Beecher lost six seniors from a 2017 squad which finished 20-11 and won an River Valley Conference championship. For that reason, they are going to have a lot of at bats and innings to fill in their absence.
Seniors Jacob Pevion and Joey Petrelli along with juniors Hunter Eastham and DeShawn Doss have all returned for 2018. All four will need to turn in strong seasons in order for the Bobcats to compete near to their previous level.
Pevion will handle the lion's share of time on the mound. As a junior, he maintained a 1.91 ERA and piled up 33 strikeouts in 33 innings of work. He also finished the season with a .286 batting average with five doubles, a home run and 12 RBIs.
Eastham and Doss will spearhead the offensive attack if they can keep up the pace of their 2017 campaign. Doss batted .327 last year, drove in ten runs, scored 21 times and swiped 11 bases as a sophomore, while Eastham turned in similar numbers with a .321 average, 10 RBIs and 21 runs scored.
Finally, Petrelli returns as the biggest run producer from last season. He had five doubles, two homers and drove in 18 runs in 2017, but he'll need to improve upon his .231 average from a year ago as he assumes a leadership role in 2018.
Beecher coach Brandon DuBois expects juniors Tyler Brody and Nathan Soch as well as freshman Ryan LeBlanc to step up and make an impact in each players first season with regular playing time.
Every game will be a big one for the Bobcats this season as they look to establish a new identity among an influx of new faces.
The Irish will be without their top returning player for the season, as Broghan O'Connor will spend the spring recovering from a knee injury suffered during basketball.
The lone All-Area selection for the Irish last season, O'Connor's absence was not something Sam Bumpers anticipated having to fill, but he thinks his team will be just fine, using a basketball analogy to illustrate just how he thinks things will work out.
"It's kind of like when Gordon Hayward (of the Boston Celtics) got hurt," Bumpers said. "Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum got to step up."
As for who can be the Brown and Tatum to O'Connor's Hawyard, the Irish have a few possibilities. Sam O'Connor and Zaffery Duffield are a couple returning varsity contributors who should help at the plate.
But there are also plenty of fresh faces for the Irish. Junior Peyton Gerberding is expected to slide in immediately in the middle of the infield and the middle of the Irish order. Sophomore Tyler Hiller should be counted as one of McNamara's go-to arms while also contributing offensively.
"We'll be able to hit pretty solidly and play pretty good defense," Bumpers said. "I wouldn't say we'll out-slug teams, but we can definitely out-hit teams."
Bumpers knows things won't come easy this season. With a tough Chicago Catholic League schedule and a plethora of quality local teams, the Irish will be tested nearly every game.
"Hopefully we can showcase that we have a bright future and maybe win some of those non-conference games," Bumpers said. "It's always good to play against the best and it gives us a little bit of a head's up for regionals."
Last year was a forgettable one for the Timberwolves as they limped to the finish line with only five wins in their back pockets at the season's end.
However, following a year of experience and growing pains, Cissna Park had its sights set on a Class 1A regional championship.
"We'll be much improved from last season," Cissna Park coach Darryl Focken said. "I believe our defense will be much improved and we have much better team speed. But it's all about getting better game by game, no matter the outcome."
The Timberwolves received a much needed boost as juniors Conner Lober and Bailey Sluis returned to the diamond after missing the 2017 campaign.
This is still a very young team comprised with only one senior in Tanner Benoit alongside four juniors and 13 underclassmen.
Benoit, Mario Renteria, Keegan Boyle and Ian Rogers will chew up a number of innings as the Timberwolves charge head first into the season.
"We want to be more consistent on both the mound and in the field," Focken said. "Having a young team we know it will take some time, but we believe we can bring some hardware to Cissna."
After 23 years as head coach for the Coalers, living legend Jerry McDowell went out on top when he retired after leading Coal City to its first-ever Class 3A Regional crown last season.
But McDowell won't be very far away. Greg Wills, McDowell's assistant for all 23 of his seasons, will take the reigns, while McDowell will be around as a volunteer assistant.
"There are some things this coaching staff will emphasize that might not have been in the past, but we will continue to play Coaler baseball," Wills said. "We are going to throw strikes, play great defense, try to run the bases when we can and try to manufacture runs to win games."
Wills' transition will be made easier by the oodles of talent coming back from last year's regional champion squad. Sophomore southpaw Payton Hutchings is an Illinois commit that will anchor the Coalers' pitching staff that includes seniors a pair of seniors in Blake Harseim and Beau Wills.
Harseim is one of two returning All-Interstate Eight selections returning to the Coalers' lineup, joined by senior outfielder Austin Friddle. Harseim will anchor an infield full of returning seniors (Sean Micethich, Wills and Danny Phillips).
Although they return a roster's worth of talent, a pair of fresh faces will see impactful time right away. Pitcher Connor Best and catcher Austin Pullara form a sophomore battery that will be seen as soon as opening day.
Wills said he believes his team should be in the thick of conference championship contention, while last year's postseason success was potentially just the beginning of things to come.
"Last year we won the first 3A regional title in school history, and our goal is to take the next step," Wills said.
It's a brand new year for everyone, but that statement rings especially true in Donovan for multiple reasons.
Seven of the Wildcats' 12 players that make up its roster are freshmen this season and another two are sophomores. They have one junior on the squad, but 2018 will be his first season with the team.
Donovan will also field a pair of seniors with prior experience, but they will both need to step up in a big way this season after going a combined 2-for-44 at the plate in 2017.
So the 'Cats will have plenty of opportunities to see what their freshman can do, which gives the squad plenty of opportunities to be pleasantly surprised. It's a blank slate in Donovan this season.
They'll hope to get some production from their youngsters and improve upon last year's record. It's a realistic goal for the young Wildcats — last year's team finished up at 1-15 overall and 0-12 in River Valley Conference play.
Head coach Allan Wills enters his third season at Gardner-South Wilmington with a decent collection of varsity-experienced players returning. Three seniors, three juniors and three sophomores return with varsity experience under their belt, and Wills loves the versatility that they have.
"Versatility will be one of our biggest strengths this season," Wills said. "A lot of guys can, and will, play different positions for us."
The Panthers' trio of juniors who played a large role last season have been playing varsity ball together since they were freshman--Joey Morales, Matthew Wepprecht and Nathan Wozniak. Wepprecht was an honorable mention all-area selection last season as a pitcher and infielder.
Although they are only juniors, Wills said all three will be looked upon as leaders as they enter their third year in the varsity spotlight.
Although they have a ton of talent returning, the Panthers do not return much pitching outside of Wepprecht and Morales. Two sophomores, Kade Kociss and Chris Ruiz, got some experience on the mound last season and will be looked upon to step up as key supplementary pieces to the pitching staff.
"The main things we have to improve on are consistently throwing strikes on the mound and making routine plays in the field," Wills said. "If we can do that and limit our strikeouts at the plate, we should be in a lot of games."
Wills said the Panthers have their eyes set on a River Valley Conference crown and hope to be playing their best ball when the postseason rolls around. They definitely have the potential to do so, it's just a matter of how long it takes for the Panthers to fulfill that potential.
The Crusaders will look to build around a foursome of solid seniors to improve upon last year's 6-18 record-- Dakota Erickson, Raylee Cross, Zack Johnson and Zach Sieveers.
Two of those seniors, Erickson and Sievers, are fresh faces for the Crusaders after transferring this year.
"We have multiple seniors and great hitters in our program," Crusaders coach Jeff Cross said. "We will be leaning hard on some of our seniors this year."
The senior transfers aren't the only newcomers for Grace Christian. Freshman Matt Love is going to be looked at to contribute right away, while sophomore Kemntz and junior Jordan Isaacs are also expected to be key Crusaders.
Cross and the Crusaders seem to be full of positivity and excitement as the spring has approached, and he believes that some area schools who they play this season will face a different Grace Christian team than they are used to.
"Our goal this year is to be in the championship game of our conference tournament, and to give our public school opponents a competitive game," Cross said.
Grant Park has been trending upward for the past few seasons, but this season is the one head coach Juan "Desi" Desiderio has been looking forward to.
Two seasons prior to becoming the Dragons' skipper, Desiderio took a squad of junior high schoolers to the IESA State Finals. This year, he has all those kids back on his varsity depth chart.
And while the youngsters are cause for plenty of excitement on their own, the core of returning veterans that will welcome them are what could push things to a fever pitch.
Jake Jarski will return to anchor the Dragons' order after hitting over .500 last season and he isn't the only one with eye-popping numbers. Will Schneider batted .480 in 2017 and Lane Theisen came in just under .400.
Grant Park only lost two seniors to graduation after last season and with the influx of freshman, it has swelled its ranks up to a 17-man roster after fielding just 11 players in 2017.
It would be reckless not to expect freshman players to need some time to adjust to the high school game, but Desiderio thinks their athleticism and the experience of playing together for so long will help many of them to see ample time on the field.
Desi has his eyes set on River Valley Conference rival Beecher, as always, but he's also hoping to present a little bit of a surprise to larger schools from the Interstate Eight like Manteno and Beecher.
Returning after a strong 28-win 2017 season that extending marked the storied program's 23rd consecutive season with 20 or more wins, there's no reason to expect Herscher to slow down any time soon.
Though the Tigers will certainly notice the absence of last year's senior class, there is more than enough experience and leadership remaining.
Seniors Tyler Stuart, McKinley Keenan, Anthony Koranda and Tyler Jarnagin are just a few notable names on the list of Herscher's returning seniors and there is no shortage of underclassmen who will be vying for action thanks to a deep roster.
Stuart is likely the best pitcher in the area and is no slouch with a bat in his hand, either. The 2017 Daily Journal Player of the Year and Southern Miss commit maintained a 1.82 ERA over 57.2 innings and struck out a very nice 69 batters while walking 22. He also batted .318 with five home runs and 27 RBIs.
Koranda also projects to contribute with both his arm and his bat. He hit .326 with a homer and 18 RBIs and notched 48 strikeouts against just 12 walks over 40.2 innings of work to finish the season with a miniscule 1.72 ERA.
Keenan is the centerpiece of the Tigers' order after batting .411 last year with five home runs and 35 RBIs and Jarnagin will join Koranda in galvanizing the team from the top of the batting order. He hit .296 last season, while scoring 33 times, driving in 18 and swiping 10 bases in 10 attempts.
When you take all of those things and add in Eric Regez, the legendary skipper that has coached every one of those 20-win teams, you find yourself with a squad that is unlikely to miss a beat in 2018.
Iroquois West has no shortage of options this season with its 20-player strong roster, but few of those faces are familiar.
Aside from established performers like Eli Fink, Tony Gielczewski, Austin Saathoff and Alexis Ramirez, the Raiders are among the youngest teams around.
Ramirez finished second last season in RBIs and batted .333 on year, while Saathoff was excellent and came through in nearly half of his at bats to the tune of a .487 average. While the pair were regulars on the stat sheets last season the other names you'd find there are notably absent on this year's roster.
Fink and Gielczewski find themselves in positions to step up and improve upon respectable 2017 seasons.
Cole Stone will be expected to step up on the mound after the departure of last season's main innings-eater, Will Clark. Stone is no stranger to pitching duties after tossing 27 innings last year and striking out an impressive 34 batters over that span. He'll need to improve upon his 6.66 ERA from a season ago, however, if Iroquois West is going to stay in games.
The Raiders finished right down the middle last year with a 13-13 overall record and at 8-8 in the Sangamon Valley Conference. Though their senior core presents a reliable base, the new guys will need to come into their own in a hurry to make up for the production that's absent with the departures of Clark, Corey Schunke, Clayton Thorne and Roberto Valdez.
Kankakee enters the 2018 season with a lot of new faces.
The Kays have just three returning seniors this year and will need considerable production from their up-and-comers.
Two of those senior leaders, Charlie Hicks and Keelan Bell, will need to use their experience to guide the young squad and help them develop as the season progresses. Hicks will reprise his role at third base and Bell will line up next to him at shortstop.
Head coach Brian Manering is excited to see what some of his younger guys can do, but he will be looking for a lot of those newcomers to step up and make a difference.
He expects juniors Ethan McNeely, Ian Westerman and Dandy Medina to make the most prominent steps forward, and sees some promise from freshman EJ Robertson, as well.
The Kays will also be trying out some new arms and Manering says to expect nearly all of his players to see some time on the mound throughout the year.
This season will likely be one of learning and development in Kankakee. Hopefully, the Kays are able to build up a head of steam and come into their own by the time they face off in their all-city matchups with Bishop Mac on April 27 and Bradley-Bourbonnais on May 4.
Matt Beckner returns to the bench for Manteno after a brief hiatus, and he inherits a Panthers squad who finished last season with a 23-7 record, but it will largely be a new look Panthers lineup.
"The transition has been good, as I was head coach when these kids were freshmen in the program," Beckner said. "Many of these players are unproven--we only return two starters from last year's team."
And while two starters are all the Panthers are returning, one of them enters the year as one of the area's top talents. Starting pitcher Mason Crews is back after a junior season in which he compiled a 5-1 record with 67 strikeouts and a 0.98 earned run average.
Matt Rose, the Panthers other returning starter, provides pitching depth for Beckner's boys while also providing a consistent bat in the middle of the lineup.
"We are going to need Mason and Matt both to help with run support and also on the mound," Beckner said. "I look for both of these seniors to lead us both on and off the field in a positive manner."
With Crews anchoring the staff, Beckner said his team will play off of their strengths of pitching and defense while the lineup full of fresh faces can develop.
"My one concern right now is our ability to produce runs," Beckner said. "We will need to continue working on the fundamentals of the game in order for us to manufacture runs."
A couple of varsity returners that will be thrust into starting roles will be Ben Riner and Blake Meyer, and Beckner said he will be looking for their hard work in the offseason to pay off at the plate this spring.
"Both of these kids have a great attitude and work ethic and I believe that will pay off in the long run for both of them," Beckner said.
And for the Panthers, hopefully that hard work pays off over the next couple of months.
An up-and-down season closed with 8-14 regular season record last year, but Milford picked up the pace in the postseason and unseated the top seed in its regional bracket to earn a regional title plaque.
The Bearcats will look to improve upon that accomplishment on the strengths of its returning players.
Tyler Schmidt, Brady Marshino and Tyler Buhrmester are back for 2018 and looking to take a step forward in the coming weeks.
Buhrmester will be a crucial aspect of Milford's success as both a hitter and a pitcher this season, while Marshino will be needed to make an impact in both spots, as well.
Alex Barney will also chew up some time on the mound alongside the aforementioned pair to round out the Bearcats' rotation.
Look for Schmidt and Buhrmester to provide a driving force for the offense and keep an eye on sophomore Klaytin Hunsinger and freshman Luke McCabe to potentially make a splash.
A healthy core of veterans and promising youngsters put the Bearcats in position to make a step forward in the Vermilion Valley Conference and improve upon last season's 3-9 finish in conference play.
It's a year of new beginnings in Momence as former JV coach John Trudeau takes over the varsity squad this season.
It's always a challenge for a team to establish a new identity under a first-year coach, but Trudeau had most of his players as freshman and sophomores in his previous positon. He expects that rapport will help with the transition and says his players are buying in to what his staff is trying to communicate.
Momence will be without a few of its marquee seniors from last season, but Ben Wogan, Cole Holloway and Noah Bramer all saw significant play time and are back for 2018.
All three of the team's primary pitching from 2017 are among those that graduated at the end of the season, but it isn't completely without players who have some experience on the hill. Wogan and Bramer both spent some time on the mound during last year's 13-15-1 run.
Trudeau also expects Holloway and Logan King to throw some innings, but the theme for all of them will be hoping to avoid what too often plagued last season's starters — unearned runs.
Throwing strikes and playing sound defense are the points of focus for Momence this season. They'll need to keep opponents off the basepaths at least until they establish who will make up for the departure of Hunter Chouinard and Nelson Reyling in the batting order.
Expect Holloway to step up and fill that role in his senior season as a follow up to a solid junior year at the dish.
The Blue Devils have a new coach for this season, but he is not one that is a stranger to Peotone, nor is he a stranger towards area baseball.
Brad White takes the reigns this year after over a decade of coaching Peotone's junior high squad, while also serving as a high school assistant from 2005-11.
"The transition has been smooth both for the coaching staff and our players," White said. "All of the players have had a good work ethic and want to improve each day. Being familiar with the players definitely helps the coaching process."
White also has prestige attached to his name as a varsity coach. In four seasons as head coach at Clifton Central (2002-05), the Comets went 71-47 and won a pair of regional titles.
"I am hoping this type of success will transpire year in and year out with the Blue Devil program," White said.
White looks at his team and sees a consistently solid roster throughout--there may be no superstar in the Blue Devils' lineup, but everyone in that lineup can have a big game at any time.
"I think in order for us to be successful, we need all of our guys each night to be ready to play," White said. "Seniors Austin Marganski, Luke Hafner, Trevor Schwiesow and Colton Krska will be looked at to fill some of those roles--same goes for juniors Caleb Hunter, Cesar Anaya and Hunter Brunke."
The Blue Devils know they have their work cut out for them in a rigorous Interstate Eight conference, but White expects his kids to be ready for the challenge.
"We will have to play well in order to be on top of the conference standings," White said. "When the postseason rolls around, we hope to be playing our best baseball and to be in position to win a regional."
The Cardinals may be a youthful squad with just two seniors, but those seniors sure are talented. Travis DeYoung will serve in the Babe Ruth role for St. Anne as its ace on the hill and biggest offensive threat, while his classmate Jacob Nicholson is another big bat at the corner infield slots.
Five sophomores will return for their second season of varsity baseball. Head coach Ted Bartnik is most excited to see the continued development of pitcher and shortstop Connor Cotton.
"Connor came on as a freshman last year and easily became one of our most promising up-and-coming players," Bartnik said. "Pitching against older competition is where he needs the most work."
The Cardinals are returning 10 varsity players from last season, but a pair of freshmen caught Bartnik's eye as preseason practices began.
"We are very short on varsity newcomers, but two that look promising are Devon Lamie and Cortez Baines," Bartnik said. "Both are promising young athletes and can be building blocks for the future."
Few teams in any sport will bring back as much varsity talent and as much youth as the Cardinals will bring to the diamond. Because of that, Bartnik's biggest goal for the season is to "instill a new mindset of development."
Bartnik also hopes his young team will be able to avoid mental mistakes that can often plague teams that feature such youth, but he is excited to see his team develop as the year progresses.
"You will see many new faces and more responsibility placed on younger players," Bartnik said. "Which ultimately will lead to more on and off-field success in later years."
The Eagles may have lost last season's leading hitter, Logan Taff, to graduation, but he won't be too far away. Taff returns as the assistant coach this year, while Rod Miller takes the reigns as head coach.
Aside from Taff's transition from player to assistant, the Eagles will look similar on the field to how they did last season, with almost all of their 2017 squad back.
In fact, seven Eagles will be back who played key roles last season: senior Percy Dean, sophomores Nick Fraser, Mario Guastalli and Collin Sharman, and freshmen Zane Gadbois and Ryan Palmer.
"KTA was a young team last year," Athletic Director Mike Lawrence said. "The experience gained during the 2017 season will only help this team be better this year."
With an influx of youthful excitement both on the field and in the dugout, there is cause for Eagles players and fans to smile when they think about the future of the program.
But according to Lawrence, the Eagles aren't looking too far ahead, as they know they have a chance to turn some heads this season.
"The goals and expectations are simple," Lawrence said. "To be better than last year, to compete in our conference (Illinois Christian Conference) and to show well in the conference tournament."
The Warriors are looking to continue trending upwards in the 2018 season under head coach Joe Lyznicki.
And with 10 upperclassmen returning to the diamond, success should be on the horzion in Watseka.
"We have four seniors and six juniors back so that gives us a good amount of expereince," Lyznicki said. "That level of experience will mesh well with the strong sophomore and freshman class we have, so the future is bright."
Leading the charge for Watseka is returning All-Area shortstop and pitcher Ben Lyznicki. Lyznicki led the team last season with 17 runs and 10 stolen bases while hitting. 299. He also struck out 47 batters in 40 innings of work, finishing the campaign with a 3.78 ERA.
He's joined by fellow junior Tim Wright, who will be looked upon to supply some power and pitch a number of innings alongside Jaden Downs.
But this season isn't without a challenge as the Warriors lost starting pitcher Matthew Canady before the season kicked off with a torn ACL. Still yet, there's light at the end of the tunnel.
"Losing Canady definitely hurts the rotation," Watseka coach Joe Lyznicki said. "But at the same point, we have a lot of guys who can throw to eat up some innings and save arms a little bit. The key for us this season is that we need to hit the ball more consistently."
*Tri-Point and Dwight did not provide information to the Daily Journal.