Baseball: Solid core lifts Naperville Central’s hopes for 2013Naperville Central pitcher Ian Lewandowski throws a pitch during the first inning of the IHSA baseball Super Sectional Monday, Jun. 4, 2012, at Illinois Field in Champaign, Ill. (Photo by Bradley Leeb)
Updated: June 5, 2012 7:06PM
In wrapping up a stellar three-year career at Naperville Central last season, Dan Ludwig made a keen observation of what may lie ahead for the Redhawks program.
Comparing the 2011 team to the one he played on in 2009 as a sophomore that eventually surprised by winning a sectional title as a No. 7 seed, Ludwig believed the youth on both teams were comparable.
“If we’re the ’09 team, I don’t see why they can’t (contend for a state title in 2012),” Ludwig said last April of the 2011 team.
With a new coach, Mike Stock, taking over for the retired Bill Seiple and that young core Ludwig was speaking of, coupled with a senior class showing the way, Naperville Central’s 2012 season ended in the same spot where 2009 concluded — in a supersectional.
Setting a program record for victories by a first-year coach with 27, Stock knew from the get-go the type of situation he was inheriting.
“You know, coming into the situation the first year, I wasn’t on a sinking ship. We had a great standard in place and process in place that I was part of,” he said Monday after the Redhawks’ season ended a game shy of Joliet with a 6-3 loss to Minooka. “And so, not much was gonna change. I mean, how we went at it (wasn’t going to change). Losing someone like Coach Seiple, we definitely lost a presence, but this program has been about kids and about the kids stepping up. I feel very fortunate to have coached these seniors in this situation.
“The type of kid that we had, let alone athlete, really helped us out as a first-year staff, because we were new all the way around our staff. Having kids we could count on like Ross Murphy and Ian Lewandowski and some of the juniors, too. It was a formula (that) we were in a position to succeed. Did I think necessarily we were gonna get this far? No, but we hope to every year. And, so, that’s part of the expectation.”
Finishing second in the DuPage Valley Conference to Wheaton North for a second straight year, the Redhawks were handed the No. 5 seed in the Class 4A Romeoville Sectional and made an unexpected run to the program’s fifth sectional title after defeating Downers Grove South to win the Class 4A Downers Grove South Regional and upset top-seeded Plainfield North in Romeoville four days later.
Carrying the heavy lifting all year was senior right-hander Ian Lewandowski.
Despite seeing his high school career conclude Monday with a loss after being charged with four runs on eight hits in five innings, the UIC-bound Lewandowski finished the year at 8-2 to go along with a 1.45 ERA.
A pair of juniors, right-hander Jim Nashert and left-hander Jeff Schank, really blossomed behind Lewandowski to help give the Redhawks a nice 1-2-3 punch that allowed them to win six more games as a team in 2012.
Nashert and Schank combined to go 12-2 with a 1.19 ERA on the year in 94 1/3 combined innings.
“It just seems that the team has really gelled and it has been a lot of fun,” Nashert said in the days leading up to the Redhawks’ 12-2 rout of Metea Valley last Saturday. “It’s been the most fun baseball I’ve ever played. I’m sure the whole team will agree to that and we just are taking it real seriously and have started to battle, put the ball in play and good things have worked out for us.”
Nashert, Schank and another junior, right-hander Cody Campbell, will all be back in 2013 to form a quality trio in the pitching staff and help fill the void left by Lewandowski.
All eyes will be on Campbell, who has the talent to become an ace but needs to harness his control. If that happens, he’ll almost certainly improve on his 4-3 record and 3.19 ERA in 41 2/3 innings and fall in line with the likes of Kyle Kaminska, Shane Conlon, Ludwig and Lewandowski.
Three other juniors, catcher Brian Schiemann, shortstop Nick Lopez and center fielder Blake Butler, who came on late in the year, will anchor the defense up the middle
Bolstered by nonconference victories over defending Class 4A state champion Lyons, Providence and Joliet Catholic, Naperville Central showed early on a glimpse of what would click later on in the season.
Lewandowski earned complete-game victories over both Lyons and Providence, setting the tone eventually for yet another surprising run to the brink of a Class 4A state semifinal berth in Joliet.
The core of the 2009 team used the motivation of an one-run loss to O’Fallon in a super-sectional as a springboard into 2010, when they won a program-record 38 games en route to the 2010 Class 4A state title.
Almost three years removed from the second state title in program history come late March 2013, Lewandowski, as he leaves the program, shares the same belief in the program going forward as his predecessor as staff ace, Ludwig, did a year ago.
That it will be heard from next year.
“Yeah, you know, we had a young team, so for them to get this far, for us to get this far shows them really what it’s like at this point in the game,” Lewandowski said. “So they’re gonna be even more ready next year and you know it’s good to get a sectional title under Coach Stock’s belt his first year. I’m really proud of our team for that. It meant a lot to everybody.
“Everybody was in this together and you never know what could happen next year. You know these kids, every single one of my teammates, wanted it just as much as the other one, and I know all of them are just as mad as I am and are ready to get out there next year. So, big things are coming for them next year.”