Any baseball team values depth throughout its roster. Riverside-Brookfield High School even adopted the strength-in-numbers approach at the coaching position during the summer baseball season.
While head coach Dallas Till was busy coaching the RBHS girls basketball team and getting married, assistant Mark Ruge stepped in as the Bulldogs’ interim skipper.
“If it wasn’t for Mark Ruge, I wouldn’t have been able to coach the girls basketball team,” Till said. “Mark and I are on the same page, and the players know what we expect from them. He’s an invaluable part of our baseball program.”
With Till and Ruge, the Bulldogs are solid in the dugout. Finding similar security throughout the lineup – especially after losing so many key players to graduation – understandably remains a work in progress.
“We’re just trying to get our best nine [players] on the field,” Till said. “Summer baseball is a time to assess lower-level guys that are coming up in our program. It’s a great way to create competition for spots and get a leg up heading into the fall and spring seasons.”
The Bulldogs, who finished 25-13 and won a regional championship last spring, featured many new faces this summer. The bulk of an outstanding pitching staff, notably David Tortorici, J.T. Evans and Chris James, has moved on. Other starting position players like Vito DeRango, Charlie Morrissey, Tyler Radek, T.J. Bongiorno and Sean Brennan also graduated.
“It’s going to be hard to replace those guys,” Till said about the Class of 2011. “They were skilled players who had a great attitude about the game of baseball. Considering it was my first-year as the head coach [at RBHS], I was fortunate to have such a good group of kids.”
An intriguing mix of veterans and newcomers remains for RBHS. Catcher/first baseman Andy Suzuki is back as one of the Bulldogs’ team leaders and top power hitters.
“Andy is very coachable,” Till said. “He wants to win and will do whatever is best for the team.”
Suzuki came through in the clutch during last spring’s 4-3 sectional final loss to rival Nazareth. Trailing the Roadrunners 4-2 in the seventh inning, Suzuki crushed a double to deep left-center that scored a run and just missed tying the score.
“Unfortunately, Andy’s hit didn’t go a little further,” said Till after the game. “I thought [it] had a shot to get out of the park.”
Junior C.J. Duffek enjoyed a productive summer season in the outfield. Most likely, Duffek will move to shortstop next spring to replace the departed DeRango. Dylan Beketic, who has varsity experience, likely will play second base to help solidify the middle infield. Adam Kuta, the Bulldogs’ closer last year, possesses a strong arm and mentality to finish tight games. The hard-throwing righty tore his medial collateral ligament this summer, but Kuta should be fully recovered by December.
Several other talented newcomers including Alex Spirios, Will Kincanon and Jack Scott saw plenty of playing time this summer.
“We had 30 guys come out for [summer] baseball,” Till said. “I’m happy with this group. They are hungry and very coachable. It’s a cohesive group that understands the importance of competition. I’m hoping we can build off last year’s success.”
According to Till, Glenbard South is the Metro Suburban Conference preseason favorite heading into next spring. However, Illiana Christian and RBHS should be viable contenders.
“A lot of our players will work on strength and conditioning over the winter,” Till said. “Some guys take personal lessons or are on travel teams to prepare for next season.”
The Bulldogs also might participate in the well-regarded annual fall league organized by Fenwick.