks to play solid defense behind a veteran pitching staff. … Prill thinks the Streaks can be competitive in each game that they play.
Coach: John Oslovich (seventh season).
Last year’s record: 10-15, 6-9 (fifth in KRC).
Top returning players: Luke Udelhofen, sr., OF-P; Tyler Allen-Castaldo, sr., IF-P; Morgan Klinker, jr., OF.
Top new players: Tyler Fink, jr., C; Rylen Given, jr., IF-P; Blake Herrmann, jr., IF-P; Jay Zinnen, jr., OF-P.
Worth noting: The Thunder graduated eight seniors, seven of whom were starters, from last year. … Oslovich looks for Given, who was injured to start last season, to lead North on the mound. “I’m really looking forward to a full season with him and being able to watch him pitch every week,” Oslovich said.
East Suburban Catholic Conference
Coach: Tom Kruse (eighth season).
Last year’s record: 10-14 (as an independent).
Top returning players: Jack Hayden, sr., C-IF; John Ahler, sr., IF; Frank Lavin, sr., P-OF; Peyton Sensabaugh, so., OF-C; Brendan Carney, sr., P-IF.
Worth noting: Kruse likes the mix or senior leadership with the young talent the Hurricanes have and thinks that can bring them success.
Northeastern Athletic Conference
Coach: Brian Engelbrecht (13th season).
Last year’s record: 14-12.
Top returning players: Tyler Cunningham, sr., P-C; Thomas Webber, sr., CF-P; Justin Gritmacker, jr., P-1B-OF; Parker Elswick, jr., P-SS-C; Jake Nielsen, jr., P-LF-1B-3B; Jesse Armbrust, jr., DH-RF; Ben Volle, so.; P-C-IF; Nolan Vanderstappen, so., P-3B-1B-OF.
Worth noting: The Giants have a lot of returning players from last year’s team, led by Cunningham, Gritmacker, Webber and Elswick.