Sauk Valley Media Baseball Coach of the Year: Newman’s Kenny Koerner

4th-year coach led young lineup back to state tournament

Newman head baseball coach Kenny Koerner sends a foul ball back to the dugout during the Class 2A semifinal game on Friday, May 31, 2024 at Dozer Park in Peoria.

Newman Central Catholic baseball coach Kenny Koerner had some unique challenges this spring in his fourth year as coach.

In addition to playing in Class 2A after last year’s third-place finish at state in 1A, Koerner had the task of replacing all of the team’s starting pitching, including the total output from three Sauk Valley Media All-Area seniors in Nolan Britt, Jaesen Johns and Kyle Wolfe.

Brendan Tunink, this year’s Sauk Valley Media Baseball Player of the Year, also did not pitch significantly until the postseason, as he hopes to play professionally. He pitched only 16⅔ innings this spring, mostly in the postseason, after going 10-0 last year with 104 strikeouts across 63 innings pitched and a minuscule 0.14 ERA.

Tunink’s bat, outfield defense and influence were still back, but multiple players had to step up if the Comets wanted to get back to state.

Koerner and company made it happen.

“It challenged me to become a better coach, and I think it challenged the kids,” Koerner said of this season’s obstacles. “It gave kids a lot of opportunities.”

The team proved that it was more than capable of playing one class higher, making it back to state in Class 2A and earning a fourth-place trophy. The Comets finished 25-6-1.

Newman head baseball coach Kenny Koerner speaks to the media with players Brendan Tunink and Isaiah Williams after the Class 2A semifinal game on Friday, May 31, 2024 at Dozer Park in Peoria.

For leading Newman back to state, Koerner has been named the Sauk Valley Media Baseball Coach of the Year.

On the mound, sophomores Evan Bushman and Garet Wolfe combined to go 17-2 over 113⅔ innings pitched. Wolfe’s only loss came in the state semifinals.

Bushman (11-1) set a school record for wins, and his only loss of the season came in the third-place game at state. He pitched a gem in the supersectional, tossing a complete game with seven strikeouts and three hits allowed in a 6-2 win to go to state.

Fellow sophomore and leadoff hitter Garrett Matznick played shortstop, had an on-base percentage of .432 and stole 34 bases. Freshman Ashton Miner led the team with 41 RBIs batting behind Tunink.

Junior catcher Daniel Kelly ran the game behind the plate and hit .323, second on the team. Classmate Chase Decker played every position but catcher and shortstop.

Koerner said just earning another regional title would have been a success going into this season. Newman achieved that and more, which is a “testament to the kids.”

“The young kids really took advantage of those opportunities,” Koerner said. “Evan Bushman didn’t throw last year and had a fantastic year as a sophomore.”

Newman head coach Kenny Koerner talks to his team on the mound during the Class 2A semifinal game on Friday, May 31, 2024 at Dozer Park in Peoria.

Last year, the team expected to go far. This year, there were some uncertainties with five underclassmen playing key roles.

Tunink and fellow senior Isaiah Williams provided leadership as players embraced larger roles.

Seeing MLB scouts visit practice to watch Tunink also helped remind players to be on their best game.

Koerner said the team felt like it had unfinished business after finishing third at state last year. The team’s theme was “Nobody cares.”

“Nobody cares what happened last year,” he said. “It was time to get to work this year and create a new journey for the team.”

Koerner was not leading alone, as he had 11 assistant coaches. They were Ryan Decker, Grant Koerner, John Kutz, Nate Mason, Chad Miner, Jace Murphy, Nate Olson, Zach Rice, Kyle Wolfe, Skip Wolfe and Larry Ybarra.

The Newman baseball coaching staff is pictured after winning the Class 2A supersectional title this past season. Left to right is coach Kenny Koerner, followed by assistants Ryan Decker, Nate Olson, Kyle Wolfe, John Kutz, Zach Rice, Nate Mason, Chad Miner, Skip Wolfe, and Grant Koerner. Not pictured are assistants Jace Murphy and Larry Ybarra.

“The nice part is each one provides a little something different,” he said. “It’s been a good thing from a personality standpoint and being able to get kids individual attention.”

Koerner and company have been a part of the best run in the team’s history, and Tunink is arguably the best player in school history. The Comets have won four straight regional and sectional titles, two straight supersectional titles and third- and fourth-place state trophies.

“I couldn’t be more proud of where the program is,” Koerner said. “Obviously, Brendan is a big piece, but all the other kids on the team also bought into the hard work.”

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Drake Lansman

Drake Lansman

Drake has been a sports reporter with Sauk Valley Media/Shaw Local since May of 2024. He is a Bettendorf native who graduated from Iowa State University. Drake previously covered sports in the Quad Cities area for nine years.