Baseball: Preseason top 25
Updated: March 19, 2012 7:20PM
1. Providence (37-4) — The Celtics lost a lot from their Class 4A runner-up squad, but coach Mark Smith still has a bevy of frontline talent. Brother Rice transfer Ryan Koziol (signed at Arizona) is a boost. On the mound, a pair of Notre Dame signees lead the way, LHP Zak Kutsulis and RHP David Hearne. In all, they have six Division I signees already.
2. Lyons Township (37-4) — The defending Class 4A champions feature one of the state’s most dominant pitching duos in senior RHP/2B Steven Heilenbach (Illinois State) and junior RHP/3B Keith Lehmann. Both Heilenbach and Lehmann pitch in the upper-80s. Coach George Ushela also welcomes in a strong junior class.
3. St. Laurence (29-7) — The Vikings bring back several critical pieces that helped them claim a share of the Chicago Catholic Blue crown last year. Left-hander Nick Altobella (University of Alabama-Birmingham) is back to anchor the staff, along with junior SS/RHP Kevin Smith (Creighton commit), sophomore RHP/2B Mike Kornacker and Zach Lewis, a hard-throwing junior transfer from Marist.
4. Joliet Catholic Academy (23-10) — Six starters and four pitchers return to the perennial Class 3A state contenders. Illinois-bound LHP Kevin Duchene anchors a deep rotation that also includes RHP/OF Nate Searing, RHP Chris Blatti, junior RHP Cal Placher and junior LHP Matt Testa. Junior SS Chris Tschida powers the offense.
5. Mt. Carmel (32-9) — Although the Caravan graduated some key pieces from last year’s Class 4A fourth-place squad, coach Brian Hurry still has plenty of offensive firepower. The infield remains intact, led by junior middle infielders Jerry Houston, Beau Filkins, and seniors TJ Laurisch and Sam Kint. The Caravan have a lot of pitching options, but lack a definitive ace.
6. Simeon (26-5) — The Wolverines should be the state’s most exciting team, as they are loaded with top-level positional players. Their outfield is stacked with senior Shane Brown (Oakland), junior Corey Ray (Louisville) and sophomore Darius Day. Ray and Day are currently the No. 1-ranked players in their respective classes. Catcher Blake Hickman (Iowa) returns behind the plate, and junior infielders Ronell Coleman (De La Salle transfer), Marshawn Taylor and Robert Fletcher are all ranked prospects as well.
7. Marian Catholic (18-18) — The Spartans feature arguably the state’s most formidable pitching duo in LHP Brett Lilek (Arizona State) and RHP Robert Nunn (Western Illinois). Both Lilek and Nunn have the stuff to dominate opponents. Infielder Devin Pickett (Iowa) and speedy OF Robert Cifelli anchor the offense.
8. St. Rita (30-7) — The Mustangs have a potent lineup that includes catcher Zack Soria (Louisville), 3B Stefano Belmonte (Purdue) and junior OF Connor McClain. Pitching depth is the team’s chief concern, especially if Purdue-recruit Eddie De La Riva is out this season.
9. Glenbrook South (25-8) — The Titans surprised many by winning the Central Suburban South last season. They won’t sneak up on anybody this year. LHP/OF Sully Stadler (Indiana), 1B Zach Jones (Northwestern), RHP Josiah Carlson, OF George Stellas and C Mike Reinisch (North Central College) lead the way.
10. New Trier (24-12) —Gone is second-round draft pick Charlie Tilson, but coach Mike Napoleon has a strong nucleus of pitchers, led by left-handers Brady Arenson (Coastal Carolina) and Nick Hedge, and right-hander Austin Zimmerman (Bucknell). OF Josh Perlmutter (Northwestern) headlines the offense.
11. Oak Park-River Forest (30-11) — Five starters return from last year’s sectional finalist club. Catcher Jack Picchiotti (Purdue) is a four-year standout. OF/LHP Zach Weigel (Seton Hall), junior 1B/RHP Nick Kowalczuk and senior RHP/OF Mike Brennan are all impact players.
12. Lincoln-Way North (30-4) — The Phoenix enter the spring riding high after winning the IHSBCA summer state championship. Senior INF Jack Troike and junior C Ryan Pellack lead the way for coach Joe Skarbek.
13. Oak Forest (28-7-1) — Louisville-bound RHP Kyle Funkhouser is 21-1 in two varsity seasons. Last year, the Bengals road him to a runner-up finish in Class 3A. In all, seven starters return, including C John Zubek and INF George Jester.
14. Glenbrook North (33-4) — The Spartans were one of last season’s biggest surprises, advancing to the Class 4A supersectionals in coach Dominic Savino’s first year. C Jason Scholl (Eastern Illinois), RHP Peter Resnick (Bradley), RHP/INF John Boidanis (Black Hawk College), and OF Chad Bruce headline the Spartans.
15. Herscher (31-5) — The Tigers are one of the favorites in Class 2A. Coach Eric Regez welcomes back 27 wins on the mound, powered by the Ruckman twins, Jordan and Justin, both Northern Illinois-signees.
16. Prairie Ridge (14-21) —The Wolves finished runner-up at the IHSBCA summer state tournament. Their experience, coupled with a deep pitching staff, should have them riding high in the Fox Valley again.
17. Huntley (22-11) — The Red Raiders return eight starters and 22 wins on the mound, which could add up to their second state appearance in three years. Junior OF Colin Lyman (Louisville) and junior INF/RHP Bryce Only spearhead the offense.
18. Naperville Central (21-13) — Mike Stock takes over for longtime coach Bill Seiple. Stock inherits six returning starters, led by RHP/INF Ian Lewandowski. He also welcomes a hard-throwing Michigan transplant, Cody Campbell.
19. Neuqua Valley (25-11-1) — The perennially strong Wildcats will lean on Illinois-bound RHP Nick Blackburn. OF Jack Amaro (Purdue), SS Tanner Giesel and junior RHP/INF David Gerber augment the lineup.
20. Mundelein (28-7) — LHP Ryan Borucki (Iowa), the No. 1-ranked senior in the state, anchors the rotation, while SS Chris Maranto (Butler) headlines the offense.
21. Downers Grove South (25-14) — The Mustangs’ triumvirate of junior arms is potentially dominating: Zach Burdi, Dan Mayer and Brian Glowicki. Putting runs on the board will be the big question.
22. Sandburg (25-7) — Jim Morsovillo takes over for coach Doug Sutor after 34 years. Zach Reks (Air Force), Dan Rizzie (Xavier) and Dylan Rajkovich power the offense.
23. Plainfield North (31-3) — The Tigers lost a lot, but coach John Darlington always has his team ready. RHP/INF Joe Cresta (Notre Dame) anchors a staff heavy with junior talent.
24. Maine South (21-10) — An impressive run in the summer has the Hawks geared for a big spring. C Jimmy Frankos (Iowa) and OF Kyle Richardson (Notre Dame) headline the offense.
25. Stevenson (26-5) — Pitching is a question, but the Patriots will have plenty of team speed behind SS Adam Walton (Illinois) and OF Max Golembo (Washington University).