Coach: Jake Howells (fourth season)
2013 record: 12-18, 5-10 Northern Illinois Big 12 East
Key returners: Jared Johnson, sr., SS; Patrick Aves, sr., C/P; John Crosby, sr., P
Key newcomers: Logan Haring, jr., P/utility; Jake Kuykendall, jr., EB
Outlook: DeKalb needs starting pitching. Crosby, a St. Cloud State recruit, is the Barbs’ only returning starting pitcher. He racked up a tough-luck, 0-7 record in 2013, but has the stuff to win games and will be counted on to eat up innings. The Barbs will mix and match with their pitching staff to find the right combination that can throw strikes and pitch to contact. With a lineup that can score runs, DeKalb will have to stay poised and persevere through the adversity that could arise in high scoring games.
Howell’s take: “We are really asking pitchers to throw strikes. Give fielders a chance to field a ground ball or catch a pop up. We’ve got a lot of guys that will pitch as we try to find the winning formula. If pitchers throw strikes and keep us in the game, I think we can play solid defense and hit a little.”
Coach: Anson Ellis (second season)
2013 record: 5-20, 3-9 Big Northern East
Key returners: Jake Langford, sr., C; Will Crozier, sr., RF; Mike Kuhn, sr., utility
Key newcomers: Brady Huffman, so., P; Andrew Caldwell, so., P; Tommy Hansen, so., P
Outlook: The continued development of the Cogs’ all-sophomore pitching staff will be of paramount importance this spring. Huffman, Caldwell and Hansen increased their physical size, added velocity and are better poised to manage their off-speed pitches after being exposed to varsity hitters as freshmen last spring. The Cogs also return the heart of their lineup.
Ellis’ take: “We have team goals to reduce our errors and cut down our strikeouts. We haven’t had a win-loss discussion. We’re a young team, but got some experience last year and want to shoot for .500 or better.”
Coach: Sean Donnelly (eighth season)
2013 record: 11-9-2, 9-6-1 Little 10 Conference
Key returners: Will Corn, jr., C; Mike Mercado, sr., P/1B; Nick Doolittle, jr., P/SS
Key newcomers: Taylor Edwards, sr., P/OF
Outlook: A regional title made history last spring. The Hawks upward trajectory continues as their first Class 1A regional title has sparked interest in the program. Twenty three players are on the roster this spring, the most in Donnelly’s eight-year tenure at the helm of the Hiawatha program. The Hawks’ impressive pitching depth – Hiawatha goes four to five deep in its rotation – and stout lineup anchored by Southern Illinois-Carbondale recruit Will Corn could lead to an even deeper postseason run.
Donnelly’s take: “We’ve got great pitching depth with some young guys that have really stepped up. Teams won’t be able to pitch around Will (Corn) because the lineup doesn’t have any slouches hitting behind him.”
Coach: Brad Unger (second season)
2013 record: 18-9-1
Key returners: Andy VanLanduyt, jr., OF; Bailey McQueen, jr., OF
Coach: Joe Piekarz (fourth season)
2013 record: 8-14-1, 8-7-1 Little 10
Key returners: Tim Sommerfeld, jr., C/IF; David Boehne, so., SS/P; Chris Pickwell, jr., P; Jake Wieseler, jr., P
Key newcomers: Drew Headley, so., P/IF
Outlook: A deep starting rotation should lead the Timberwolves into contention for the Little 10 Conference title. Indian Creek will have the most experienced lineup in the Piekarz era.
Piekarz’s take: “Our juniors have been playing since they were freshman. They aren’t young anymore. They have a lot of varsity level experience.”
Coach: Brian Aversa (eighth season)
2013 record: 15-18, 8-7 NI Big 12 East
Key returners: Tyler Carlson, sr., 1B; Curtis Thorson, sr., P/OF; Nate Hopkins, sr., P/OF; Nick Stahl, sr., P
Key newcomers: Joe Laudent, so., C; Anthony Holubecki, so., P
Outlook: A Cincinnati trip to open the season will immediately test the Knights. Kaneland plays a pair of teams with a combined 18 state titles. While Kaneland lacks players with varsity experience, it has depth on a pitching staff led by Notre Dame recruit Holubecki. If the lineup can produce runs, Kaneland can make a run at the NI Big 12 East title.
Aversa’s take: “We can play great defense and have a good pitching staff. That’s a good formula for playoff success. If we can score some runs we can be a dangerous team.”
Coach: Jason Cavanaugh (17th season)
2013 record: 25-12, 10-5 NI Big 12 East
Key returners: Cole Nelson, sr., P; Colan Treml, jr., P; Nathan Haacker, sr., C; Brett Weaver, jr., CF; Alec Kozak, sr., right field
Key newcomers: Michael Swanberg, sr., SS; Cooper Vinz, sr., 2B
Outlook: In Cavanaugh’s 20th season with the Sycamore program, 17th as varsity skipper, Sycamore is poised to make a run at the sectional championship which has eluded the veteran coach. Sycamore has the lineup, which is loaded from one through nine, a deep rotation and stingy defense to be a preseason front runner to head to Joliet for the Class 3A state title game.
Cavanaugh’s take: “We have a very mature lineup that almost returns intact. We have a lot of guys that know what it takes to win. We got a taste of it last year and this year we expect big things.”
– James Nokes, email@example.com