By Marty Farmer
Although it's just four games, the early returns on the Riverside-Brookfield High School baseball team are encouraging. The Bulldogs are 4-0 and have outscored their opponents 35-9 including shutouts against Francis Parker and St. Joseph.
Allowing nine runs in four games is indicative of the team's top attribute, which is pitching.
"Our pitching should be our strength going into this year," RBHS assistant coach Mark Ruge said. "We return our top two pitchers [Ryan Cermak, Nate Roberto] from last year. We have other pitchers that we have confidence in as well.
"Mike Schicker is one of the top catchers in the area. He has a strong arm, shuts down an opponent's running threat and great all-around defensive skills."
Cermak, a three-year varsity starter and Illinois State commit, is the ace of the staff. He has excellent velocity (low 90s miles per hour) and command of his pitches. Freshman Owen Murphy, the Bulldogs' starting quarterback last fall, is another talented pitcher poised to join Cermak as a formidable duo on the mound. Senior Nate Roberto provides depth in the rotation.
"I believe the strength of our team this year is our deep pitching staff," Cermak said. "If our pitchers have good control, then we will have great success. I believe we are the team to beat in conference and that we have a great chance of going far in the playoffs."
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Schicker is a three-year varsity starter and Purdue recruit.
"My personal goal is just to do anything I can with my glove and bat to help the team win," Schicker said. "I want to see us get better every day as a team and compete in the postseason. We have a lot of talented young guys like Owen Murphy and Jeremy Fox, too, so the future is exciting."
While Cermak and Schicker bat in the middle of the order, junior third baseman/outfielder Marco Ruiz is a good leadoff hitter who hits for average and power.
"We are also excited about our underclassmen who will make an immediate impact on our squad," Ruge said. "We continue to stress a team-first attitude within our group."
Other notable players include outfielders Griffin Jordan and Joe Kawiecki.
Competition is fierce, however, for playing time as several starting positions are based on game-to-game production.
"The most important aspect of the game we lack is experienced players," Schicker said. "We have a lot of new players who are just getting in at the varsity level. We need them to gain confidence and experience. Once they settle in, I believe we will be a great team."
RBHS, which finished 25-7 last season, should contend for the Metro Suburban Conference championship along with several teams.
"Our conference will be very strong," Ruge said. "Ridgewood always puts a solid team on the field. St. Francis is going to be a huge challenge for us as they have been a dominant team in the area for a while. We always struggle with Wheaton Academy and Aurora Central Catholic is extremely dangerous team that has two excellent young pitchers. We should be in the mix along with Elmwood Park and Fenton."