Senior Justin Agne came on towards the end of last season eventually supplanting Alex Spirios as the RBHS starting catcher. He'll be called on to hit for power and average offensively this spring while also playing excellent defense. (David Pierini/Staff Photographer)

The Riverside-Brookfield High School baseball team graduated eight key players off last year’s 32-5 squad which also claimed Metro Suburban Conference and regional championships. The Bulldogs’ magical run in 2013 finally came to an end via a 6-3 loss to host Nazareth in a sectional semifinal of the Class 3A playoffs.

Considering the loss of the aforementioned stalwart senior class featuring talented players like CJ Duffek, Kevin Garvey and Alex Nenadovic, the Bulldogs will need several varsity newcomers to step up to continue the program’s recent run of excellence under head coach Dallas Till and his trusted assistant coach Mark Ruge. So far, so good this spring for the new-look Bulldogs, who are off to a 3-1 start including a doubleheader sweep of Walther Christian over the weekend.

“We lost a strong core of player’s from a school record-setting squad,” Till said. “Improvement will be needed in every aspect of the game in order for us to be successful. We lack experience and we’ll need to rely on opportunistic hitting to score runs.

“Our goals remain the same annually, which is to win 20 games or more, win a conference title and win a regional title. These goals will be lofty given our lack of experience and depth.”

While RBHS undeniably has several holes to fill this spring, the top spot of the pitching rotation is not one of them. 6-foot-3-inch right-hander Will Kincanon, a unanimous All-State selection and the reigning Metro Suburban Conference MVP, returns to anchor the RBHS staff and also fill the role of dangerous designated hitter. In 2013, Kincanon went 11-1 with a 1.06 ERA and 132 strikeouts. He also hit .418 with three home runs, 37 RBIs, 16 doubles along with a .518 on base percentage and a .700 slugging percentage. Unquestionably skilled, the Middle Tennessee State-bound Kincanon is focused on helping his teammates understand the intangibles and finer nuances of baseball.

“My role on the team is just to be the team leader,” Kincanon said. “I’ll help out the younger guys especially our pitchers if they have any questions or need some advice.”

Till is thrilled to have Kincanon back for one more year as the Bulldogs’ roster is in a state of flux with so many fresh faces.

“Barring injury, Kincanon will break numerous [RBHS] records including career strikeouts, wins and ERA,” Till said. “He’s a phenomenal pitcher, a true ace with a tremendous work ethic and positive attitude about the game of baseball. He’s coachable and loves coming to the park every day. I can’t say enough good things about Will.”

Kincanon’s battery mate, Justin Agne, also returns for the Bulldogs with the reputation of a versatile catcher with plenty of varsity experience. Agne hit .318 last season and supplanted Alex Spirios as the starting catcher towards the end of the season.

“Justin caught a number of games for us last year,” Till said. “Justin will bat cleanup for us and provides pop in the lineup. He’s also very strong defensively.”

Another player who gained valuable varsity experience last season as the team’s starting shortstop is Kevin Fitzgerald. An excellent all-around athlete and fierce competitor, Fitzgerald (hit .280 in 2013) will bat towards the top of lineup and serve as a primary table setter for middle of the order threats like Kincanon and Agne.

“The keys to our success will have to be focus and execution,” Fitzgerald said. “We can’t win without an all-around team effort. Every person has a job or contibution to make to the team. After going 32-5 [last season], the bar is set pretty high for this season. We can’t expect to do what we did last year, but we can work hard and succeed even more in the long run.”

Senior second baseman Jimmy Doherty, senior outfielder Greg Catrambone, first baseman/catcher Jake Surprenant and pitcher/first baseman Nico Ranieri are also expected to fill major roles this spring.

“Jimmy [Doherty] and Greg [Catrambone] are skilled returners that will be asked to fill voids left by CJ Duffek and Alex Nenadovic,” Till said. “We’re going to need contributions from a lot of players to win games.”

Other contributors include third baseman Matt Gara along with a bevy of promising outfielders like Adolfo Linares, Brian Kulaga, Steven Baer and Max Duve.

Backing up Kincanon in the rotation is the 6-foot-2-inch, 185-pound Ranieri, Connor Berek and Jack Hayes. Seniors Adam Martinson and Sam Smith offer a pair of left-handed options out of the bullpen. Gabe Lopez, David Sauer and Nick Fucinato add depth to the pitching corps.

Glenbard South and RBHS, who have developed an intense rivalry recently, are the top contenders to win conference with Timothy Christian and Ridgewood in close pursuit. The Bulldogs also take on several solid teams outside of league play, including Nazareth, Hinsdale South, Reavis, Morton, Gordon Tech and St. Viator.

“In terms of expectations, we really don’t know what to expect,” Kincanon said. “We’re just going to try and go out and win every game we play. We have a lot of guys of equal abilities so everybody’s going to be battling for playing time which is good.”

RBHS (3-1) swept host Walther Christian by scores of 13-1 and 5-2 in Melrose Park on Saturday. Kincanon belted two home runs, knocked in four runs and score four times to trigger the sweep. Doherty drove home four runs and Linares had three RBIs in the opener, while Duve and Catrambone finished with two stolen bases apiece in the second game. Berek and Hayes notched the Game 1 and Game 2 wins, respectively. Martinson, Gara, Lopez and Sauer all pitched well in relief.

On April 2, visiting Nazareth rocked RBHS 17-2 as the Roadrunner scored eight runs in the first inning en route to a comfortable victory.

In their season opener (Apr. 1), The Bulldogs cruised past Romeoville 9-1. Kincanon was dominant, scattering three hits and striking out nine over five innings to notch the win. He also had two hits along with Doherty (2-for-4) and Agne (two doubles) as the RBHS finished with nine hits.

“I think we can achieve pretty great things this year but it won’t be easy,” Fitzgerald said. “Every game will have to be a battle.”

Bulldogs scouting report

Last year's record: 32-5, 16-2 Metro Suburban Conference (set school record, single-season wins)

Top players: senior pitcher/DH Will Kincanon, senior catcher Justin Agne, junior shortstop Kevin Fitzgerald, senior second baseman Jimmy Doherty, senior outfielder Greg Catrambone, junior first baseman Jake Surprenant, junior pitcher Nico Ranieri, senior outfielder Max Duve

Key newcomers: junior outfielder Adolfo Linares, junior outfielder Brian Kulaga, junior pitcher Connor Berek

Quote: "Our goals remain the same annually, which is to win 20 games or more, win a conference title and win a regional title." – RBHS coach Dallas Till

Outlook: While the Bulldogs incurred heavy losses to graduation, returning ace Kincanon is a heckuva player to reload around. Agne and Fitzgerald need to step up as leaders/producers offensively and hopefully the rest of the players follow suit. Contention in the Metro Suburban Conference is typically an annual given.