PLAYERS TO WATCH
Aurora Christian, Jr., P
Aurora Christian has had some of the best pitching in the area in recent years, and the left-handed Baksha (8-2, 1.37 ERA), an Iowa recruit, gives this year’s Eagles a legit ace.
Batavia, Jr., IF
The three-sport athlete is plenty productive in the spring; he was all conference as a sophomore last season and gives the Bulldogs a solid glove at first base.
Geneva, Fr., IF
It’s unusual to put a freshman on a list like this, but few freshmen come with the pedigree of Derr, a Florida State recruit who wields a live bat and shook off varsity nerves by playing quarterback for the Vikings’ football team in the fall.
St. Charles East, Sr. IF
Erickson, who committed only five errors in 142 chances at shortstop for the Saints last season, also figures in as a key stick in the Saints’ lineup.
St. Charles East, Sr., OF
Hoscheit projects as one of the most intimidating bats in the Upstate Eight Conference and, when he’s not in left field, could also boost the Saints on the mound before taking his game to Northwestern next year.
Geneva, Sr., P
Honiotes, who committed to Miami (Fla.) during the offseason, will be hard-pressed to improve upon a dynamite junior year in which he went 7-0 with a 1.01 ERA.
St. Charles East, Sr., P
Huskisson was solid last season but the Saints’ lefty ace is much more confident and businesslike as a senior, coach Len Asquini says.
Aurora Central Catholic, Sr., P
The four-year varsity player will be a key part of whatever success the Chargers have on the mound and in the field under first-year coach Sean Bieterman, who also is the school’s athletic director.
Marmion, Sr., P
Coach Dave Rakow anticipates pitching being the strength for a Marmion program that has won three straight regional titles, and Riley (6-3 last season) tops the list.
St. Charles North, Sr., P
The left-handed Shah, an Illinois-Chicago recruit, should provide leadership for a North staff that will be throwing to catcher Ryan Thomas, who coach Todd Genke calls “one of the best backstops in the Upstate Eight.”
Batavia, Sr., P
Shanahan returns as the clear ace for the Bulldogs after being thrust into the role last year because of injuries to Batavia’s staff.
Geneva, Sr., P
The South Alabama recruit went 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA as a junior and is the most experienced varsity arm on the Vikings’ highly regarded staff.
FIVE BURNING QUESTIONS
1. What about the pitching?
That's how Harry Caray would phrase the question. At least in the case of Geneva, the answer is, holy cow! The Vikings have a potentially sensational 1-2 punch of future Division I aces in Andy Honiotes and Jordan Touro, and don't forget about fellow senior righty Tony Landi as another quality starter. Geneva's pitching appears to be a cut above, but just about every team in the area has solid arms.
2. Is the Upstate Eight Conference River Division a two-horse race?
Geneva and defending champ St. Charles East appear to be clear front-runners, though both teams have holes to fill in the outfield. Geneva coach Matt Hahn wonders whether his offense will support the pitching sufficiently but seniors such as third baseman Mitch Endriukaitis, first baseman Anthony Bragg and outfielders Jake Weede and Bobby Hess are capable of taking pressure off touted freshman shortstop Nick Derr. East needs pitchers such as Matt Starai and Troy Dykhuis to complement ace Nick Huskisson and multisport athletes such as Erik Anderson, Brannon Barry and Mike Candre to find their niche for a promising team.
3. How about Batavia and St. Charles North?
Both are capable of pushing Geneva, East and the rest of the conference. The perennial power North Stars lack the star power they typically bring after heavy graduation losses but returnees such as versatile senior Kurt Barbeau, catcher Ryan Thomas and pitchers Ankur Shah and Sawyer Chambers provide coach Todd Genke a foundation. Sophomore Cory Wright is a promising newcomer for North. Batavia first baseman Micah Coffey and speedster Laren Eustace are tough outs, and coach Matt Holm likes his middle infield of shortstop Billy Zwick and second baseman Jeremy Schoessling.
4. Can Kaneland keep up its success?
The Knights won the 3A state title in 2011, then won 24 games and a Northern Illinois Big 12 East title last year, but any sustained success will have to come with a mostly new-look cast. There is little returning experience to supplement top returnees John Hopkins (pitcher/third baseman), Matt Limbrunner (first baseman/pitcher) and Joe Pollastrini (shortstop/pitcher), However, Knights coach Brian Aversa likes his team's balance and work ethic, and is hopeful newcomers such as Blake Sowell, Joe Komel and Kyle Pollastrini provide some needed reinforcements.
5. Which of the area's SCC teams can thrive?
Marmion has been a consistent winner under coach Dave Rakow but the Cadets' solid pitching staff led by seniors Connor Riley and A.J. Bohr will need support from the offense. St. Francis coach Rich Janor considers sophomore infielder/pitcher Jason Sullivan one of the top underclassmen in the area, and seniors Jack Petrando, Josh Croci, Alex Alcantara and Andrew Brundage will lend the Spartans leadership. New Aurora Central Catholic coach Sean Bieterman – who has won 217 games at previous stops Driscoll and Lincoln-Way Central – promises "greatly improved defense" from the Chargers, while Aurora Christian must reload after losing five seniors who went on to play college baseball, three in Division I.
– Jay Schwab, email@example.com