Baseball: Colletta, Ross power Niles West to hot startKyle Colletta (2) of Niles West stretches out to reach an overthrown ball on Thursday, March 29, 2012 in Skokie. | Jon Durr~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 2, 2012 6:36PM
Niles West junior Kyle Colletta, one of the best baseball players in the area, probably is not even the top athlete on his own team.
Colletta, playing shortstop and leading his team in hits, was named Freshman Newcomer of the Year by Pioneer Press two years ago. He moved to second base last spring, when Kevin Ross transferred from Mather and hit .436 with 30 RBI and 16 steals to earn a scholarship from the University of Michigan.
The Wolves (8-1) have stormed out of the gate this spring, with Ross tormenting pitchers at a .600 clip and attracting droves of big-league scouts. Some projections have him being drafted within the top five rounds in June.
Playing a mean second fiddle to his band leader partner, the lefty hitting, righty throwing Colletta is batting .400 and excelling as the Wolves’ No. 2 starting pitcher behind senior ace Jason Meger. Veteran head coach Garry Gustafson tabbed the high-character junior as a co-captain along with Ross and Meger.
“Kyle can be one of the best players ever to come through here,” Gustafson said. “He will wind up as a four-year starter, one of the few we have had at Niles West. He is a tremendous kid and has a great attitude.”
Niles West started the season by overwhelming Wheeling 9-0, Lakeview 11-1 and Mather 25-0, while also dispatching Lane 5-2. After a 3-0 road loss to Barrington, the Wolves showed they can win close games as well as blowouts by edging St. Joseph 8-6, St. Patrick 5-4, Rolling Meadows 7-6 and Buffalo Grove 6-3 on Saturday.
The Wolves expect to battle for the CSL South crown with defending champ Glenbrook South, New Trier and Maine South.
“We have gained a lot of confidence. This team works hard and has great chemistry,” Colletta said. “The conference will be a dogfight, but we feel we have the ability to win it. We still have to clean up our fundamentals, an inning or so here and there where we’ve been sloppy. We have to fix that, and we will.”
Singles by Colletta, Ross and junior Seth Rosenberg off Buffalo Grove’s ace set the stage for senior first baseman Eric Stojanoff’s bases-clearing double in the bottom of the fifth inning. After DH Jordan Griffiths walked, Quinn Winkler lashed an RBI triple to the wall. A double steal by Winkler and Evan Athanasiou created another run.
Senior righty Nick Meyer, making a strong case for the fourth spot in the Wolves’ deep rotation, improved to 3-0 after tossing five innings and allowing his first two earned runs of the season. Center fielder Jimmy Ostrega then took the mound and notched a two-inning save. He benefited from diving defensive gems by outfielders Winkler and Tommy Williams in the seventh.
Colletta is also 3-0 on the hill. He fanned seven and walked one in six innings against Rolling Meadows, and held Lane to one earned run in five frames.
He was a two-way force when the visiting Wolves handed St. Joseph (10-1) its only defeat on March 27. Colletta gained the win with two innings of relief and bashed his first varsity home run, a two-run shot to right-center that cleared the 375-foot sign by at least 10 feet. It probably won’t be his last four-bagger. Colletta packed on 25 pounds of muscle with an offseason strength program.
“I was running so hard because I didn’t know if (the ball) was going to get out, and my teammates were giving it to me from the dugout,” Colletta recalled. “Then I slowed way down and enjoyed it. I’m stronger, but I think my improvement is more mentally, just adding more knowledge of the game. Kevin and I work really well up the middle. After being together for a while now, we know where each other is going to be. Chemistry-wise, it’s pretty special.”
Meger is another three-year veteran and difference-maker. The ace hurler is also the Wolves’ clean-up hitter, following Colletta and Ross. It gets no easier for opposing pitchers after those three. Rosenberg, a junior transfer from New Trier, is a talented batsman, catcher and No. 3 pitcher. Stojanoff is a damaging No. 6 hitter.
In the opener against Wheeling, Meger fanned eight in five innings. He also singled, doubled and drove in three runs. Rosenberg struck out nine Lakeview batters in four frames while Ross went 3-for-3 in his second straight game.
Rosenberg (2-for-2, 2 runs, 2 RBI) complemented Colletta’s heroics against St. Joseph. Stojanoff (2-for-2, 2 RBI) led the offense in the win over Lane. Ross was the difference in the one-run victories over St. Patrick (2-for-3, 2 SB) and Rolling Meadows (3-for-4, 2-run homer, 3 runs, 4 RBI).