Baseball: Herald-News 2024 season preview capsules

Joliet Catholic goes for a three-peat; Tyler Bell aims for the pros and more

Members of the Joliet Catholic Academy baseball team are introduced before the Class 2A State semifinal game on Friday, June 2, 2023 at Dozer Park in Peoria.

Joliet Catholic is coming off its second straight state championship with eyes on a three-peat as it moves up to Class 3A.

Lincoln-Way East’s Tyler Bell has been mentioned as a potential high MLB draft pick this summer and will lead the Griffins once again.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s an in-depth look at the teams in the Herald-News area:

SouthWest Suburban Conference


Coach: Scott Thyer

2023 record: 10-23

Top returners: Thomas Corley, 1B; Julian Rosales, C; Matt Washington SS; Ben White 3B; Ryan Witt OF, Jordan Gozum, OF; Fernando Sosa, IF/UTIL; Holden Burokas, P; Josh Lamberson, P; Ryan Splitt, P; Noah Bagby, P; Danny Basalone, P; Nick Slahor, P

Key newcomers: Pharrell Weekley, INF/P; Austin Black, OF; Jacob Boland, OF

Worth noting: The Raiders should see improvement from last year with a senior-heavy group, nine of whom are committed to play college ball. Corley will lead the offense after batting .374 with 27 RBIs, while the pitching staff will be led by Bagby, a Southern commit. Thyer said, “We have an experienced group of seniors who have worked very hard in the offseason to prepare themselves for the season. We are excited to see them compete this spring and have a tremendous finish to their high school careers.”

Lincoln-Way Central

Lincoln-Way Central’s Landon Mensik scores on a Jack Novak double against Lincoln-Way West on Monday, May 8, 2023 in New Lenox.

Coach: Mitch Nowicki

2023 record: 23-10

Top returners: Landon Mensik, sr., 3B/OF/P; Collin Mowry, sr., C/1B; Luke Mensik, jr., 2B/P.; Liam Arsich, jr., CF/P; Braden Meyer, sr., C/1B; Collin Senkpeil, sr., 3B/C; Joe Zietara, sr., 2B/P; Gianni Leech, sr., P

Key newcomers: N/A

Worth noting: Lincoln-Way Central will be highly experienced this year with 17 seniors and seven juniors. There’s also a ton of talent with seven college commitments already, including four Division I players in the Mensik brothers (both heading to Xavier), Mowry (Louisville), and Arsich (Toledo). Although LWC lacks a dominant arm on the mound, they have plenty of depth to rely on. Nowicki said LWC is trying to position itself to win the the sectional.

Lincoln-Way East

Lincoln-Way East’s Tyler Bell dives safely back to third against Libertyville on Saturday, May 13, 2023 in Frankfort.

Coach: John McCarthy

2023 record: 31-9

Top returners: Tyler Bell, sr., SS; Matt Hudik, sr., RF; Jack Bauer, jr., P

Key newcomers: Justyn Hart, sr., P/1B

Worth noting: Bell has received attention from MLB scouts, with many expecting him to be an early pick in the MLB draft. He committed to Kentucky after he batted .446 with 46 RBIs last season. It’s not just the Bell show, as Bauer is a Virginia commit with a fastball in the mid-90s, and Hudik should play at the next level, too. Hart is a Missouri commit who transferred in from Marian Catholic and should help the bats get going as Lincoln-Way East leans on its defense and pitching early. It’ll be interesting getting to see McCarthy in his first year as skipper after five years at Homewood-Flossmoor. The former Texas Rangers draft pick went 187-79 in his time at H-F and inherits a squad that reached the supersectional round last year.

Lincoln-Way West

Lincoln-Way West’s Conor Essenburg follows through on a pitch against Lincoln-Way East in the Class 4A Lockport Sectional semifinal on Thursday, June 1, 2023 in Lockport.

Coach: Jake Zajc

2023 record: 28-9

Top returners: Conor Essenburg, jr., 1B/P; Colin McCarty, sr., P; Lucas Acevedo, jr., P/INF; Anthony Massa, sr. 3B; Jack Linko, sr., 1B/DH/P; Dan Hodel, sr., OF

Key newcomers: Jacob Willis, sr., OF; Kaden Kopacz, jr. INF/P; Cam Armstrong, jr. P; Adam Gerl, jr. P; Ian Hazelip, jr., OF

Worth noting: Lincoln-Way West is coming off a conference and regional championship and should be poised for more success this year with three of their top five pitchers back. The Warriors have seven college commits on the squad, including a pair of D-I pledges in Essenburg (Kansas State) and Acevedo (Illinois-Chicago). Willis is technically a returner as he was injured last year after playing the year before. Zajc is excited about the speed this group possesses.


Coach: Scott Malinowski

2023 record: 22-14

Top returners: Dylan Nagle, sr., P/INF; Cal Korosa, sr., P; Ryan Groberski, sr., OF; Colton Benaitis, so., INF

Key newcomers: Nate Byrdak, sr., P/INF; Anthony Batshon, jr., C; Justin VanderTuuk, jr., OF; Jack Schiek, so., P/INF; Trace Schaaf, so., P

Worth noting: A sectional finalist last year, the Porters are well positioned for more success this season. They carry four college commits right now, and Benaitis is expected to take a big leap this season. Byrdak missed almost his entire junior campaign with injuries and should provide a boost. Former head coach Steve Stanicek also returns as an assistant and will help Malinowski and assistant Brandan Morrone guide a team with eight high-level sophomores and one freshman expected to make key contributions. Malinowski said, “We expect to be very competitive and compete for a conference championship as well as be in a strong position to make a run come postseason time.”

Southwest Prairie Conference

Joliet Central

Coach: Kevin Fitzgerald (10th year at JC)

2023 record: 9-25

Top returners: John Stasiak, sr., C/P; Jay Zepeda, sr., SS; Nathan Maldonado, sr., P/INF; Rodney DeSilva, sr., P/CF

Key newcomers: Danny Quiros, jr., P/OF/INF; Vai Stulga, jr., 1B/OF; Andrew Nixon, jr., INF/C

Worth noting: There’s plenty of potential for this squad as Zepeda, Maldonado and DeSilva are committed to Joliet Junior College, while Stasiak is set to play for Aurora University. Those four give the Steelman their most college commitments in a season since 2017. This also will be the last year in the dugout for assistant coach Antonio Juarez after 33 years in the business. Fitzgerald said, “The goal is to win every game, but our commitment is to preparation and daily commitment. I expect us to be competitive each game and be playing our best baseball heading into the IHSA regional.”

Joliet West

Joliet West’s James Love makes a throw to first against Joliet Central on Thursday, May 11, 2023 in Joliet.

Coach: John Karczewski

2023 record: 26-10

Top returners: James Love, sr., 3B/P; Jimmy Anderson, sr., P; Owen Young, sr., C; Cael Karczewski, sr., P; Parker Schwarting, sr., 1B/3B; Christian Chignoli, sr., CF; Juan Rico, sr., P; Casey Tyrell, sr., P; Matt Marchiniak, sr., 1B/DH; Josh Prosise, sr., P; Tyler Moore, sr., OF; Jose Leal, sr., C; Joe Tyderek, sr., OF; Jose DelReal, sr., P

Key newcomers: Ryan Sobun, jr., OF/P; Cade Horvath, jr., OF; Peyton Barborek, jr., OF; Colin Morgan, jr., OF; Ryan Lasson, jr., P; Nate Consalvo, jr., P

Worth noting: Ten seniors are committed to play either college baseball or football with Love set to play baseball for Eastern Illinois. He’s a standout player, having hit .394 with 22 RBIs in 2023. The senior group went 29-0 as freshmen and will look to have their best varsity season yet. Last year was West’s best win total since the split and the goal is to break that mark, compete for the conference title and make a deep playoff run. Karczewski said, “This is a special group of young men and families. We are going to grind with the best teams around and see who comes out on top. Expectations are high for this group.”


Minooka’s Nate George drives in two runs to break a scoreless game in the 6th inning against Joliet West on Tuesday, April 4, 2023 in Joliet.

Coach: Jeff Petrovic

2023 record: 23-14

Top returners: Ryan Anderson, sr., P; Nate George, sr., CF; CJ Deckinga, jr., P/OF/3B; Brayden Zilis, jr., P/SS; Noah Munson, sr., 1B; Tyler DeLuca, sr., P; Colin Hickey, sr., P; Ben Muhich, sr., P; Isaac Goddard, jr., OF/P; Carter Lennington, jr., C

Key newcomers: Jason Duy, so., 3B/SS; Brady Kozlowski, so., OF

Worth noting: Minooka is heavy on experience with six of eight starting position players back from last year’s group. That includes four college commits led by Deckinga (Michigan State). Just as significant is the return of their ace on the mound in Anderson, who will head to the University of Arizona after this season. It’s a close group that expects big things this year.

Plainfield Central

Coach: Robert Keane

2023 record: 29-8

Top returners: JT Augustyniak, jr., INF; Ryan Bailye, sr., P; Sam Bathan, so. C; Cory Brock, sr., P; Hector Corona, sr., INF; Danny Doherty, sr., OF/P; Gavin Garnica, sr., INF

Key newcomers: Cole Sisti, so., P/UTIL

Worth noting: Plainfield Central is coming off a historic season in which it won their first conference championship since 1994. Head coach John Rosner stepped down after last season, and Keane took over. The Wildcats will need to replace three all-conference performers and an all-state player in Taylor Kujak. Augustyniak will be counted on to lead some of the younger kids after putting up an all-conference season last year. All-conference pitcher Ryan Perry also will be counted on. Keane said, “We’re excited to get back at it. Obviously, there are some new faces and changes, but our goals, standards, and expectations are all the same as they’ve been for years. We’re excited to watch our guys come back out and compete this season.”

Plainfield East

Coach: Adam O’Reel

2023 record: 10-24

Top returners: Danny Schuch, sr., P/OF; CJ Przybylski, jr., P/OF; Cody Ray, jr., C; Oscar Lopez, sr., 1B; Aaron Paszkowski, sr., INF/P

Key newcomers: Blake Geiger, jr., P; Jeremy Stokes, so., C/3B

Worth noting: Schuch, a Sauk Valley Community College commit, will lead the way for a young group for Plainfield East this season. O’Reel expects a lot of sophomores and juniors to step up this season and prove they’re ready to handle varsity duty alongside the two returning senior starters.

Plainfield North

Coach: John Darlington

2023 record: 17-16

Top returners: Joe Guiliano, sr., SS/P; Aiden Simmons, sr., C; Colin Doyle, sr., 1B; Ryan Mickenbecker, sr., P; Kyle Demay, sr., P; Danny DiMartino, sr., P; Quinn Hacker, sr., P; David Wick, sr., 2B; Gavin Perrson, jr., 3B; Max Barriball, jr., P

Key newcomers: Tanner Grimes, jr., 1B; Will Burke, jr., P; John Andrietich, so., CF; Mateo Tristan, jr., SS/P

Worth noting: The Tigers will have no shortage of experience as they return 10 players from last season’s squad, including a pair of college commits in Simmons (Millikin) and Danny DiMartino (North Central). Eight of those 10 returners are seniors, while players such as Grimes and Tristan are poised to make an early impact. Darlington said he expects Plainfield North to be competitive in their conference.

Plainfield South

Plainfield South’s Daniel McCauley drives in a run on a fielders choice against Plainfield North on Friday, April 7, 2023.

Coach: Phil Bodine

2023 record: 12-19

Top returners: Blake Phommachannom, sr., SS; Ivan Herrera, sr., C; Evan Carey, sr., LF; Griffin Acevedo, sr., OF; Daniel Leyva, sr., P; Daniel McCauley, sr., 1B/P; Rablo Herrera, jr., P/3B; Caden Piercall, jr., P/OF; Tyler Lovell, jr., P

Key newcomers: N/A

Worth noting: It’s Bodine’s last rodeo after three decades in the dugout, and he’ll be looking to go out on a high note. That’s certainly possible with Phommachannom (Lewis commit) and McCauley (Joliet Junior College) leading the way. Plainfield South will be looking to compete in every game.


Coach: Mike Skroch

2023 record: 14-22

Top returners: Braden Lee, sr., OF; Harrison Kolze, sr., 1B/P; Matthew Burrell, sr., P; Tyler Noe, sr., INF/P; Karlos Otero, jr., SS; Nolan Holgado, jr., CF; Jonny Lee, jr., P/INF; Justin Perez, jr., INF; Nicholas Whitford, jr., OF/P; Sebastian Solis, so., C

Key newcomers: Jeremy Thompson, so., INF/P; Aiden Hernanez, jr., OF/P; Matthew Dobbins, jr., OF/P

Worth noting: While last year’s group of Spartans was a bunch of youngsters, this group returns 10 players with a ton of experience. Four of those players are college commits at this time, led by Otero, who is committed to Northern Illinois. Skroch said the team has high goals this year, including breaking the school record of 22 wins in a season, finishing higher than third in the conference and winning the first regional championship in school history. He said, “We are excited about what this season can be for us, as we will be ready to battle in each and every game.”

East Suburban Catholic Conference

Joliet Catholic Academy

Joliet Catholic’s Jake Troyner hugs Jake Gimbel after the win against Columbia in the IHSA Class 2A State Championship on Saturday, June 3, 2023 in Peoria.

Coach: Jared Voss

2023 record: 26-8-1

Top returners: Jake Troyner, sr., 1B; Zach Pomatto, jr., C; Zach Beitler, jr., OF; Graham Roesel, sr., OF; Lucas Similuk, so., SS; Jake Gimbel, sr., P; Aiden Hayse, sr., P; Lucas Grant, jr., P; Owen Weirs, sr., P

Key newcomers: Jose Granados, sr., 3B; Rocco Szambelan, so., P

Worth noting: The back-to-back 2A state champions will look to make it three in a row in 2024, but this time in Class 3A. Troyner, a UIC commit, is back after leading the team with a .433 average. Gimbel started the 2022 state title game as a sophomore before injuries slowed his 2023 campaign. Although the Hilltoppers will have to replace 155 innings on the mound, Gimbel and Hayse (Tennessee commit) will handle the load. JCA also will have to replace 60% of its offensive production. Still, with the Hilltoppers’ depth and tradition, the goals of winning a conference championship and playing in the 3A state semis are well within reach.

Chicago Catholic League

Providence Catholic

Coach: Mark Smith

2023 record: 30-7-1

Top returners: Enzo Infelise, jr., C; Jackson Smith, sr., 2B; Nolan Galla, jr., SS; Nate O’Donnell, jr., 3B; Mitch Voltz, sr., CF; Cooper Eggert, jr., RF

Key newcomers: Kasten Goebbert, jr., P; Cole Harris, jr., P; Bryce Tencza, so., 1B

Worth noting: Providence is loaded at the top on offense. They’ve got four D-I commits already in Infelise (Oklahoma), Smith (Bradley), Galla (Xavier) and O’Donnell (Creighton). Those four combined for 112 RBIs last year, while Infelise and Smith batted over .500. The Celtics have 12 position players back from last year’s sectional semifinal team, but they’ll need to break in some inexperienced juniors on the pitching staff. Smith said the goal is still to play their best ball late in the season.

South Suburban Conference


Coach: Brian Storako

2023 record: 29-7-2

Top returners: Cannon Medaj, sr., C

Key newcomers: Shea Glotzbach, jr., P/OF/3B; Jacob Parr, jr., P/OF/3B; Matt Devoy, jr., P/OF

Worth noting: The good news for Lemont: It won the conference title and reached the sectional semifinals last season. The bad news? It returns only one starter from that group, losing 18 seniors, seven of whom are now playing at the next level. Madej caught 26 innings behind the plate and will be counted on to lead the young group. Storako said there’s a lot of depth on the mound with Devoy and Nick Reno’s pitches reaching the low 80s. Storako said, “We are really excited about this team and their potential.”

Interstate 8 Conference


Coach: Todd Kein

2023 record: 26-5

Top returners: Keegan Waters, sr., P; Cody DelFavero, sr., P/OF; Anthony Xydakis, sr., OF; Caston Norris, sr., OF; Jack Wheeler, jr., 3B/P; Griffin Zweeres, jr., C; Brett Bounds, jr., P/1B; Ximi Baftiri, jr., SS

Key newcomers: Colin Pfeifer, jr., P/OF; Hayden Hutchcraft, jr., P; Merek Klicker, jr., P/1B

Worth noting: Morris is in good position for another strong season. The roster holds four college commitments at this time, led by Wheele,r who is set to head to the Big Ten with Illinois next year. Morris advanced to a regional championship game, where it lost 2-1 to Rock Island. Expectations will remain high for this group in Class 3A.

Illinois Central Eight Conference

Coal City

Coach: Greg Ellis

2023 record: 20-9

Top returners: Cade Baldauf, sr., SS/2B; Jim Feeney, sr., CF; Creide Skubic, sr., RF; Tanner Wallace, sr., P/1B; Joe Watson, sr., P; Austin Davy, sr., P; Wyatt Wickiser, sr., LF; Luke Nolan, sr., 1B/DH; Danny Olson, sr., C

Key newcomers: Gabe McHugh, jr., SS/3B/P; J Wills, jr., P/3B; Dylan Young, jr., 2B; Lance Cuddy, so., P/OF/1B

Worth noting: A trio of all-conference performers (Baldauf, Feeney and Skubic) lead the way this year, with Baldauf and Watson slated to play at the next level. It’s a tough conference, and the Coalers will be set to take on a tough Class 3A and 4A nonconference schedule. Ellis said, “We hope to compete for an Illinois Central 8 Conference title and make a strong run in the postseason. Our goal is to take the next step. I think the ultimate goal for every program is to be playing in June. We are no exception, and we certainly look forward to the challenge.”


Coach: Teddy Baffes

2023 record: 3-20

Top returners: Joe Hasse, jr., 3B; Ruben Velasco, jr., SS; Jake Earheart, sr., 1B/P; Josh Barta, jr., P/1B

Key newcomers: Tyler Leitelt, fr., SS/2B; Alex Chenoweth, fr., CF/C

Worth noting: Peotone enters a new era under Baffes with four experienced players to build around. Leitelt and Chenoweth will look to inject some youth and talent into the lineup. The goal is to get better each and every day. Baffes said, “Our season expectations are to compete every day and every game. ... I think we have a lot of talent and a lot of great players that can be leaders for this team.


Coach: Jake Evans

2023 record: 23-8

Top returners: Joe Stellano, sr., SS/P; Cameron Smith, sr., C; Joe Bembenek, jr., INF/P; Brady Tyree, jr., OF; Landon Jankus, sr., OF; Ben Lepper, sr., 2B

Key newcomers: Landen Robinson, jr., OF; Alex Bielfeldt, jr., P/3B; Luca Trucano, jr., OF; Collin Monroe, jr., 1B/C; Dom Eddy, jr., UTIL; Nolan Smith, jr., INF/P; Drew Emanuelson, jr., 1B; Jacob Reardon, jr., P/INF

Worth noting: The Comets are coming off a regional championship and will look to build on that success behind players such as Stellano, a Lincoln Land Community College commit. The team lost 10 seniors, five of whom were starters, including all-state performer Jacob McPherson. Evans said, “We will turn to a good blend of experienced returning players and talented newcomers to navigate the always competitive Illinois Central Eight Conference.”


Coach: Mike Bushnell

2023 record: 17-10

Top returners: Ryan Kettman, so., P/OF/2B; Lucas Rink, jr., P/SS; Kyle Farrell, jr., P/2B; Cade McCubbin, sr., C

Key newcomers: N/A

Worth noting: Wilmington boasts a group with a ton of chemistry, as the bulk of the squad has played together since grade school. Eight of nine starters are back from last year, and the expectation is to win a conference title. Kettman led the way last season with a .450 BA and 19 stolen bases, while Rink and Farrell combined for 118 strikeouts. McCubbin had 20 RBIs and should be even better.

Tri-County Conference


Coach: Jerry McDowell

2023 record: 9-19

Top returners: Luke Gallet, jr., P/SS; Joey Starks, so., P/OF; Owen Dunlap, jr., 2B

Key newcomers: N/A

Worth noting: McDowell heads over to Dwight after multiple decades at Coal City. He’ll have some solid players to build around, including Gallet who led the team in hitting and pitching last year. McDowell said, “[We’re] working hard on fundamentals and doing a lot of throwing. Hoping to finish in the top half of the very competitive Tri-County Conference and finish with a winning record.”


Coach: Tim Brungard

2023 record: 18-9

Top returners: Casey Clennon, sr.; Paxton Giertz, jr.; Austin Aldridge, sr.; Aidan Vilcek, sr.

Key newcomers: Josh Lucas, sr.; Keegan Murphy, jr.; Brody Rademacher, jr.; Carter Clause, jr.; Casey Klicker, jr.

Worth noting: Seneca returns eight everyday players from last year’s group, including three college commits in Clennon, Aldridge and senior Chase Buis. The Irish are senior heavy with a lot of experience and will look to build on last year’s success. Brungard said the plan is to compete for the top of the conference.

River Valley Conference

Gardner-South Wilmington

Coach: Allan Wills (9th year as head coach at GSW)

2023 record: 12-12

Top returners: Cale Halpin, sr., OF/P; Nathan States, sr., P/3B; Bennett Grant, sr., OF; Cole Hampson, Jr., 1B/P; Logan Conger, jr., 3B/OF/P; Brock Enerson, so., C/P

Key newcomers: Ayden Collom, fr., INF/OF/P/C; Reed Millette, fr., INF/OF/P/C; Hunter Partilla, fr., INF/P

Worth noting: GSW will need to replace several key starters lost to graduation last year, but the cupboard is far from bare with the senior trio of Halpin, States and Grant leading the way. Willis also touted his freshman trio as players he expects to play big roles this season. Willis added “I expect us to be able to compete for a top spot in the RVC & hope to improve throughout the season, learn to play well together, and make a nice postseason run.”