By Marty Farmer
The high school state baseball playoffs begin this week with several area teams boasting both the talent and resume to make a deep postseason run. Here's a preview of how Riverside-Brookfield, Nazareth Academy, Lyons Township and Fenwick measure up against the competition in Class 4A.
With multiple players assuming larger roles this spring, RBHS turned in a terrific regular-season campaign. The Bulldogs finished 20-8 overall with an 8-4 record and second-place showing in the Metro Suburban Conference.
"We are playing better as the season has progressed," RBHS assistant coach Mark Ruge said. "We've been able to insert younger guys in high pressure situations which will help us going forward into next season. In the playoffs, we need to play loose and slow the game down. It's about trusting the work we have put in and attacking each at bat and inning one at a time."
Junior Nate Swanson (6-1) and senior Nate Roberto (6-2) anchor the pitching staff. Freshman shortstop Owen Murphy and junior catcher Mike Schicker, who are cousins, lead RBHS offensively.
Murphy is hitting .413 with three home runs and 22 RBIs, while Schicker has produced comparable numbers at .385 with three homers and 29 RBIs. Juniors Marco Ruiz (.362, 16 RBIs) and Joe Kawiecki (.329, 22 RBIs) have been top contributors as well.
"We had a very strong regular season," said Schicker, who has committed to play college baseball at Purdue. "We saw some good pitching and played against some good competition to help us get ready for the playoffs. Our team expectation is to compete and win a regional title."
The Bulldogs are the No. 8 seed in the stacked St. Rita Sectional. The host Mustangs, Nazareth, Brother Rice, LTHS and Mount Carmel represent the top five seeds, respectively, and are all state title contenders.
RBHS faces regional host Morton on Thursday, May 23 (4:30 p.m.). If the Bulldogs win, they will likely face St. Rita in the regional championship game on Saturday, May 25 (11 a.m.).
"We have to take it one game at a time, stay focused and bring a lot of energy to the field," Schicker said. "We have a very strong team that's prepared for and exciited about the playoffs."
Led by 6-foot-4 pitcher/Louisville recruit Michael Prosecky and senior catcher Andrew McKenna, Nazareth has plenty of pitching and offense to enjoy a lengthy stay in the 4A draw. Teddy Olander, Zach Carmignani, Brevin Reifsteck, Michael Milano and Cole Vercelli are other notable players.
The regional host Roadrunners face the winner of Curie vs. Kennedy in a semifinal Wednesday, May 22 at 4 p.m. With a victory, Nazareth advances to the championship game against either St. Ignatius or Reavis on Saturday, May 25 at 11 a.m. in LaGrange Park.
Lyons Township has some of the most enviable pitching depth in the state. The Lions feature Illinois-bound ace Grant Leader, Michael Walsh, Eric Steensma, Andrew Garland. Brendan Lawry and James Severson. Additionally, Thomas Remijas and Danny Machaj power a solid offense.
The Lions landed in a tricky regional at Mount Carmel. While they should win their opener against the winner of Argo/Proviso East, the host Caravan likely await LTHS in the final on Saturday, May 25 at 11 a.m.
Although Fenwick is the ninth seed in the Loyola Academy Sectional, the Friars have the good fortune of hosting a regional. Led by Lucas Kolovitz, Will Hendricks and Cal Malchow, Fenwick opens against Notre Dame on Thursday, May 23 at the Priory in River Forest at 4:30 p.m.
The regional final, which will likely pit Glenbrook South against the winner of Fenwick/Notre Dame is Saturday, May 25 at noon.