While the Riverside-Brookfield High School baseball team ended last season with a disappointing 4-2 loss Montini in the sectional semifinals, the reality is the Bulldogs weren’t expected to reach that point of the Class 3A playoffs. In the regional final, RBHS stunned host Clemente 9-1 powered by Will Kincanon’s pitching gem, Brian Kulaga’s solo home run, and a timely pickoff call by coach Dallas Till.
“No disrespect to Montini, but Clemente was the best team we faced in the playoffs,” Till said. “I think we were like a 500-to-1 underdog against Clemente and we beat them, so perhaps we were living a bit on borrowed time.
“In terms of results and accomplishments, I think we overachieved last year. We had a good group of hard working kids and whenever you have a pitcher like Will Kincanon, you feel like you have a shot to win any game.”
Kincanon, now playing at Triton, graduated RBHS as probably the best pitcher in program history with sparkling career totals: 27 wins, ERA under 1.20, 320 strikeouts, and five school records. He also hit .486 with three home runs, 29 runs batted in and stole 16 bases.
Justin Agne, Sam Smith, Adam Martinson and Gabe Lopez, who are playing college baseball as well, will be missed.
“We have a great deal of inexperience on the team this season. We’re looking for new faces to step up,” Till said. “We will need to play solid defense and generate scoring through bunting.”
Berek takes over Kincanon’s role as the ace of the pitching staff. The left-hander went 7-2 with a 2.51 earned-run average and was an all-conference selection last year. Known for pinpoint control, Berek’s repertoire include a fastball, curveball and changeup. He’s also a corner outfielder who plays excellent defense and hit .370 last season.
“Connor is more than capable of leading our team in numerous capacities,” Till said. “He is an emotional leader and he does an outstanding job of setting a great example on and off the field for his teammates. I couldn’t ask for a better person to lead this club.”
Nico Ranieri (2-3 last season) is a hard-throwing right-hander who fills out the top end of the rotation.
Senior shortstop Kevin Fitzgerald is a three-year starter who anchors the team defensively up the middle. He hit .319 last season. First baseman/catcher Jake Surprenant is a versatile player who hit .258 with 21 RBIs and 11 doubles in 2014.
Al’lon Carter, a transfer from Proviso West, is a welcomed addition to the roster. Carter is a right-handed pitcher and utility player. Infielder/catcher Kyle Fitzgerald (Kevin’s younger brother) is another newcomer to watch.
“Al’lon is a talented and multi-faceted player with tremendous strength and speed,” Till said. “Kyle is a baseball fanatic. He can play any position and should contribute immediately.”
Despite their relative inexperience, the Bulldogs have the talent to be competitive once again in the expanded conference. In addition to a handful of key varsity returners, RBHS will benefit from an influx of new players from last year’s 25-3 sophomore squad.
“We expect to improve each day,” Till said. “We don’t have a ton of depth so our ability to get solid outings from our end of the rotation guys will be key to our success. Short and middle relief will be at a premium. We will try to be aggressive at the plate and on the bases. Every guy in our lineup will be called on to bunt when necessary and our guys are aware of that.
“I’m not certain who is the projected favorite is in the new-look Metro Suburban, but Glenbard South is always tough. Similar to last season, we’re looking forward to the new matchups against the teams that entered our conference.”