Mount Carmel's Richard Fordon delivers a pitch against Marian Catholic. | Gary Middendorf/For Sun-Times Media
It might not look like it outside, but the high school baseball season is upon us.
The good news is that once Mother Nature cooperates, local fans will be treated to exceptional talent, both from individual and team standpoints.
More than two dozen local players already have committed to Division I college programs. From Notre Dame to Louisville to Penn State, colleges are realizing the amount of talent in the Southland.
With so much talent across the area, it was a difficult decision to arrive at consensus preseason No. 1. However, when all was said and done, defending Class 4A state champion Mount Carmel earned the honor.
The Caravan returns five starters and four pitchers with a great deal of experience from last season’s 34-8 club.
Here’s a look at our Top 10 (last season’s records in parentheses):
1. MOUNT CARMEL (34-8)
Three experienced senior left-handed hurlers — Marko Boricich (Penn State recruit), Richard Fordon (Northwestern) and Dave Dobrinich (Western Illinois), along with a pair of junior right-handers in Nelson Munoz and Jack Pappas, provide the Caravan with considerable depth and firepower.
The offense should be explosive, led by junior outfielder Josh Stowers (Louisville), junior infielder Ako Thomas (Michigan), junior catcher Scott Kapers (Valparaiso), junior first baseman Malik Carpenter and junior OF Nelson Wheeler. Two sophomores, infielder Jeremy Houston, younger brother of Mount Carmel grad Jerry Houston, and third baseman/catcher A.J. Lewis, should make an impact.
“We have to keep the kids grounded and focused,” coach Brian Hurry said. “We tell the kids to ‘avoid the noise.’ It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
2. ST. RITA (31-8)
The Mustangs hope to extend their state championship summer into the spring season. The infield should be rock-solid with seniors Jake Shepski (Notre Dame), Jake Drada (Western Michigan), Nate Soria (Xavier), Chris Delgadillo and junior Marty Bechina flashing serious leather. Senior outfielder/DH A.J. Fuller (Logan Junior College) could be ready for a breakout campaign.
The pitching staff boasts arguably the area’s top hurler in senior left-hander Mike Costanza (Austin Peay). The Mustangs will need big contributions from senior southpaw C.J. Santoyo (Utah) and the hard-throwing Shepski, the latter ranking among the area’s best all-around talents.
“We have a deep pitching staff and lineup,” coach Mike Zunica said. “We won the summer state championship. We believe we can win it all this spring.”
3. SANDBURG (23-10)
The Eagles starting rotation is scary good, with senior right-handers Bryan Pall (Michigan), Sean Leland (Louisville) and Matthias Dietz (Logan J.C.) all with pitching arsenals that can dominate the opposition. Junior Alec Martinez, who will start in the infield, provides depth on the mound.
Seniors Dan Santiago, Julian Gutierrez and Chris Stearns give the Eagles reliable gloves in the outfield.
The big question mark surrounds Sandburg’s ability to generate runs.
“Making the routine play and competing at the plate will be the keys,” coach Jim Morsovillo said. “With the pitching staff we have, we should have the opportunity to compete late into ballgames.”
4. ST. LAURENCE (27-10)
The Vikings return a bevy of talent from last season’s squad, led by SouthtownStar 2013 Player of the Year Mike Kornacker (Purdue), a major producer on the mound and at the plate. Senior shortstop Brad Wood (Northern Illinois), catcher T.J. Marik (Austin Peay), first baseman Roger Wilson (St. Francis) and infielder Nate Tholl, along with second baseman Kornacker, compose an infield that will rank among the elite.
Rob Gutierrez (Illinois Wesleyan), Mike Miller (Hawaii) and Kevin White are stalwarts in the outfield.
The pitching staff has the ability to shut down most opponents with the hard-throwing Kornacker and Wood leading the way.
“With the number of players back, we should have the experience to compete for the CCL (Chicago Catholic League) Blue title and, hopefully, for a state championship,” coach Pete Lotus said.
5. LEMONT (23-7)
Is this the season the Indians make a run to the Class 3A title? Quite possibly. Pitcher Jake Latz (LSU), a southpaw, and catcher Mike Papierski (LSU) are top-notch batterymates headed to college together. Senior Charlie Wright (Joliet Junior College) and sophomore Garrett Acton add considerable promise to the pitching staff.
Shortstop Mike Wisz (Houston) and first baseman Jake Terrazas (Saint Louis) swing big bats. Ryan Folliard, Eric Tucker (Pikeville), Mike Gralla, Nick Wisz, Wright and Latz also will contribute offensively.
“We definitely have an impressive team on paper, but we have to make sure we play to the best of our ability,” coach Brian Storako said.
6. JOLIET CATHOLIC (27-14)
The defending Class 3A champion Hilltoppers have reloaded for another run at state glory.
Scoring runs shouldn’t be a problem, with and offense that boasts senior second baseman Ryan Bannon (Xavier), junior outfielder/pitcher Nick Dalesandro (Purdue), senior first baseman Aaron Markey, senior outfielder/DH John Kalisik, junior outfielder Keegan Tyrell and junior shortstop Mitch Boe.
The pitching staff has the making of a dominant one, with Dalesandro, Drake Fellows (Vanderbilt), Kyle Polaski (Palm Beach Atlantic) and Brady Kostecki (Roosevelt) toeing the rubber.
The biggest question that needs to be answered is behind the plate.
“With the number of returning players from last season, we stack up with the top teams in our area and conference,” coach Jared Voss said.
7. LINCOLN-WAY NORTH (33-3)
No team lost as much talent to graduation as did the Phoenix. However, there’s plenty of talent left in the cupboard for first-year coach Mitch Nowicki.
The pitching staff has major depth, led by junior lefty Kyle Ostrowski (Purdue) and senior righty David Calderon (Morehead State), a transfer from Marian Catholic. Seniors Brett King, Matt Strelczyk and Joe Fredrickson provide more mound talent.
Senior Eric Eggert leads an offense that will need contributions from skilled but untested junior Josh Mutter and sophomore Ben Troike.
“Defensively, we’re going to be very athletic but lack big game experience,” Nowicki said. “Offensively, we have improved power, but again, lack varsity at-bats. I like our pitching depth.”
8. PROVIDENCE (20-18)
The Celtics boast the area’s hardest thrower in senior Jake Godfrey (Notre Dame) and a major run-producing force in senior Phil Kunsa. Godfrey consistently is in the low 90s (mph) and has reached 94 on occasion. On most teams, senior Dylan Rosa would be an ace. He’ll have to settle for No. 2 behind Godfrey. Senior Rich Yusa looks to make an impact after missing the 2013 season because of an injury.
Keep an eye on sophomore infielder Mike Madej, a speedster with a solid stick.
If Providence is going to live up expectations, a group of untested players must produce.
“We have a senior dominated team with some juniors and sophomores sprinkled in,” coach Mark Smith said. “Pitching and defense will have to be our strengths.”
9. HOMEWOOD-FLOSSMOOR (17-14)
The Vikings have two of the most promising juniors in the area in pitcher Jeremy Orbik (Kentucky) and left-handed-hitting catcher Jesse Forestell. Orbik consistently hits the upper 80s (mph) and Forestell is a major force at the plate, as well as behind it.
Senior shortstop Kendall King has unlimited range and a strong arm. Senior Isaac Cutrara will log double duty in the infield and on the mound, as will junior James Sheehan. Keep an eye on junior Bryce Gray, who could be ready to emerge.
The Vikings suffered a big blow, however, when senior outfielder Quincy Jones suffered torn labrum and will be out for the season.
“We have a real nice blend of talented seniors and juniors,” coach Todd Sippel said. “We feel we can compete with anyone this season.”
10. RICH CENTRAL (27-5)
The Olympians’ 1-2 pitching punch of seniors David Dugger and Justin Freeman (Southern) has the means to dominate. Dugger has won 13 games over the past two seasons, while Freeman, son of former major leaguer Marvin Freeman, was 6-1 with a 1.14 ERA. Offensively, seniors Michael Hoover, Demetrius Todd and Dugger lead an attack that boasts good speed and power. Senior catcher B.J. Faulkner, a transfer from Mount Carmel, should nicely fit in the middle of the order.
“The players have high expectations,” coach Corey Stallings said. “The key is to keep improving defensively. I feel we have the experienced arms that will help us compete throughout the season.”
Brad Bass, Lincoln-Way Central, Sr.: The 6-foot-6 right-hander boasts a heavy 90 (mph) fastball. Notre Dame recruit.
Marko Boricich, Mount Carmel, Sr.: Southpaw sits in the mid-80s on his fastball, with good movement and plus-off-speed stuff. Penn State recruit.
Mike Costanzo, St. Rita, Sr.: Hard-throwing lefty consistently sits in upper 80s and has a 1-to-7 breaking ball. Austin Peay recruit.
Nick Dalesandro, Joliet Catholic, Jr.: Upper 80s fastball has great movement. Purdue recruit.
Jake Godfrey, Providence, Sr.: Low- to mid-90s fastball makes him a likely June draft pick. LSU recruit.
Jake Latz, Lemont, Sr.: Lefty has 90-mph heater and plus-control of all pitches. LSU recruit.
Sean Leland, Sandburg, Sr.: Boasts an upper 80s fastball that severely tails in on right-handed hitters. Louisville recruit.
Jeremy Orbik, Homewood-Flossmoor, Jr.: Overpowering fastball and effortless delivery. Kentucky recruit.
Kyle Ostrowski, Lincoln-Way North, Jr.: Upper 80s fastball that tails away from right-handed hitters. Purdue recruit.
Bryan Pall, Sandburg, Sr.: Low 90s fastball and 12-to-6 breaking ball makes him unhittable at times. Michigan recruit.
Tyler Banovich, Bremen, Sr.: Hits for average, power and can run. Also has ace stuff from the mound.
Kevin Biondic, Brother Rice, Sr.: Run producer who drives the ball in the gaps.
Jesse, Forestell, Homewood-Flossmoor, Jr.: Left-handed-hitting catcher can rake and is proficient behind the plate.
Mike Kornacker, St. Laurence, Sr.: Reigning SouthtownStar Player of the Year can hit for average and power, and can dominate from the rubber. Purdue recruit.
Phil Kunsa, Providence, Sr.: Has very good power — 8 HRs last season — and is a run-producing machine.
Mike Papierski, Lemont, Sr.: Left-handed-hitting catcher has good size — he’s 6-2 — and can hit for power. LSU recruit.
Brian Richard, Oak Forest, Sr.: Four-year varsity starter is a tough out. Prairie State recruit.
Jake Shepski, St. Rita, Sr.: Three-year varsity starter can play SS or 2B and drives the ball with authority. Notre Dame recruit.
Josh Stowers, Mount Carmel, Jr.: A physical specimen who has big power, major speed and a gun for an arm. Louisville recruit.
Brad Wood, St. Laurence, Sr.: Scrappy infielder will do anything to help his team achieve victory. Northern Illinois recruit.