2014 Baseball Preview: Big hopes in Big XII
Photo: Junior catcher Danny Hammermeister and senior catcher Sean Dunphy practice indoors with the baseball team. Photo by Patti Wilk
Diamond crew looks to turn page, rebound from a year ago
KANELAND—Knights baseball in 2014 represents, in essence, a new beginning.
One year after getting bumped in its own Class 3A regional final by Wheaton’s St. Francis to finish just 13-18, KHS said goodbye to 15 seniors and the last remnants of the 2011 State champs.
This year, a somewhat new gaggle of varsity players take the field and look to remedy the first losing campaign for Kaneland baseball since 2006.
Bright spots can be located in the fact that the 2013 roster had current contributors around for the first regional game win in two years that occurred over Sandwich High School, and the talent familiar with the winning tradition of the last decade.
“It kind of feels that way every year, we bring in a bunch of guys,” KHS coach Brian Aversa said. “This class is a junior-dominated baseball class. We have seven seniors, and those guys have experience, but not all are position players. We have a young squad and brought up two sophomores.”
At the head of the positive contribution could be returning all Northern Illinois Big XII standout Tyler Carlson, getting a late jump on things due to basketball. The senior will switch to first base in 2014, putting the pieces in place for other returnees.
“He’s going to move over to first, and he was an all-conference third baseman for us. We see that we can move him around where we need him the most. We lost Joe Komel but, we have guys like Curtis Thorson, who’s going to be great in the outfield and guys like Nate Hopkins who can pitch and play the outfield, and Nick Stahl who we’re going to be leaning on a lot this year,” Aversa said.”
The pitching staff taking the Maple Park mound will be on the young side, as well, but with room to grow.
“We feel confident in what we’re doing with these guys and what we’ve seen so far,” Aversa said.
Hopkins, Anthony Holubecki, Thorson and Stahl look to make up the four-man starting rotation, with a by-committee angle to the late-inning outs until someone emerges.
Juniors Nick Stratman and Colton Fellows could see time on the bump for the Knights during 2014, as well.
“We’re going to feel our way through spring break and see who’s our short-inning relief guy,” Aversa said.
Joining Carlson around the infield are personnel like Joe Panico, Austin Wheatley, Jake Bilotta and Jake Bachio. Sophomore Joe Laudont and senior Sean Dunphy don the “tools of ignorance” behind home plate.
Outfielders include Thorson, Lucas Wolski, Connor Fedderly, Hopkins and Holubecki.
For diamonds in the rough, the head coach feels two of the capable arms could surprise.
“We had two guys we weren’t sure about in the summer in Stratman and Fellows. Both have kind of really opened our eyes off the mound. We’re pleasantly surprised,” Aversa said.
Other Knights looking to make a contribution include seniors River Dunne, Nick Henne and Kevin Kassinger, and juniors Jordan Bock, Kevin Fuchs, Dan Hammermeister and Steve Limbrunner.
The Northern Illinois Big XII landscape will provide a just testing ground for the Kaneland ranks in 2014.
“Sycamore’s always great with a great coach, and Yorkville—they’re the two top teams and everyone’s going to be chasing them,” Aversa said.
The schedule features a spring break trip the first week of April while the area thaws, to the Cincinnati area and schools like Moeller High School—defending state champs and alma mater of Ken Griffey, Jr.
“We’re going to be tested and see what good baseball looks like, and hopefully by the time we get back from our spring break trip, we’ll be going into conference playing at such a high level that teams are going to be ‘holy cow’,” Aversa said.
The season begins on Tuesday, March 25, at Plainfield North, with conference battles beginning on Monday, April 14, against visiting Rochelle. Monday, May 19, has the usual Fifth Third Bank Ballpark matchup in Geneva against Batavia.