Baseball: Lincoln-Way West’s Conor Essenburg is the Herald-News Baseball Player of the Year

Essenburg hit .388 at the plate with 102 strikeouts on the mound

Lincoln-Way West’s Conor Essenburg connects for a two run single against Lincoln-Way Central in the Class 4A Providence Sectional semifinal on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 in New Lenox.

Year in and year out, the Herald-News coverage area shows it’s one of the best in the country in producing top-level baseball talent. So how do you pick only one who stood out among the rest? It’s a challenging task, and there are about half a dozen players who made a strong case for the award.

In the end, Conor Essenburg, a junior for Lincoln-Way West, is this year’s Herald-News Baseball Player of the Year.

“Honestly, it’s a great honor,” Essenburg said. “I really appreciate it, and it means a lot to me. It shows that all my hard work is leading me to a really great place.”

The numbers speak for themselves.

Essenburg hit .388 with a 1.227 OPS and .550 OBP. He had 38 hits and drew 38 walks. On the mound, he broke school records for single-season wins (10) and strikeouts (102). He went 10-2, allowing only 11 earned runs in 52 innings. He was selected to the All-Southwest Suburban Conference Team and was an all-region selection as a pitcher.

For Essenburg, the accolades and awards came about only after he and the team felt motivated by the accolades they didn’t receive early on.

“The beginning, we were a bit of an underdog,” Essenburg said. “Not a lot of people thought we were going to be really good. Our team really bonded, and we were best friends. We hung out all the time, which helped.

“What motivated us the most was not getting ranked in the preseason for [Prep Baseball Report]. We knew we had to prove a point and show what we can do.”

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.

Show it they did. The Warriors started 23-0 and finished 30-5, losing to eventual state champion Providence Catholic in a sectional final.

Essenburg’s coaches applauded the effort he put forth and discussed how critical it was to their success.

“He was definitely a leader for us offensively and on the mound,” L-W West coach Jake Zajc said. “He’s a very talented player on both sides. When you have a player like that, it helps other guys raise their level, and that in turn helps Conor get to the numbers that he got to. Conor is a very driven person when it comes to baseball and puts the time and work in for it.

“It’s good to see him have this success.”

The exciting thing for the Warriors is that Essenburg, a junior, still has another year left. That’s an exciting prospect for the Warriors and a frightening prospect for their opponents.

“Next year will be his third year up for us,” Zajc said. “He and some of the other guys coming back makes things pretty exciting for next year. What’s really great is that there’s still even more ways in which he can improve. We talk about all the ways to handle yourself on the field and how it can help prepare you for playing at the next level in college. He knows that and he’s working on it daily.”

Of course, he’s also planning on making his final prep season an enjoyable ride.

“Our pitching staff for next year is looking really good,” Essenburg said. “As a senior, I just want to have the best year out of all of them. The goal is to break as many records as I can. I think that would be really fun.”

After next season, he’ll be taking his talents to Kansas State. The Wildcats are coming off an NCAA regional championship season and are primed to continue building once Essenburg arrives.

“Their coaching staff is just really amazing,” Essenburg said. “That showed this year. We made it to the first round of Omaha. We didn’t make it through Virginia, but the recruiting coordinator, head coach and assistant coaches are all great guys. Plus, I’m from Manhattan, Illinois, so it’ll be cool to move to Manhattan, Kansas.”

Essenburg shouted out this year’s crop of seniors for leading the way and setting the bar for future Warriors. He’s planning to compete for our Player of the Year award again next season, but if anyone else would like to compete with him, he welcomes the challenge.

He also offers some advice.

“Anytime you’re doing anything at all, just put 110% effort on it,” Essenburg said. “Put your name on it. You want everyone to know what you did, put your name on it. Have pride in everything that you do.”

Lincoln-Way West's Connor Essenburg