Duneland Athletic Conference
Players to watch: Matt Kubacki, Jr., P/1B (3-0, 3 SV); Corey Rusboldt, Sr., SS/P; Andrew Ralph, Sr., CF; Mike Griffin, Sr., 2B; Tyler Sufana, Sr., LF.
Outlook: The Trojans graduated their top two pitchers, but have plenty of experience around the diamond. Kubacki should emerge as their main arm with Tyler Quillin, Rusboldt, Brandon Roeske, out with a broken foot last year, Zach Burriss and Matt Jacobucci also getting the ball. "I'm sure the kids have real high expectations," coach Jack Campbell said. "We've got some key kids back. I think we've got a good group of parts to be pretty good."
Players to watch: Noah Burkholder, Sr., P (34 1/3 IP, 6-0, 48 K, 1.43 ERA, 1.63 WHIP), Glenn Hecht, Sr., OF (.333, 25 R, 13 RBIs) Tyler Downing, Sr., OF (.200, 15 R)
Outlook: The Bulldogs have a lot of holes to fill with only four returners back. They've seen competition for those spots, but inexperience could show that this will likely be a different team in May than what is out there now. "We're going to play each lineup by ear for the next few weeks," coach Steve Strayer said. "The kids have worked hard, but when it gets to a game situation, we don't know what's going to happen."
Players to watch: Alec Olund, Sr., 3B/CF (.396, 10 SB, 8 2B, 38 R, 41 RBIs); Brenden Seren, Sr., RHP/SS (.414, 9 2B, 23 R, 13 SB); Blake Bosold, Sr., LHP (2-2, 3.53 ERA, 22 K); Chuck Alexa, Sr., LHP (3-1, 1 S, 1.58 ERA, 23 K); Alex Mantel, Sr., C (.324, 13 RBIs, 10 R).
Outlook: Olund has his spot at Purdue already committed and Seren is looking forward to a healthy season where he is slated to be the ace of the staff. Lake Central has 11 seniors on the roster after graduating eight from the regional finalist team. The next biggest group of players are freshmen, who will be learning quickly.
Players to watch: Evan Miller, Sr., P/OF (49 IP, 60 SO, 3.57 ERA, 10 RBI); Drew Jones, Sr., P/INF (.286); Jake Teets, Jr., P-OF (24/1 IP, 3.74 ERA); Jake Watterson, So., P (17 IP, 3.29 ERA); Travis Upp, So., C/1B (.364, 11 RBI).
Outlook: The Slicers aim to get back on track after slipping to 10-20 last year. The pitching staff, with over 110 innings back, is a good starting point. Coach Scott Upp said a new strength training program benefited the players in many areas. "It is pretty simple…" Upp said. "If we can consistently carry out the fundamentals, it will get us back to having a respectable season."
Players to watch: Brett Deline, Sr., RHP (4-5, 3.52 ERA, 31 K, 14 BB, 55 2/3 IP); Terrence Grayson, Jr., 3B (.250, 15 H, 11 R, 5 RBIs; .974 FP); Jose Gonzalez, Sr., SS (.306, 11 R, 12 RBIs, 8 SB).
Outlook: With four returning from last year's team, the Pirates look young, but only on paper. With maturity in the infield and at the top of the rotation, the goals of improvement have only escalated. Grayson is stronger and could quickly make up for any young players who are coming along slowly offensively.
Players to watch: Logan Kaletha, Sr., IF/OF/P; Scott Thomas, Jr., P-IF; Anthony Lemon, Sr., CF/P; Ryan Washington, Jr., 3B/P; Chase Clarkson, Jr., 2B.
Outlook: The Wolves didn't meet expectations last season and took it to heart in the off-season. A year older and wiser, City returns most of an athletic lineup that can play multiple positions. The addition of a pitching coach has the deeper staff 'light years ahead' of last season, according to coach David Ortiz. "We were always relying on one or two guys and hoping the others would do their job," Ortiz said. "Now the weight won't solely be on one person."
Players to watch: Kevin Jones, Sr., P/DH (.383, 12 SB, 22 RBI, 32 runs; 6-3, 58 IP, 87 SO, 1.08 ERA); Chris Klenk, Sr., OF (.373, 8 2B, 4 3B, 14 RBI, 16 SB, 36 runs); Peter Psomadelis, Sr., OF (.307, 5 2B, 9 SB, 18 RBI); Alec Coates, Sr., 1B ; Sam Schest, Sr., 2B (.272).
Outlook: The Indians return most of the key pieces from their sectional champion team. "The kids are at the point where they expect to compete and win against anybody," coach Tim Pirowski said. "It's a matter of staying motivated." Jacob Dickson, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, could move into the No. 2 spot behind Jones. The lineup question is finding a middle-order run producer to fill Eric Mesarch's spot. "We've actually got more arms than we've ever had in terms of quality guys who can throw strikes," Pirowski said. "We've got a load of speed and we're deep in the outfield."
Players to watch: Sammy Miller, Jr., 3B/P; Tyler Elrich, Jr., P; Jared Foulke, Sr., IF; Andrew Page, Sr., Utility; Matt Mayes, So., OF.
Outlook: The Vikings will be young, but coach Dave Coyle likes the make-up of the group. "At this point, they're a joy to work with," Coyle said. "They've got the hunger, the drive. They want to earn their spots." Valpo will build its pitching around Elrich, last year's No. 2, with Miller assuming a bigger role. Jeremy Post returns as a reliever and sophomore Max Roberts shows promise.
Great Lakes Athletic Conference
Players to watch: Dylan Slowiak, Sr., SS/RHP; Rene Zamora, Jr., 3B/RHP/C; Zach Bucsko, So., C/RHP; Danny Clus, Sr., LF; Matt Koch, Sr., RHP.
Outlook: With a new coach in Justin Ochall, the Pioneers have high hopes of making defensive strides this season. Ochall said that the average between the varsity and JV programs was seven errors per game last year. With the bulk of the team back, the experience should help make the change.
Players to watch: Marcos Arredondo, Sr., RHP; Jaylen Smith, Fr., 3B/RHP; Larenz Howard, Jr., CF.
Outlook: Arredondo had 55 strikeouts in 33 innings last year, but this season has more run support. Despite nine freshmen, the Wildcats add baseball experience and lots of knowledge.
Players to watch: Josh Lumberas, Jr., Util., leading hitter last year, over 400; Brandon Brogdon, Sr., RHP; Anthony Gibson, Fr., Util/RHP; John Wilson, So., RHP/INF; Jorge Perez, Fr., LHP/1B.
Outlook: With a stable of athletes, the Gladiators are stacked but have youngsters that lack experience. A decent pitching staff will give Gavit depth to keep a winning streak going this season. Hitting will come as the number of outside practices tick up.
Players to watch: Alex Tomaszewski, Jr., RHP; Sam Miller, Jr., 1B; Devontae Robinson, Jr., 2B; Cody Earl, Jr., SS/; Tom Milenz, Jr., RHP; Patrick McCormick, Jr., RHP/3B.
Outlook: The junior class is strong not only in numbers, but also thanks to hours in the weight room in the offseason. The 6-6 Tomaszewski has added muscle to his size and No. 1 pitcher Milenz threw to good competition as a sophomore. Seniors Tim Skulba and Orlando Reyes will fight for the No. 1 catcher spot, and likely platoon the position.
Greater South Shore Conference
Players to watch: Larry Crisler, Sr., CF; Jaylen Yarbrough, Sr., LF; Nick Thrasher, Jr., RF/RHP; Anthony Fundukian, Jr., C.
Outlook: With a lot of experience returning from last year's regional team, the Warriors are in high spirits. New coach Andrew Ramker said the goal this season is simple: "I've told them from day one that our goal is to get to Victory Field and leave with a blue ring. That's driven all of our decisions, all of our practices, who is pitching, everything is driven to get to that point."
Players to watch: TJ Thomas, Jr., CF/RHP; Kurt Davia, Sr., INF/RHP; Montel Winbush, Jr., INF/RHP; AJ Willis, Jr., INF/RHP.
Outlook: The upswing at Calumet is starting to pay off. The juniors who were freshmen when coach Brian Arthur joined the program total 11 and join seven seniors, most with experience. With added talent to the pitching staff, the Warriors will be able to see the benefits of depth.
Players to watch: Jesse Wilkening, Jr., C (.510, 51 H, 11 2B, 2 HR); Riley Welch, Jr., LHP (5-1, 28 K, 26 IP, 4.31 ERA); Daniel Balich, Jr., 2B/RHP (.402; 5-1, 3.03 ERA)
Outlook: The Wildcats are a year older, a year wiser and in a new conference. The success of their last season in the PCC will prepare them for the GSSC, where Wilkening — who is receiving interest from Big Ten schools — could be a monster.
Players to watch: Cody Lemley, Jr., SS/RHP (.437); Jose Silva, Jr., 3B/RHP; Robert Fazekas, Sr., C; Tyler Ramirez, Sr., 2B; Matt Forsythe, Sr., 1B/DH
Outlook: The Eagles lost one player from last year's team, and have added 12 freshmen to the program. As pitching and defense has improved over the last couple seasons, the next step is to increase the pitching presence. Having Lemley, holder of the school record for batting average, in the lineup for two more years will certainly help.
Players to watch: William Connelly, Sr., CF; Isaiah Papineau, Sr., SS-P; Dan Miller, Sr., 1B; Billy Gotsch, Sr., C; Nathan Shinn, Jr., IF/P.
Outlook: The Blazers won five games last season and coach Joe Shinn sees 10 wins as a reasonable expectation. Senior Tom Anderson returns from a broken eye socket and transfers Steve Stachyra (Chesterton) and Brandon Rootes (Michigan City) will also help. Miller is a team leader and Carter Moldenhauer heads a promising freshman class. "Simple awareness will help a lot," Shinn said. "What to do with the ball, where to go with it, how many outs there are. That's hard to teach."
Players to watch: Brandon Propes, Sr., LHP/1B (.410, 30 RBIs; 3-3, 3.12 ERA, 33 IP, 24 K); Blake Ramos, Jr., OF (.324, 21 RBIs, 3 3B, 17 SB); Austin Sartori, Sr., RHP/INF (4-2, 41 K, 3.85 ERA, 36 IP); Charlie Betts, So., RHP; (2-0, 1.31 ERA, 16 IP, 20 K, 2 BB).
Outlook: New coach Kyle Neal has a stacked cupboard of returning players, including seven that started or spent most of their time on the varsity last season. Sartori will likely be the ace of the staff, Neal said, with high expectations from second-year pitcher Betts.
Players to watch: Chris Lauderback, Sr., RHP/SS (.390, 15 RBIs, 13 SB; 4-5, 54 2/3 IP, 3.45 ERA); Ryan Slavey, Jr., RHP/SS (1-7, 47 2/3 IP, 4.29 ERA, 50 K); Geno Flores, Sr., 2B/OF (.340, 21 H, 18 SB).
Outlook: The Ingots didn't have much opportunity to spend outside in the preseason, and without a fieldhouse used their practice time to shore up both pitching and defense. That time well spent is expected to translate into a better overall record and coach Mark Zimmerlee said he hopes his team can be in the top echelon in the conference.
Players to watch: Logan Hubbard, Sr., 2B; Matt Pappas, Sr., 3B/P; Jake LaFever, So., SS/P; Austin Whitaker, Jr., 1B-P; Sam Bolla, Jr., CF/P.
Outlook: New coach Kyle Becich, a Munster product, inherits a veteran infield and deep pitching staff. "Everybody should be able to pull their own weight," Becich said. "We have a nice core of the batting order. One to five should be very solid and the six through nine guys should be able to move people around. Our plan is to be aggressive on the base paths at all time. I feel like we can be competitive with any team we play."
Players to watch: Matt Dvorscak, Sr., RHP/INF (2-3, 2.76 ERA, 41 K, 10 BB, 33 IP; .394, 24 R, 21 RBIs); AJ Veloz, Sr., INF/RHP (.278, 27 R, 40 RBIs); Manny McKibbin, Jr., OF/P (.283, 11 R, 9 RBIs).
Outlook: The backbone of the Whiting offense for the last 10 years has been a stable shortstop. This year, the position will be platooned unless a youngster proves his worth. Dvorscak is rated high as a pitcher nationally. The Oilers are showing some size in the freshmen ranks, which will be beneficial in May.
Northwest Crossroads Conference
Players to watch: Matt DeSomer, Sr., OF/RHP (8-0, 1.74 ERA, 61 K, 52 1/3 IP; .348, 9 2B, 26 RBIs); Nick Podkul, Jr., SS (.417, .514 OBP); Jimmy Skiff, Sr., RHP (5-0, 1.11 ERA); Jamie Johnson, Jr., LF (.300, 23 SB).
Outlook: With 14 returning lettermen from the 2013 team, the Niners are looking at a ton of experience and competition for every position. This is an athletic team, with several multisport athletes coming from the state champ football team, basketball team and state championship indoor track squads.
Players to watch: Kyle Buikema, Sr., C (29 R, 19 RBIs, .505 OBP), Matt Colomes, Sr., LF (.351, .480 OBP), Robbie Hernandez, Jr., CF (.338), Kody Hoese, So., SS (.289), Josh Terzarial, Jr., 1B/LHP (.276)
Outlook: The Panthers lost a small group of seniors from their second-straight regional finalist team. But those seniors made up the bulk of the pitching corps and a solid group of leaders. "The good thing is that with all these young guys, there's still a lot of experience around them in the infield," coach Brian Jennings said. "The bad thing is that these are still young guys who need experience." Hoese is already being pursued by SEC schools.
Players to watch: Clay Keltner, Jr., RHP (2.65 ERA, 3-3, 36 K, 19 BB); Alec Smith, Sr., LF (.282, 19 RBIs).
Outlook: The Trojans return just one from last year's pitching staff but have seen positive leadership from a core crew of juniors. In John Bogner's first year as the head coach, Highland players have quickly adapted to the direction of their former assistant. After a combined 300 strikeouts throughout the JV and varsity programs last season, working through the count has been key to the preseason batting practice.
Players to watch: Brandon Murray, Sr., RHP/1B (4-3, 2.51 ERA, 111 K, 37 BB, 58 2/3 IP; .396, 31 RBIs, 23 R, 19 2B, 2 3B); Tyrus Joseforsky, Sr., SS (.400, 36 R, 17 2B, 26 RBIs); Nick Bokun, Sr., C (.344, 30 R, 6 HR, 12 SB); Drey Devereaux, Sr., CF (.453, 24 R, 13 2B, 27 RBIs, 15 SB).
Outlook: Along with Brandon Barnes, Sharpe Marshall and Travis Waddell, the Brickies boast the talents of seven seniors, most of whom have been on the varsity since their sophomore year. A contender in the NCC since 2012, the hurdle for this team is a sectional title after coming so close for two years.
Players to watch: Tony Keilman, Jr., C/DH (.343, 3 2B, HR, 8 RBIs); Jack Miles, Sr., RHP (5-8, 3.95 ERA, 55 K, 7 BB, 56 2/3 IP; Andrew Jackson, Sr., LHP (1-6, 4.92 ERA, 45 K, 22 BB, 48 2/3 IP) Timmy Schoonveld, Sr., CF (.254, 11 RBIs, 7 SB).
Outlook: Kankakee Valley is under the tutelage of new coach Ryan Armstrong, who isn't new to the program as a former assistant. The transition was made easy with the return of nine key players from last season. Though their 2013 stats aren't shiny, their experience will allow them to create more runs and turn more losses into wins.
Players to watch: Jordan Hansen, Sr., 1B (.227, 4 RBIs); Logan Schiesle, Sr., OF (.310, 5 2B, 12 RBIs, 17 R); Miles Siedentopf, Jr., RHP/3B (.373, 10 2B, 24 RBIs; 2-2, 1 S, 2.10 ERA, 32 1/3 IP, 39 K); Josh Arnold, Jr., LHP/OF (2.50 ERA, 44 IP, 24 K, 4-2).
Outlook: The Red Devils bring back most of the 2013 roster, expecting better results. A competition for catcher — between Phil Whitman and John Metzger — will fill a big role lost to graduation. The defense has improved as the second half of last season showed the upswing that the program is on.
Players to watch: Joe Jumonville, Sr., OF (.354, 35 H, 32R, 22 RBIs), Alex Del Rio, Sr., LF (.283, 26 H, 27 R, 26 RBIs, 3 HR); Alex Skulka, Sr., 2B/SS; David Hladek, Sr., 1B (.313); Alex Coccia, Sr., C (.325); Jonathan Azar, Sr., RHP (6-2, 2.50 ERA, 1 S, 52 K, 19 BB); Sam Bell, Sr., RHP (3-1, 2.56 ERA, 2 SV, 31 K, 12 BB)
Outlook: Conner Mannis is another young NCC player with looks from the SEC. The right-handed sophomore pitched a few innings as a freshman and will be a boost to an already loaded staff. Jumonville is headed to Northern Illinois and Del Rio is going to Missouri, giving the Mustangs an outfield to be envious of. Some spots are still open, though, in the infield.
Players to watch: Paco Jordan, Sr., CF/RHP (.657, 3 3B, 3 HR, 30 RBIs, 41 SB); Kevin Suttles, Sr., 3B/OF; Byron Jones, Sr., 2B/RHP; Anthony Cherry, Sr., 1B/C; TeQuary Scott, Jr., SS/P.
Outlook: The senior class has been playing together so long, they remember winning a district championship a 13 years old. With their schedule improved, the Cougars are unafraid to take on all comers, with a 19-win record as a goal that isn't too high to reach. Jordan has D-I offers and is weighing them before the mid-April signing period.
Porter County Conference
Players to watch: Charlie Kidd, So., P/3B; Jake Morris, Jr., P/2B; Jake Gholston, Sr., CF; Darrell Maxey, Jr., C; Buddy Boatright, So., SS.
Outlook: Between departures and arrivals, the Wolves have plenty of new faces, including Boatright, a move-in from Massachusetts, and Robert Blauner, a transfer from Valpo. Pitching is a large question mark, but coach Rollie Thill is high on the prospects of two big southpaws, 6-foot-4 Dan Gholston and 6-5 Tristan Hesser. "It's one of the biggest changes in faces I've had in quite some time," Thill said. "Not to say we can't do good things this year — I think we'll be a solid team — but I think we're a year away. It's more of a chemistry thing right now. We're doing a lot of coaching."
Players to watch: Mike Mikulich, Sr., SS; Jason Reick, Sr., LF; Bryce Hanaway, Jr., CF; Zac Hernandez Jr., P-1B; Jarrett Majcher, Jr., 3B.
Outlook: The Hawks return seven starters and a loaded freshman class has raised the competitive bar. "We haven't had that," coach John Steinhilber said. "We've got freshmen who are hungry and kids who have started two years who have taken it to another level because they don't want to lose their jobs." Hernandez could move into the lead pitching role with move-in Michael Hoisington adding to what could be a deep, albeit young staff. Steinhilber has made a greater commitment to improving the defense after some slippage there last year. "I think we'll be in the (PCC) conversation," he said.
Players to watch: Jake Bekelya, Sr., SS/P (31 SB); Jake Moore, Sr., C/LF/P; Max Everaert, Sr., SS/P; Will Ward, Jr., C.
Outlook: Everaert returns April 17 from a year's suspension, providing the Mustangs a huge lift. "He's looking good. He's really raring to go," coach Matt Weston said. "It's a real boost." Everaert steps back in as the ace of an experienced pitching staff, solidifies the infield defense at short and bolsters a strong top of the lineup. Moore was a second-team all-stater and Bekelya set the school record in steals with 31. "We've got a good foundation," Weston said.
Players to watch: Bryce Guse, Sr., INF/P; Tyler Harmon, Sr., INF; Jared Spoljaric, So., OF/P/C; Wylie Brown, Jr., INF/P/C.
Outlook: The Tigers took some heavy lumps with a young lineup, but most of the group returns for new coach Marty Rasala. "Although we are young we have a lot of experience," Rasala said. "We have a lot of young talent, and I believe we can really make a difference in the conference standings and into the postseason."
Players to watch: Jake Koselke, So., C/P (2-0, 3.06; .376, 4 HR, 26 RBI); Will Swisher, Sr., 1B (.355, 16 RBI, 23 runs); Jacob Hernandez, So., SS; Nick Conner, So., OF/P; Connor Martin So., C/OF (.267).
Outlook: With about 25 innings pitched returning, the two-time defending sectional champion Cherokees have to reconstruct their staff. Koselke has the best stuff, but his main position is catcher. "We'll have to find a balance to keep his legs fresh," coach Jason Dorshorst said. Koselke and Swisher comprise the middle of an order that also lost some punch. "It's pretty open competition early on," Dorshorst said. "We've got a bunch of good players who were roadblocked before. Now it's their turn to show their stuff. They're don't have a lot of varsity time, but they're going to get a lot of varsity time."
Players to watch: JT Snyder, Sr., 1B/3B (.483, 20 RBI); Austen Hanna, Sr., SS/CF (.306, 22 R); Logan Lionberger, Jr., P/CF (.348; 5-2, 3.21 ERA, 43 IP); Noah Eaton, So., SS/OF (.432); Cooper Hussman, So., 1B/P.
Outlook: Lionberger returns as the mound ace and Eaton is emerging as the No. 2 pitcher. Senior newcomer Kyle Sturdy will bolster a young, but talented roster. "We have some young guys, but they're young guys who are talented," coach Ryan Kruszka said. "They're not in spots because we have nobody. They're in spots because they can get the job done. I hate the term rebuilding year. Our mentality is we play every game to win."
Players to watch: Dan Connelly, Sr., C; Corey Holderread, Sr., SS; Jake Goodan, Sr., IF; Chase Peiffer, Jr., P; Troy Kwiatkowski, Jr., P.
Outlook: The Senators (22-3) graduated 95 percent of their pitching. "Honestly, we had guys who could have pitched a lot more, but our top two guys had been our best two since they were sophomores and the others didn't have a chance to develop," coach Randy Roberts said. Washington lacks star power, which has resulted in more internal competition than usual. "I think we have a solid 12 people," Roberts said. "They're all pretty evenly bunched up."
Players to watch: Chander Bell, Sr., P/OF; Chase Kortis, Sr., OF; Nate Handley, Sr., INF; Austin Swistek, Jr., P/INF; Alex Quinn, So., 3B/P.
Outlook: New coach Darrell Swistek likes the make-up of the team in its return to the PCC. "I think we'll be real competitive," Swistek said. Bell anchors an experienced pitching rotation, with Handley and Kortis anchoring the infield and outfield, respectively.
Players to watch: Jeff Terpstra, Fr., SS; Jimmy Holmes, Fr., SS/1B; Jacob Patton, Jr., LHP.
Outlook: Covenant Christian's new-look defense will start with a pair of young players. Terpstra and Holmes have travel ball experience and are heads above other youngsters that have come into the program, coach Roger Boer said. The Knights didn't collect a win last season, so there are high hopes for success.
Players to watch: Reyes Maldonado, Sr., CF/P (.333, 7 RBIs, 20 SB; .335 ERA, 31 K); D'Angelo Gonzalez, Sr., 1B/P (.308, 16 RBIs; 2.77 ERA, 13 K); Jesus Saenz, Sr., C/3B (.243, 8 RBIs).
Outlook: Carlos Florez as a sophomore has started all but one varsity game in his young career. The growing team comes with experience that hopes to improve on a 7-15 record. Small ball will be the name of the game for the Cardinals, who have the speed and athleticism to create offense.
Players to watch: Cody Glass, Sr., P/OF (.340; 4-2, 3.38 ERA); Caden Bell, So., SS/P (.333; 0-2, 3.58 ERA); Vince Romero, Sr., 2B (.333).
Outlook: The Hawks graduated none from last year's team that went 10-9. Glass is picking up looks from D-I and D-II schools; he could have his choice. Strong pitching and defense will be a key to improving the win total with a tough schedule.
— compiled by Times sports reporters Jim Peters & Hillary Smith