by Mike Slodki
The past 12 months have seen curveballs thrown at the players on the Kaneland High School baseball team.
Thrown by life, not by pitchers.
First, Joe Spitzzeri dealt with X-Linked lymphoproliferative disease, but found his way back to health and a spot on the team. Then in December the team dealt with the tragic death of teammate Jeff Malewig.
The events of the past year give way to a squad that is familiar with crises, but also conduct baseball matters with maturity.
Along the way, they hope to build on a good 2008, according to third-year coach Brian Aversa.
The 19-12 Knights of a year ago had a regional comeback win over host Dixon before seeing a rally fall short against Sycamore in the title game.
“The hunger is still there. You see a determination from these guys and a deep work ethic, and it’s not something they talk about, but you know it’s there,” Aversa said.
A switch from previous years is that the Knights will look to pitching to get them through games more than relying on hitting.
Coming back to the squad are senior leaders Mike Pritchard and Joe Gura, both all-Western Sun Conference members a year ago.
Pritchard looks to be behind the plate, following in the footsteps of celebrated backstops Brian Claesson and Kevin McMahon. Gura looks to fill the hole at shortstop.
Pritchard hit .377 as a junior, while Gura hit at a .400 clip, going to Aversa’s hope of good balance of senior leadership along with ability from the juniors.
On the mound for the Knights: a list that looks to include seniors Troy Pritchard, Jeff Smith, Gura and Spitzzeri. Patrolling the outfield are projected to be senior Jay Levita and sophomore Joe Camaliere. Candidates for third base include Curtis Lubic.
Other seniors looking to make a contribution are 3B/P John Rotella, OF/P Ryan Stout. Juniors are OF/P Ty Hamer, OF/P Steve Colombe, 1B/P Dave Dudzinski, IF Blake Kendrick, C Aaron Hayman, 2B/SS Jake Fiedler and OF Aaron Lamp.
Kaneland’s third-place conference mark a year ago is something that was a good benchmark and will look to carry the Knights again if the conference is anything like it was a year ago.
“Up and down, the conference will be tough again,” Aversa said. “There is no one you can overlook; Batavia, Sycamore, Geneva have a lot of guys returning that we look to do well against.”
Aversa thinks whatever lineup he dishes out will have the necessary components to do battle in the WSC and beyond.
“We’re looking for a good balance of pitching and depth on defense, and they’re ready.”
4/2/09 Note on omission
In the Elburn Heraldâ€™s baseball preview article on March 26, SS/P/2B Jake Tickle was omitted. The sports department regrets the error.