Not extreme makeover, but a makeover for RB baseball

? Team returns just five players from 22-13 season.

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By CHRIS PUMMER

The Riverside-Brookfield baseball team won't be rebuilding, but some renovations for the 2005 spring season are still in order.

Bulldogs coach Dan Monahan went with the flow last season in his first year as head coach. His senior-laden squad compiled a 22-13 record and fell in the first round at regionals.

As Monahan begins his second season at the helm with only five returning players, he'll have a chance to mold a team more in his own image.

"I think because we had a heavy senior group last year I rode the team out because they were experienced and knew what to do," Monahan said. "I can think of a lot of things I would change now, but this year I can put everything together the way I want. We're laying the groundwork for a strong program."

RB, which also swept through the Suburban Prairie (East) Conference last season, will rely heavily on a pair of its returning players. Senior shortstop Nick Ely, a three-year varsity starter, will be back, and so will senior right fielder Adam Rysz.

Both were all-conference selections last year and both will see time on the mound for the Bulldogs. Both will also bat in the middle of the lineup.

"From those two guys in particular, we're expecting big things," Monahan said. "They both hit in between .350 and .370 last year and can pitch, which is important because that's a spot where we're a little thin. They're both real experienced."

Joe Kirke, another of the returning five, will go into the season as RB's top pitcher, and Ken Razionale, a utility outfielder last season, begins the year with the starting centerfield job.

Mike Marotta would have been the Bulldogs' top pitcher, but probably won't work on the mound this year because of a shoulder injury suffered while playing quarterback for the football team last fall.

Still a skilled hitter, Monahan will make room in the lineup for the senior's bat by playing Marotta at first base or designated hitter.

John Saucedo, a junior transfer from Morton, will play third base. Russ Kesman will carry the load for RB behind the plate, and Matt Sandrik will play second base.

Every other position will be up for grabs, especially in the outfield where Monahan would like to get his team outside to take a look at everyone's speed and throwing ability. The coach won't be a afraid to mix, match and make changes as necessary.

"We're not rebuilding, but we're definitely a little more balanced in terms of our youth," Monahan said.

"If we win 20 games again, that would be a good achievement. We would like to repeat as conference champs, and we'd like to get past the first round of the playoffs or even win a regional title."

The SPC East will be down to five teams this year, but RB should still be in the mix for another conference title, along with Ridgewood and Fenton. And despite last year's first-round setback, the Bulldogs believe their first regional title since 1964 is within reach.

"It usually comes down to pitching," Monahan said. "You have to have that third good starter, and hopefully we'll end up with that kind of depth."

Weather permitting, the Bulldogs will open the season Saturday with a doubleheader against Mt. Carmel.

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