Riverside-Brookfield High School baseball assistant coach Mark Ruge offers a relatively vague response when asked about the Bulldogs’ record this summer.
“I think we were around .500,” said Ruge, who runs the baseball program during the summer while head coach Dallas Till coaches RBHS girls basketball. “I want to say we finished 13-12, but it’s really not about results at all for us. Of course, we want to win some games and play good baseball, but the purpose of summer baseball is to evaluate our players for the next [regular] season.”
The Bulldogs’ summer record is actually pretty impressive, considering they took on solid teams like OPRF, Nazareth, Fenwick and St. Joseph, which often play its starters extensively.
This spring, RBHS recorded a historic season with a single-season record for wins (32), a Metro Suburban Conference championship and a regional title. The Bulldogs’ magical ride ended with a 6-3 loss to sectional host Nazareth on May 29.
Although RBHS graduated 11 players (notably C.J. Duffek, Kevin Garvey, Thomas Leary and Alex Nenadovic), Till and Ruge welcome back a few key holdovers from the Bulldogs’ 32-5-1 squad complemented by a major infusion of promising, new talent.
Ace pitcher Will Kincanon has spent his summer playing travel baseball with Top Tier 17U, while catcher Justin Agne has focused on workouts with the RBHS football team.
“It’s been a lot of fun this summer,” Kincanon said about his Top Tier 17U experience. “We’re traveling all around the country playing against the best competition. I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball really well, and I’m getting better.”
An improved Kincanon is a scary thought for opponents next season, considering the all-state player in Class 3A went 11-1 with a 0.76 ERA and batted .418 with three homers and 37 RBIs.
Agne, who emerged last season as Kincanon’s personal catcher, is excellent defensively and has a lot of pop in his bat.
Everybody else has essentially been in camp this summer
“We had 31 guys on our roster this summer,” Ruge said. “We do things a bit differently than some other [baseball] programs during the summer. A lot of times, I played multiple guys at one position during a game, and we’ll have several pitchers throw a few innings. Guys are battling for spots on the field, so giving everybody playing time provides Dallas and I invaluable data moving forward.”
Along with Kincanon and Agne, who hit .316 last season, junior shortstop Kevin Fitzgerald appears poised for a breakout campaign. Fitzgerald proved durable last season, playing in 31 games as a sophomore and hitting .280 with 15 RBIs while also fielding his middle infield position well.
“Kevin batted in the lower end of our order [last season] and had a nice season,” Ruge said, “but we’re expecting even more from him next year. Whether he’s on the field or in the dugout, he’s 110 percent baseball all the time. Kevin is a very competitive kid and has a good baseball IQ.”
The rest of the projected lineup features an array of new faces. Junior third baseman/pitcher Nick Fucinato (.385 batting average), third baseman/pitcher Matt Gara (.375) and utility player Jake Surprenant (.353) all played well offensively this summer.
“The new guys are going to have to step up and play the game with no fear,” Kincanon said. “Our team will have a lot of room for growth. Hopefully, we can become a good ballclub and make a run next season. I can’t wait for the regular season.”
The Bulldogs also used summer competition to clarify their pitching rotation behind Kincanon.
“An area of focus for us obviously is to find someone who can fill that No. 2 pitching slot behind Will,” Ruge said. “I think we found that guy in Nico Ranieri.”
At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Ranieri cuts an imposing presence on the mound with a live arm.
“Nico can throw his fastball in the 80-83 miles per hour range and has good off-speed stuff,” Ruge said. “He threw a couple of really good games against Fenwick this summer.”
Along with Kincanon and Ranieri, junior Jack Domeier, Sam Smith and sophomore left-hander Jack Hayes look like other pieces in the Bulldogs’ developing pitching puzzle.
“Next season, we want to attack ballgames,” Ruge said. “We want to take control of the game early by scoring a few runs, [then] let our pitching and defense take over.”
RBHS also implements plenty of speed into their offensive attack. At one point last season, the aggressive Bulldogs reeled of 72 steals on 76 attempts.
Adolfo Linares, Xander Catrambone and Fucinato are potential top of the order players blessed with a lot of speed. Brian Kulaga is an excellent all-around athlete and returning varsity player Max Duve, among others, should also see playing time.
“We’re very excited about next season.” Ruge said. “The recent success of our program reinforces the idea that if you play the game the right way, good things happen. For us, it’s about taking pride in every at-bat and concentrating in the field as well.”