Photo: Catcher Austin Conard prepares to block Brian Evers at homeplate during last weekâ€™s baseball practice. Photo by Mike Slodki
by Mike Slodki
MAPLE PARKâ€”Kaneland High School baseball seems to raise the bar every year, and this season hopes to be no different.
Finishing a school record 23-13 a year ago, the Knights nonetheless finished with a 6-5 regional championship heartbreaker at the hands of Burlington Central.
â€œThat regional game is kind of motivating us and pushing us this year,â€ fourth-year coach Brian Aversa said. â€œWeâ€™re going to try and top 23 wins this year.â€
Gone from the ranks are players like Mike Pritchard, Joe Gura, Jeff Smith and Jay Levita.
â€œGuys like that are hard to replace, they were something special,â€ Aversa said.
With arms like Smith gone, itâ€™s up to personnel like senior Steve Colombe to get more mound time.
Pritchard yields way to backstop Aaron Hayman, a senior.
â€œAaron learned a lot from Mike and is ready for the rigors of the backstop in general,â€ Aversa said.
The outfield is projected to have junior Corey Landers in leftfield, and Joe Camaliere returns for his junior year in centerfield, with rightfield an open derby.
Third base will depend on the opposing pitcher, with juniors Drew French and Bobby Thorson hoping for a look, along with fellow junior infielder Sam Komel.
Kyle Davidson and Jake Tickle highlight the shortstop ranks, while Jake Fiedler mans second base.
Dave Dudzinski, Thorson and Komel will guard first base.
â€˜We have some pretty nice competitions going around thatâ€™ll come down to the last couple practices,â€ Aversa said.
Hayman and Tyler Callaghan, a junior, will see time at the catcherâ€™s spot.
In the pitching rotation, senior Ty Hamer ( a University of Illinois signee), Thorson and Colombe hurl the ball.
â€œWeâ€™ll ride those guys, and they can give us a lot of innings. Thereâ€™s not an ace, itâ€™s our top three,â€ Aversa said. â€œTy and those guys bring a presence on the mound, and itâ€™s going to be hard getting a hit off them, and it helps the defense.â€
Komel and junior Austin Conard also look to be employed in pressure situations.
Other Knights shoring up the varsity ranks are P/1B John Kintz, OF/C Josh Kuefler, P/OF Trevor Wolf, INF Brian Dixon and OF Brian Evers.
The regular season was scheduled to begin on Wednesday at Plainfield North with Western Sun Conference play beginning on Tuesday, April 5, vs. Geneva. The regular season ends at DeKalb on Thursday, May 20.