Senior center fielder Luke Yachnin and his Riverside-Brookfield High School baseball teammates had some huge losses from their Class 4A regional championship lineup.
They also have six returning starters or key contributors with three 2022 All-Metro Suburban Conference players — Yachnin and juniors Wyatt Murphy and Cooper Marrs – under new head coach Mark Ori.
The Bulldogs (2-0) beat Argo 10-0 on March 27 and edged Hinsdale South 2-1 in the March 22 opener.
“The strengths of this team are we have a lot of returning players that can be leaders, and I trust everyone at the plate, one to nine, at any point,” said Yachnin, who will play at Illinois Institute of Technology. “With the new coaching staff and program, there is much more focus on improvement of a player’s skills. Some team goals I have for us are to win 30 games and a regional, but I think we have the potential to go even farther than that.”
The Bulldogs’ 30-6 effort in 2022 marked their first 30-victory season since 2013. They were MSC champions with a 9-1 mark and captured their first regional title since 2014 before losing to Mt. Carmel 11-6 in the IHSA Class 4A Reavis Sectional semifinals.
“[Our returnees] will be leaned on heavily offensively and defensively. The Bulldogs will be replacing a senior-dominant rotation and will rely on a heavy junior-led pitching staff,” Ori said.
Yachnin had a .330 batting average last season with 56 runs scored and 20 runs batted in. The leadoff hitter could threaten the single-season school record of 47 stolen bases.
Marrs (.368, 30 RBIs, 35 runs) primarily played third base. Also an all-stater for the 2A state championship boys cross country team and an all-conference swimmer, Marrs will show more baseball versatility as an outfielder and pitcher after going 2-0 with a 1.35 earned-run average in 2022.
Murphy (6-0, 1.85 ERA, 41 strikeouts) will be the anchor of a younger pitching staff that graduated brother Owen Murphy, a 2022 first-round Major League Baseball draft pick by the Atlanta Braves, as well as starter Jack Niekrasz and all-conference catcher Brian Twomey and outfielder Sean McDermott.
Senior second baseman/shortstop Rex Dockendorf (.209, 17 RBIs, 24 runs), senior first baseman/third baseman/outfielder Ryan Novak (.275, 30 RBIs, 30 runs) and senior Jake Tyler (.298, 16 RBIs, 25 runs) also return. Tyler, who plans to play at Morton College, moves to catcher after playing outfield. Novak will play football at Augustana.
Seniors Jaime Izaguirre (second base, shortstop and pitcher), Jacob Cruz (outfield), Charlie Wolfer (outfield), Liam Schlesser (infield) and Rafael Meza (infield) also are varsity returnees.
Key newcomers include juniors Kevin Cronin (infield/pitcher), Jon Gruber (pitcher), Ben Wilkowski (pitcher/first base), Wes Deason (first base) and sophomore outfielders Jaden Despe and Zach Ryzewski. Juniors Robert Drake, Julian Fernandez, Sam Didio and Tohma Tucker also will bolster the bullpen.
“Our junior pitching staff needs to step up,” Ori said. “We need two to three guys to play major roles, fill a starting spot in the rotation and consistency out of the bullpen. We are not going to hit a lot of home runs, but we have some great bats.”
Against Hinsdale South, Wyatt Murphy struck out four in 5.2 innings and led a strong defensive effort with six big-time plays. Despe delivered a two-run double and Marrs was 2 for 2.
Deason and Marrs each had three hits and multiple RBIs against Argo and Yachnin and Dockendorf had two hits apiece. Winning pitcher Drake fanned eight in five innings.
“We have a young pitching staff this year with less varsity innings,” Yachnin said. “If they step up and perform like I know they can, we will be in every game we play.”