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Duneland Athletic Conference

CHESTERTON

Players to watch: Austin Peterson, Jr., P (.412; 8-0); Anthony Kurek, Sr., 1B (.397); Ethan Conway, Sr., 3B (.367); Grant Brunt, Jr., P (3-1); Owen Hallas, Sr., CF (.327).

Outlook: Expectations are high for the two-time defending sectional champions. The Trojans return a mother lode of pitching with Peterson, the reigning Times player of the year and a Purdue signee, Brunt, also a Purdue recruit, Chris Torres and 6-foot-7 Brayden Cortwright along with several position starters among 11 lettermen who should make for an improved offense.

CROWN POINT

Players to watch: Brandon Haczynski, Sr., P/3B (4-3, 1.87 ERA, 44 K, .315); Luke Adams Sr., INF (.316, 5 3B); Charlie Patrick, Sr., OF (.255); Dillon Farinelli, Sr., P (2.30 ERA); Grayson Lynk, Sr., INF (.286).

Outlook: The Bulldogs graduated seven seniors from last season’s team, but they have solid returning talent in Haczynski (Purdue Northwest commit) and Adams (Bethel). There is a stable of juniors ready to step into open spots.

LAKE CENTRAL

Players to watch: Matt Litwicki, Sr., P (7-3, 1.81 ERA, 57 K, 13 BB, 50 1/3 IP); Joe Graziano, Sr., P (8-0, 0.55 ERA, 54 K, 16 BB, 51 IP); Kyle Freel (6-0, 1.02 ERA, 34 K, 5 BB, 41 IP); Ben Nisle, Sr., OF (.429, 28 R, 36 RBIs, 12 SB, 3 HR).

Outlook: The Indians have four players headed to Division I schools with another three who will continue their careers at D-II, Juco and NAIA schools. The team will miss Conner Tomasic, a Purdue commit who is expected to be out for the season with injury. The pitching staff was the key to L.C.’s success a year ago, and is expected to be even better this year. They’ll have the offense to back them up, and the experience is there, too. New coach Mike Swartzentruber also comes with experience.

LAPORTE

Players to watch: Andy Samuelson, Sr., P/OF (.393, 17 RBIs, 4-3, 4.27 ERA); Jon Williams, Sr., P/INF (.299, 19 RBIs, 3-3, 47 IP, 54 SO, 1.34 ERA); Will Malekovic, Jr., C (.241); Caleb Rettinger, Jr., INF (10 RBIs).

Outlook: The Slicers were senior-laden last year. They'll lean on the experience of Williams and Samuelson, a Valpo recruit, their top pitchers and hitters back. Coach Scott Upp always seems to figure it out.

MERRILLVILLE

Players to watch: Darius Kendall, Sr., SS; Ayron Williams, Sr., 1B/OF; Carlos Perez, Sr., OF/P; Brad Ronning, Sr., DH; Brandon Lucero, So., 3B/P.

Outlook: The younger Pirates are eager to turn the program back into a winner. What it means for second-year coach Paul Wirtz's team is a return to the fundamentals.

MICHIGAN CITY

Players to watch: Brent Barton, Sr., 3B/P; Jacob Pliskey, Sr., 1B/P; Dominic Iacovetti, Jr., OF/P; Riley Shreve, So., SS.

Outlook: The Wolves are light on whiskers with six underclassmen projected as regulars. Injuries to the three starters have left the pitching staff with plenty of questions.

PORTAGE

Players to watch: Michael Lakomek, Sr., OF; Shayne Devine, Sr., 2B; Jack Dickson, So., P.

Outlook: New coach Bob Dixon takes over an already young team that lost would-be ace Nick Elwood to Tommy John surgery. "We lost a lot of horses," Dixon said. "We've got some really good young arms. They just need to get some experience under their belts. Our motto is, try to be a tough out. We've got a great tradition that we're going to carry through on. We'll set our standards high and if we can come out above average, I'll be really happy."

VALPARAISO

Players to watch: Gunnar Pullins, Jr., SS/P; Billy Baldwin, Sr., OF; Ray Kreloff, Sr., P; Seamus Welsh, Sr., P; Derek Lasky, Sr., P/1B.

Outlook: Only four Vikings have significant varsity experience. Coach Todd Evans calls it a talented but unproven group that he looks to have ready by tournament time. There may not be an ace in the group, but Kreloff, Welsh, Lasky and Pullins should make for a capable pitching staff. Charlie Healy, Marcus Gholston, Matt Jindra, Cameron Brice and Noah Comstock will fill lineup gaps.

Great Lakes Athletic Conference

CLARK

Players to watch: Louis Kennedy, Sr., 1B/P; Antwon Walker, Jr., OF; Marc Juhasz, So., 3B/P.

Outlook: Though the Pioneers graduated only three from last season's 8-14 team, this team is still ripe with youth. The pitching staff boasts three lefties and is helped by an offense chocked full of speed.

E.C. CENTRAL

Players to watch: Alejandro Perez, Jr., 3B/1B/P; Julian Espino, Jr., CF; Edwin Rosado, Sr., OF/SS/P.

Outlook: The Cardinals graduated 10 seniors and hope to replace the talent with a large junior class. E.C. expects to cultivate pitching talent, needing to throw strikes for outs while the defense gains experience.

GAVIT

Players to watch: Dan Garrison, Sr., P/OF; Jacob Smith, So., C/P; Alan Hunter, So., P/INF; Kevin Shelton, So., P/INF.

Outlook: The Gladiators have one senior, no juniors and a full capacity of sophomores. Smith caught nearly every game as a freshman and has a handle on the pitching staff. The youth brings a vitality that is eager to stay after practice to continue to hit or take ground balls.

HAMMOND

Players to watch: Louciano Mares, Sr., 2B (.318); Reggie Wright, Jr., SS/C .286, 8 SB); Rodrigo Magee, Jr., P/3B (21 IP, 15 SO); Daniel Collins, Jr., OF/2B (.261, 6 SB).

Outlook: New coach Wayne Straka, a 2008 Hebron grad, is hoping the rain goes and stays away long enough for his team to pick up some early experience. The Wildcats are quick and can steal if they can reach base. Joshawn Douglas was lost last season to an ACL tear, but he returns after hitting .333 as a freshman.

MORTON

Players to watch: Jacob Garvey, Sr., C/3B (.361, 8 RBIs); Carlos Lopez, Jr., SS (.348, 21 RBIs, 3 3B, 6 2B); Mike Mireles, Sr., P/1B (.281); Joe Colvin, Sr., P/DH (.250, 2-0, 3.21 ERA).

Outlook: The Governors graduated five from last season and bring some experience back from the 9-15 team. Defense will keep Morton in games until the offense catches up.

Greater South Shore Conference

BISHOP NOLL

Players to watch: Zach Hoffman, Sr., P; Justin Kasprzycki, Sr., C/DH; Angelo Kawanna, Sr., INF; Ryan Bradtke, So., OF/P.

Outlook: The Warriors are hoping to beef up their offense, and can thanks to the return of Kawanna and Bradtke, last season's best hitters. The pitching corps is sharp and returns talent for second-year coach Anthony Hoolehan. Hoffman (Parkland) and Kasprzycki (Rock Valley) are college commits.

CALUMET

Players to watch: Joe Lowry, Sr., LF/LHP; Zach Nally, Sr., SS/RHP; Nick Fuson, Sr., 1B/LHP; Brandon Shirley, Fr., C.

Outlook: The Warriors are young with three seniors to lead 12 freshmen. Shirley is already garnering some college interest, a first for coach Brian Arthur in his seventh year at Calumet. Pitching is young, but deep.

HANOVER CENTRAL

Players to watch: Eric Lakomek, Sr., 3B/RHP (.307, 8 2B, 4-2, 3.27 ERA); Clayton Cameron, Jr., OF (.373, 11 SB); Bobby Nowak, Jr., SS/RHP (.379, 16 RBIs, 7 2B, 3-0, 2.50 ERA); Nick Lucido, Jr., OF (.323, 17 RBIs, 7 2B);

Outlook: The Wildcats are under the direction of first-year coach Ryan Bridges, a Griffith grad who played in the NCAA postseason with Purdue. He'll mold a returning solid crew of juniors and talent in the pitching ranks.

LAKE STATION

Players to watch: Michael Aguilar, Jr., C; Richie Santos, Jr., INF/P; Ryan Santos, Jr., INF; Dakota Killingsworth, Sr., P.

Outlook: The Eagles boast a number of strong pitchers and add the talents of youngsters Nathan O'Malley (junior) and Domonique Smith (sophomore).

MARQUETTE CATHOLIC

Players to watch: Dan Malave, Sr., P/OF; Liam Dietz, Sr., INF/P; Dylan Shinn, Jr., INF/P; Tommy Gotsch, Jr. INF/P.

Outlook: Coach Casey Martin is seeing progress in advance of his second season with the Blazers.

RIVER FOREST

Players to watch: Zach Thompson, Sr., 1B (.432, 16 R, 17 RBIs); Jordan Powers, Sr., CF (.437, 18 R, 21 RBIs); Josiah Zambrana, Jr., SS/C/RHP (.253, 21 R, 14 RBIs); Milan Wendrickx, So., C (.286, 13 R, 21 RBIs, .421 CS).

Outlook: The Ingots return seven starters from last season's 15-14 team. Situational offense — primarily base running — and defense are solid, and River Forest has high hopes for a solid return from its pitching staff. Wendrickx was second in the state throwing out runners as a freshman, and Thompson led the state in fielding percentage last year.

WHEELER

Players to watch: Jake Armentrout, Jr., P/OF (.367; 41 IP, 2.86 ERA); Mason Diaz, So. C (.373); Nick Wolf, Sr., 1B (.326); Jackson Stephens, Jr., P (48 IP, 2.62 ERA); Drew Simatovich, Sr., P (30 IP, 1.42 ERA).

Outlook: The Bearcats' youth movement was accelerated last season when Jake LaFever was injured, but they still managed to go 18-10 and reach their third consecutive sectional final.

WHITING

Players to watch: Cody Bucsko, Sr., SS/P; Nino Barbosa, So., INF; Jake Jakubowski, Jr., P/OF; Matt Solis, Sr., Util.; Gio Marin, Sr., C; Kyle Kompier, Sr., INF/P; Chris Page, Sr., OF; Ryan Veloz, Sr., P/INF.

Outlook: The Oilers have a strong senior class of six returners. Almost the entire infield and all innings pitched have returned from an 11-16 season. The strong defense will help Whiting stay in the close games, and coach Adam Musielak expects that his experienced pitching will make the difference.

Northwest Crossroads Conference

ANDREAN

Players to watch: Kevin McCune, Sr., C/1B/3B/P (.307, 3 HR, 21 RBIs, 4-2, 2.07 ERA); Evan Hylek, Sr., C/LF (.355, 40 R); Brad LeVeque, Sr., 3B (.413, 5 2B); Clay Thompson, Jr., CF (.278, 8 2B, 23 RBIs); Adam Bednarek, Sr., 2B (.329, 19 RBIs); Eric Mularski, Sr., OF (.326).

Outlook: Andrean's depth has provided reasons for a lot of optimism on Broadway, as the 59ers are seeing competition at most positions. McCune is a bat necessary in the lineup, and his versatility makes him a huge asset. Six seniors will play college baseball.

GRIFFITH

Players to watch: Julian Rutherford, Jr., RHP/INF (.341; 6-6, 2.31 ERA); Joey Martoccio, Sr., OF (.319); Denny Colomes, Sr., DH/OF (.344).

Outlook: The Panthers return 140 innings of pitching from last season's 16-14 sectional championship team. With a solid defense behind the pitching staff, Griffith will hang in early while the offense catches up. Martoccio is a Wabash recruit, joining the lengthy list of Griffith players who have headed to college.

HIGHLAND

Players to watch: Damen Castillo, Jr., 3B (.320); Chris Manyek, Sr., OF (.300); Pat Manyek, Sr., OF (.300); Trevor O'Donnell, Sr., P (4-0, 2.80 ERA); Sullivan Stickan, Sr., P (2-0, 2.60 ERA).

Outlook: The pitching staff lost 10 of its 16 wins with the graduation of Andrew Kinely and Jordan Petty. Those that remain are ready to show what they've learned.

HOBART

Players to watch: Jared Zanolla, Sr., RHP/OF (5-0, 2.01 ERA; .263, 16 RBIs, 8 R); Jake Sweeney, Jr., LHP/1B; Shane Woods, Jr., OF (.483, 6 R, 7 RBIs, 6 SB); Michael Hunter, Jr., RHP/Util.

Outlook: The Brickies graduated 10 seniors from a 21-9 team, so the roster will feature many new faces for fans. Jake Sweeney played the last two seasons at Andrean and has committed to Arkansas and joins Zanolla as a lefty-righty combo that could make back-to-back conference games interesting.

KANKAKEE VALLEY

Players to watch: Jake Jones, Sr., CF (.293, 12 R, 9 2B, 8 SB); Ryker Porter, Sr., RF (.279, 9 RBIs, 5 2B).

Outlook: The Kougars return eight of their nine starters from 2016 and hope to prove that the experience gained from the 4-22 season will pay off. The pitching and hitting expertise has already started to show.

LOWELL

Players to watch: Ryan Missal, Sr., OF (.340, 8 2B, 3 HR, 26 RBIs, 21 R); John Cory, Sr., SS (.441, 12 2B, 2 HR, 14 RBIs, 28 R); Alex Dobrzeniecki, Sr., P/3B (.372, 5 2B, 16 RBIs, 12 R, 6-4, 2.82 ERA, 42 SO); Nate Buss, Sr., P (5-5, 2.57 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 27 SO).

Outlook: The Red Devils return all of their starting pitching and seven other everyday starters. Pitching and defense continues to be a strong suit in Lowell, with the bats coming around. Missal is a Western Michigan recruit.

MUNSTER

Players to watch: Mike Madura, Sr., P/1B (.304; 6-2, 2.41 ERA); Andrew Jumonville, Sr., OF (.402, 21 RBIs, 25 R); Garrett Manous, So., OH (.352, 23 R, 20 RBIs); Alex Weakland, Jr., P (3-2, 1.50 ERA); Jacob Anderson, Jr., P (2-0, 1.95 ERA).

Outlook: Munster's sectional title team boasted a 20-11 record and one of the best pitchers in the state in Connor Manous; then it graduated 11 seniors. The cupboard isn't bare, with Madura (Central Michigan) and Jumonville (Wabash).

Porter County Conference

BOONE GROVE

Players to watch: Teddy Truby, Sr., C; Ty Bothwell, Jr., P; Tanner Barron, Sr., INF.

Outlook: The Wolves have a strong battery in Bothwell (Indiana) and Truby to go with an experienced outfield, but they will have to search for their other innings.

HEBRON

Players to watch: Hunter Ryan, Sr., 2B/OF (.446, 9 HR, 34 RBIs); Chad Patrick, Sr., P/IF (7-2, 57 IP, 86 SO, 3.66 ERA); Luke Woodward, Sr., OF; Tyler Patrick, Sr., C/P; Logan Ryan, Jr., SS (.433, 13 2B, 19 RBIs).

Outlook: The regional champion Hawks return almost intact, so the bar is set high. "Now that we've been noticed, we have to live up to it," coach John Steinhilber said. "We're embracing the bull's-eye." Hunter Ryan is one of the top power hitters in the state. Travis Patrick (5-1, 1.34 ERA) and Jake Everaert are part of a deep, experienced pitching staff.

KOUTS

Players to watch: Ethan Ketchmark, Sr., P/INF; Zac Nomanson, So., P/INF.

Outlook: New coach Jim Tucker, a former Crown Point assistant who played at Chicago State, hopes to bring stability to a program that hasn't had a coach come back in the last four years. Of the 24 players, 18 are freshmen or sophomores.

LACROSSE

Players to watch: Dylan Claypool, Sr., C/P; Jeremy Johnson, Sr., P-SS; Kaleb Frazier, So., P; Wes Brust, Jr.; Brad Shireman, So.; Brad Tucker, So.

Outlook: The Tigers graduated several seniors, all of whom started. They have two seniors with 12 of the 18 players in the program freshmen and sophomores.

MORGAN TOWNSHIP

Players to watch: Brett Lemmons, Sr., SS; Colin Mack, Jr., P

Outlook: New coach Cory Mack isn't calling it a rebuild despite heavy graduation losses. He will emphasize defense, offensive aggressiveness and pitching that keeps the Cherokees in games. Lemmons (Western Carolina) moves from the outfield to his summer ball position. Colin Mack leads a young staff that will also include Jeremy Landgrebe, Tyler Bush and Hunter Swivel. Luke Lemmons, Swivel, Colton Rosenbaum, Landgrebe and Connor Malmquist are among the position options.

SOUTH CENTRAL

Players to watch: RJ Snyder, Sr., OF (.544, 13 2B, 41 RBIs); Max Sims, Sr., 3B (.476, 8 2B, 29 RBIs); Charles Crawford, Sr., INF (.301, 10 RBIs); Carson Husmann, So., OF (.414); Kyle Schmack, So., INF (.355, 20 RBIs).

Outlook: S.C. graduated do-it-all Noah Eaton, but it returns six starters and a core group of seniors from its Class A regional finalist squad that was 17-10.

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP

Players to watch: Kyle Guenther, Jr., P/1B; Hunter Hachey, Jr., P; Jake Nelson, Jr., SS/P; Brock Pappas, Jr., 3B; Lucas Nelson, Sr., C; Dylan Clem, Jr. OF.

Outlook: The Senators won a sectional with a team comprised largely of sophomores who now have that experience underneath them.

WESTVILLE

Players to watch: Brady Albert, Jr., P/C/SS; Trent Hisick, Jr., P/3B; Cody Combs, Sr., OF/SS.

Outlook: New coach Larry Babcock inherits a solid core and has improved numbers, which will be crucial with the need for pitching depth.

Others

HAMMOND ACADEMY

Players to watch: Mathew Hatfield, C/P (.321; 1-0, 11 SO); Robbie Kitchell, Sr., SS/2B/P (1-0, 0.84 ERA, 14 SO); Derrick Swart, Jr., LF/2B/P (.286; 0-0, 1.54 ERA, 3 SO).

Outlook: The Hawks were 20-3 last season, then graduated six seniors. They'll finally compete in the IHSAA postseason this year and hope their schedule can help them gain the necessary experience for quick success in Sectional 49.

— Compiled by Times sports writers Hillary Smith and Jim Peters

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Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.

Sports Director

Hillary has covered prep, pro and college sports -- and even a Dixie Baseball World Series -- for newspapers north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1995.