Herald-Whig

Illinois prep baseball preview capsules

Unity's Luke Jansen throws to first base during a game against Illini West last year. | H-W File Photo/Phil Carlson
Posted: Mar. 9, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Mar. 10, 2019 10:10 am

Brown County

Coach: Jared Hoots (129-136 at Brown County, 11th season)

2018 record: 11-15 (second in Western Illinois Valley Conference)

Returning starters: SS Nathan Hendricker, Jr.; 3B/P Bain Woodward, Sr.; CF Gavin Miller, Jr.; P/C Lanny Sussenbach, Jr.

Other returners: None listed.

New faces: P/INF Cody Haynes, Soph.; INF Camden Schmitz, Sr.; UT Wyatt Fink, Jr.; 1B Chance Fuqau, Soph.; UT Collin Boylen, Soph.

Key losses: P/SS Joe Hendricker; P/1B Tanner Sussenbach; 2B Darian Drake; OF Skyler Moorman.

Outlook: The Hornets lost their top two pitchers from a season ago, which will make it difficult to compete for a regional championship. However, Hoots believes there's still enough pieces to make a run.

Hendricker returns after hitting .507 with a homer and 13 RBIs as a sophomore, while Woodward hit .273 with nine RBIs. Woodward, along with Sussenbach and newcomer Haynes, will be relied upon on the bump.

Schmitz, who transferred from Triopia, will give Brown County depth in the infield.

"I think we will have some bumps because we are young," Hoots said. "But they will compete every game and be ready when regionals come around."

Central

Coach: Jordan Tenhouse (90-65 at Central, seventh season)

2018 record: 13-12 (4-4 West Central Conference)

Returning starters: INF Eric Jones, Sr.; UT Hayden Neisen, Sr.; 1B/DH Kollen Hughes, Sr.; UT Noah Strohkirch, Sr.; INF Collin Sally, Jr.; UT Conner Bross, Sr.; OF Peyton Clampitt, Soph.

Other returners: C Bryce Long, Jr.

New faces: P/UT Davin Meier, Jr.; P/INF Blake Eyler, Soph.; OF Tristan Brocksieck, Sr.; INF Lane Ippensen, Sr.

Key losses: P/INF Cruz Meier; OF Reed Jibben; OF Gage Shore.

Outlook: A few injuries resulted in a lackluster season that ended in a regional championship loss, not up to Central's standards. With everyone healthy and a strong senior class, Tenhouse believes the Panthers will be back on track.

It's easy to see why.

Meier will be back on the mound after not throwing last year, and three senior arms in Jones, Hughes and Neisen also return. That trio combined for 10 victories and more than 150 strikeouts.

Ippensen is also back after missing last season with a knee injury. Of Central's five returning seniors, all of them hit at least .233. Hughes hit .391 with three homers and 20 RBIs.

"We are excited to see how things play out this season and what guys will step up for us," Tenhouse said. "Our goal is to find some confidence, play with aggressive energy and be ready to make a postseason run."

Illini West

Coach: Zak Huston (104-82 at Illini West, seventh season)

2018 record: 16-12 (4-4 Prairieland Conference)

Returning starters: P/OF Carter Boyer, Sr.; OF/P Michael Lord, Sr.; 1B/P Kellen Dysert, Sr.; SS/2B Nick Vorhies, Sr.; C/IF/P Lincoln Gooding, Soph.

Other returners: None listed.

New faces: C/OF Weston Pollock, Sr.; IF Carter Wildrick, Jr.; IF/C Chase Classen, Jr.; IF Dalton Endres, Jr.; P Jackson Murphy; Soph.

Key losses: P/C/SS Jackson Porter; P/C Kennedy Gooding; P/3B Jacob Dietrich; DH Hunter Wilde.

Outlook: Porter and Gooding guided the Chargers to a Class 2A regional championship last season. It'll come down to others if Illini West is going to repeat this spring as both Porter and Gooding are playing at Carl Sandburg.

The Chargers have pieces to be successful, but players will be thrust into new roles. Boyer hit .250 a year ago with 22 RBIs, while the younger Gooding hit .311 with a homer and 17 RBIs.

Both will be the top arms for Huston's squad. Gooding threw 19 innings, going 2-0 with a 5.10 ERA. Boyer was 1-3 in 16 innings.

"Our goal is to be at our peak when the postseason starts," Huston said. "We may take some lumps along the way, but we will keep our eyes on being prepared for the postseason."

Liberty

Coach: Brigham John (17-10 at Liberty, second season)

2018 record: 17-10 (4-1 in WCC)

Returning starters: OF/P Ryan Hedrick, Soph.; OF/P/C Joe Owens, Jr.; OF/P Kutter Thompson, Jr.; C/P Karson Kasparie, Soph.

Other returners: P Ryan Baumgartner, Sr.; P Haden Spilker, Soph.

New faces: OF/P Cole Hanlin, Sr.; INF/P Logan Robbins, Fr.; INF/OF/P Craig Doane, Jr.; INF Drew Brigman, Jr.

Key losses: INF/P Grady Kurfman; INF/C Dalton Lentz; INF Trey Peters; INF/P Avery Spilker.

Outlook: The Eagles made a surprising run to a sectional title game in John's first season in the dugout. The Eagles hope want to replicate that success this season, though key losses will make that difficult.

Liberty lost its top two pitchers in Kurfman and Avery Spilker, who combined for an 8-3 record and threw 74 innings. However, the Eagles do return several arms that saw action last season in Baumgartner, Thompson and Hedrick, but none threw more than 152/3 innings.

Offensively, Liberty lost its top four hitters, but Hedrick and Thompson both hit .316 and combined to drive in 46 runs. Owens also returns after hitting .284 last spring.

"Players will have to know how to play a bunch of different positions so we can utilize all of our pitchers," John said. "We have a shot to contend for another regional title if we can continue to grow into baseball players."

Payson Seymour

Coach: Brian Rea (27-27 at Payson, third season)

2018 record: 9-9 (4-4 in WCC, 3-1 in PCC)

Returning starters: SS/3B/P Lucas Loos, Jr.; SS/P Brady Hieland, Jr.; CF Tanner Cannady, Sr.; LF Cole Schwartz, Jr.; 2B Layne Gilmore, Sr.; 1B Garrett Brink, Sr.

Other returners: None listed.

New faces: None listed.

Key losses: 3B/1B/P Lance Loos; RF/P Travis Johnson; C Parker Shelton.

Outlook: The Indians return a healthy amount of starters, but have a few holes because of graduations. The biggest being Shelton, who caught every game for the past two seasons for Payson.

Beyond that, Payson returns two key pitchers in Hieland and Loos, who grew stronger as the season progressed. Hieland went 3-2 with a 3.96 ERA in 30 innings, while Loos racked up 37 strikeouts in just 20 innings on the bump.

Loos is also Payson's top returning hitter after a .426 campaign with five homers and 20 RBIs.

"Hopefully we will grow and mature quickly and fill in the holes left by some of our graduates from last year," Rea said. "Pitching needs to be solid, and we look for Lucas Loos and Brady Hieland to continue some of the good things they did last year as sophomores."

Pittsfield

Coach: John Schultz (30th season at Pittsfield)

2018 record: 10-16

Returning starters: IF/OF Collin Meleski, Sr.; P/1B/OF Isaac Shaw, Sr.; C/IF Griffin VanWinkle, Jr.; P/1B Will Guthrie, Jr.; IF/P Brock Ladner, Jr.; C/P/OF Hayden Gresham, Jr.; IF/OF/P Cade Tomhave, Soph.

Other returners: IF/OF/P Noah Gay, Jr.; IF/P Peyton Apps, Soph.

New faces: IF/OF Jack Palmer, Sr.; Bryan Piper, Fr.; Nate Scranton, Fr.; Caden Casto, Fr.

Key losses: 3B Jacob McIntire; P/C Jacob Gresham; P/OF Jon Moore; OF Derek Neupauer; OF Brett Paben.

Outlook: The Saukees do lose four key starters, but have a solid core back that saw everyday action for the Saukees.

Meleski leads that group of returners after hitting .364, while Guthrie and Tomhave both hit better than .333 last spring.

Shaw, Guthrie and Gresham will be the leaders for Pittsfield on the bump, while Meleski, Tomhave and VanWinkle will provide the Saukees depth.

"If we take care of being where we are supposed to be, when we are supposed to be there, we can be successful," Schultz said.

Pleasant Hill

Coach: Ron Edwards (1-17 at Pleasant Hill, second season)

2018 record: 1-17 (1-13 Western Illinois Valley Conference)

Returning starters: 1B Gavin Anderson, Jr.; 3B Walter Bowen, Sr.

Other returners: P Tristan Coy, Jr.

New faces: C Aiden Johnson, Fr.; C Kenton Freesmeyer, Fr.

Key losses: C Justin Shireman; 1B Grant Peebles; 2B Ethan Wheelan; CF Jesse Crowder.

Outlook: The Wolves struggled in Edwards' first season at the helm, and heavy graduations will force younger players into top roles.

Anderson and Bowen are the only returning starters at the hot corners. Everyone else will be seeing their playing time expanded this season.

Edwards acknowledges there will be growing pains.

"Our kids are working hard and we are striving toward building a solid program," Edwards said. "There will be many new faces in the lineup."

Southeastern

Coach: Cyle Rigg (11-48 at Southeastern, fourth season)

2018 record: 7-13

Returning starters: CF Jaise Heaton, Sr.; P/3B/SS Shad Flesner, Jr.; P/1B/3B Bishop Roberts, Jr.; P/SS Brayden Winters, Soph.; P/3B/OF Brock Winters; C/P Colby Ellis, Soph.

Other returners: None listed.

New faces: 3B/DH Landen Roberts, Soph.; P/3B/1B Kyle O'Neal, Fr.; P/OF/2B Ramsey Fry, Fr.; P/OF Brice McDonald, Fr.; P/OF Ashton Runyon, Fr.

Key losses: Ben Janssen; Chase Twidwell; Joe Janssen; Kelton Rice.

Outlook: How successful the Suns are will start with how productive Flesner can be on the mound and in the heart of the batting order this year.

Flesner went 2-3 with a 1.80 ERA in 422/3 innings last season, and he hit .305 with two homers and 17 RBIs for Southeastern.

Heaton hit .313 last year with 13 RBIs and 17 stolen bases, while Roberts also drove in 12 runs.

The Suns did lose four to graduation, but Rigg is confident the team can respond.

"I think we have a shot at making it to a regional championship," Rigg said. "But it will be depend on pitching depth."

Unity

Coach: Tyler McAllister (first season at Unity)

2018 record: 13-10 (6-2 in WCC)

Returning starters: INF Logan Voth, Sr.; P/INF Luke Jansen, Sr.; P/OF Austin Cornwell, Jr.; P/OF Cole Shaffer, Sr.; C Daine Meyer, Sr.; OF Gage Moller, Sr.; 3B/P Payton Hightower

Other returners: None listed.

New faces: INF/P Bryson Muegge, Fr.; OF Jacob Fleer, Jr.; INF/P T.J. Miller, Jr.

Key losses: P/INF Todd Kelly.

Outlook: The Mustangs return virtually everyone from a team that lost a regional championship game last season. That should have them motivated to come back and win one this year.

Unity returns its top pitcher in Shaffer, and its top two hitters in Voth and Jansen. Shaffer went 3-1 last season with a 3.42 ERA in 45 innings.

Offensively, Voth hit .545 with two homers and 36 RBIs, while Jansen hit .373 with three homers and 24 RBIs.

"We have a veteran team and return every significant piece from last year," McAllister said. "The pitching staff will be the key to our success this year."

Western-Griggsville

Coach: Curtis Stout (first season at Western-Griggsville)

2018 record: 8-8

Returning starters: IF Jadon Bryant, Sr.; P/DH Tanner Campbell, Sr.; C Elijah Berg, Jr.; P/UT Erick Hively, Soph.; 3B/C Joel Bryant, Soph.; IF/P Rilee West, Soph.

Other returners: None listed.

New faces: P/UT Tucker Kunzeman, Jr.; OF/P Tate Kunzeman, Fr.; P/IF Trevor Tipp, Sr.; C/OF Ethan Dixon, Fr.; UT Aaron Miller, Fr.

Key losses: Matt Shover; Easton Billings.

Outlook: This will be the first season of the co-op between Western and Griggsville-Perry, who will play together for at least the next two seasons.

That gives the Wildcats depth on the mound and in the lineup. The Kunzeman brothers bring arms from Griggsville, along with Campbell who threw last year for Western.

The Wildcats returned six starters from a year ago, including Jadon Bryant.

"It is definitely a rebuild year due to being in the first year of a new co-op," Stout said. "There are a lot of areas that we will have to become better at as the season moves forward."

West Hancock

Coach: Luke Hackett (6-14 at West Hancock, second season)

2018 record: 6-14 (0-8 West Central Conference)

Returning starters: 3B Korey Van Fleet, Sr.; 2B Logan Rockhold, Sr.; 2B Caleb Sinele, Sr.; 1B Vance Cameron, Jr.; OF Lane Curl, Sr.; C/SS Drew Martens, Jr.

Other returners: None listed.

New faces: SS Peyton Dooley, Sr.; OF Lane Fenton, Soph.; SS Jaden Andrews, Soph.

Key losses: C Kolton Johnson; CF Chase Hartweg; 1B Quinn Dupree; P Riley Langford.

Outlook: The Titans return plenty of experience everywhere in the field but the pitcher's mound, as only Martens and Cameron return with innings recorded last season. Even then, the duo combined for just 72/3 frames last spring.

Beyond that, West Hancock returns six starters in Hackett's second season. Martens and Sinele are the team's leading hitters after both hit better than .400, however they only combined for seven RBIs. Rockhold is the leading returner in runs driven in with 10.

But with a near full lineup returning, Hackett is confident the team will be able to score and win games.

"We will have a deep and interchangeable lineup with very capable hitters," Hackett said. "We will be more aggressive on the bases and use a pretty quick team to put pressure on the other team."