Disabato: Who will be Southland’s baseball preseason No. 1 in 2014?
Mere moments after the final out of the Class 4A baseball state championship had been recorded, I was making my way down to interview players at Silver Cross Field when an excited spectator said, “Who’s going to be the preseason No. 1 team next spring.”
The 2013 season had yet to be fully digested and I was being quizzed about 2014.
Not surprising, I’ve been asked the same question by other baseball-crazed fans at least a half-dozen times since.
My response? I don’t know ... yet.
Unlike a year ago at this time, Lincoln-Way North already had secured the preseason No. 1 for 2013. Not only was the Phoenix returning a bevy of starters from a squad that won 30 games in 2012, it also welcomed the Catholic League Blue’s Most Outstanding Player, Kevin Smith, into the fold by way of a transfer from St. Laurence.
The rich got richer. It was a fairly obvious choice — at least in my eyes.
And while the Phoenix failed to advance beyond the sectional semifinals this season, falling to upstart Lincoln-Way East 5-0 in the Providence Sectional, winning 33 games is quite an accomplishment.
Mount Carmel, which was the preseason No. 2, won the 4A state title and finished the season No. 1.
That goes to show you boys and girls, it’s not where you start the season — though the preseason No. 1 honor and exposure that goes along with it are nice — it’s where you finish.
As I see it, there are five, maybe six, teams in consideration for the preseason No. 1 in 2014: Mount Carmel, St. Laurence, St. Rita, Sandburg, Lemont and Providence.
Allow me to explain.
Mount Carmel. The Caravan loses quite a bit of talent to graduation. Gone are outfielder Jason Gasser and third baseman Beau Filkins, the team’s top two hitters, shortstop Jerry Houston, a four-year starter, and ace pitcher Jeremy Kravetz, the latter off to Kansas. Those aren’t holes but craters that need to be filled. The Caravan, however, figures to have a bevy of pitching back, led by lefties Marko Boricich and Rich Fordon; as well as outfielder Dave Dobrinich and studs in juniors-to-be Josh Stowers, Ako Thomas and Malik Carpenter. Additionally, there’s a bunch of talent at the junior and sophomore class ready to make their mark.
St. Laurence. The Vikings figure to welcome back Nate Tholl, Brad Wood, Mike Kornacker and Roger Wilson — the team’s infield from third to first — along with catcher T.J. Marik. That alone makes the Vikings a No. 1 contender. Outfielders Mike Miller and Kevin White should also be back for the Vikings. Kornacker and Wood figure to lead a staff that will include Wilson and Alex Hitney. This could, and should, be the season the Vikings remove the sectional semifinal monkey off their back and make a run to state.
St. Rita. No question, the Mustangs have holes to fill, primarily in the outfield and first base. However, having lefty Mike Costanzo, who won 10 games and topped 100 strikeouts, anchoring a young but potentially dominant staff is huge. A name to remember is sophomore-to-be Justin Vivar, a left-handed hurler in the mold of alum Joey Filomeno. The infield will be in the capable hands of Notre Dame recruit Jake Shepski, Tennessee-bound Tyler Halas and Marty Bechina. Also watch catcher Nate Soria. Add it up and the Mustangs should be knocking on the door to another 30-win season and possible preseason No. 1.
Sandburg. The Eagles might boast the most experienced and potentially dominant three-man starting rotation in the Southland in Michigan recruit Bryan Pall, Sean Leland and Mattias Dietz. Throw in Chris Stearns and Alec Martinez and Sandburg has the makings of a ridiculously skilled staff. Still, the name of the game is outscoring the opponent, and crossing home plate with consistency could be an issue for the Eagles. Martinez and outfielder Dan Santiago saw consistent playing time in 2013. The pitching staff, though, makes Sandburg a contender for No. 1.
Lemont. When a team boasts not one but two LSU recruits, it has to be taken seriously. Southpaw Jake Latz and catcher Mike Papierski verbally committed to LSU prior to this season. Papierski earned All-Area honors in 2013. Latz struck out nearly two batters an inning yet won just three games. The Indians also have the big bats of Mike Wisz and Jake Terrazas at their disposal, which should lead to offensive fireworks. Is it enough to earn the No. 1 spot? We’ll see.
Providence. The 1-2 pitching punch of Notre Dame recruit Jake Godfrey and Dylan Rosa will be scary-good and capable of shutting down opponents. The growing pains suffered on offense this spring should not be an issue. A great summer could catapult the Celtics to the top spot.
Time will tell.