SPRING VALLEY — The Hall Red Devils take the baseball diamond this spring wanting to take care of some unfinished business.
They won the TRAC East Conference and regional championships last year and reached the sectional finals. However, their 4-3 loss to Warren-Stockton in the sectional championship game left them hungry for more.
While Hall has most of their starting lineup intact, minus what senior Cam McDonald calls some “key clubhouse guys,” this year’s Red Devil gang is looking to create its own identity.
“We are still trying to find the culture and brotherhood we had last year as a team,” McDonald said. “The biggest goal is to be playing our best baseball come May. And we expect to go out and compete every game and give ourselves a chance to win every game.”
Longtime coach Tom Keegan admits the Red Devils have some high expectations for themselves.
“We’re trying to instill to the boys that it is not hope, but rather expectation to match and surpass what we were able to do last year,” Keegan said. “We’re a senior-dominated team that has played a lot of baseball. Just preaching that we go game by game, pitch by pitch, outwork everyone, leave a legacy, and have some fun with their teammates while doing it. Those are the controllables.
“Ultimately the only thing that we can control are our minds and effort. So far, our guys have been good in those realms.”
The season will start up for the Red Devils and rest of the Bureau County ball clubs this week, weather permitting.
Here's the 2017 area baseball preview:
Coach: Tom Keegan (18th year).
Last year: 28-6 (11-1).
Conference: TRAC East.
Leading returning hitters: Brant Vanaman (.521), Cam McDonald (.427), Ty Rybarczyk (.419).
Leading returning pitchers: Vanaman (2-0, 1.17), Rybarczyk (6-2, 1.22), Brayden DeBates (3-1, 2.84), Chance Resetich (3-0, 3.56), Jimmy DeAngelo (5-0, 3.56).
Last year's advancement: Lost to Warren-Stockton 4-3 in 2A sectional finals.
First game: Wednesday vs. L-P.
Outlook: The Red Devils broke through for their first regional championship in 15 years in 2017, but want to take it much farther. And they have the firepower to get the job done with two Div. I recruits in their lineup, Vanaman (Kent State) and McDonald (Illinois), along with Parkland College commit Rybarczyk, plus a host of returning players from last year's sectional finalists.
Vanaman was the 2017 BCR Player of the Year and Triple Crown winner, batting .521 with 58 RBI and eight homers to go with 26 steals. He returns behind the plate ("he knows most of our staff like the back of his hand," Keegan says) with Rybarczyk and McDonald manning the middle infield spots. Rybarczyk (6-2, 1.22) is the ace on the mound.
Other Hall holdovers include senior Sean Riordan (3B/P) and Gunner McCormick (1B) and speedy outfielder James Mautino (.351, 18 steals), utility man Chance Resetich (.375, 14 steals), first baseman Jimmy DeAngeo (.431) and outfielder Christian Stefaniak (.313).
Sophomore Brayden Debates saw time with the varsity last year, once delivering a walk-off hit. Newcomers to tjhe team this year are juniors Conner Ripka (OF) and Devin Soldati (OF) and freshman Trez Rybarczyk (P/OF/C).
Coach: Ryan Schisler (first year).
Last year: 6-16-1 (2-10)
Conference: TRAC East.
Leading returning hitter: Robert Rouse (.317)
Leading returning pitchers: Spencer Marquez (2-6, 4.44).
First game: Monday (at Stark County).
Last year's advancement: Lost to Princeton 13-5 in first round play 2A regionals.
Outlook: There's a new skipper in town this year. Schisler, a first-year teacher at Bureau Valley, takes over for Bret Helms, who coached just one year in his second stint of duty as head coach. Schisler comes to BV from Division III Coe College, where he was an assistant coach for six seasons. He played at the Cedar Rapids, Iowa school from 2007-11.
The new Storm skipper inherits a program high on experience with 11 seniors and 10 juniors.
Schisler's list includes seniors Cale Buysse (1B/C), Gabe Cook (OF), Jackson Hanson (OF), Bryan Herr (OF), Spencer Marquez (P/OF), Brenden McAlvey (C/3B), Colton Novotny (2B), Christian Maupin (OF), Josh Monier (IF), Andrew Petros (1B/P) and Robert Rouse (SS/P).
The junior class provides Gage Aber (2B/P), Robert Aukes (1B/P), Joe Green (C/OF), Tyler Gustafson (3B/P), Dylan Harper (OF/C), Connor Johnson (IF), Donald Rios (OF/P), Ben Shipp (1B/P), Jace Rediger (OF) and Seton Youngren (OF).
"Stepping into my first year at Bureau Valley, I am fortunate to have a strong group of seniors who know the game," Schisler said. "Our strength this year will come from that experience as we have players like Spencer Marquez, Robert Rouse, Brenden McAlvey and Colton Novotny who were major contributors last year.
"Collectively, this is a group of young men our coaching staff is excited about, and they've worked extremely hard throughout the off-season to better themselves."
Schliser said the baseball team is looking to get a shot in the arm from their basketball boys like Marquez, Petros, Gustafson and Shipp, "whom have been competing at a high level for months now and will look to transition their athletic ability and leadership to the baseball diamond."
Coach: Wick Warren (second year).
Last year: (13-13, 7-5)
Conference: TRAC East.
First game: Thursday vs. Rock Falls.
Leading returning hitters: Josh Reinhardt (.410), Christian Parry (.317).
Leading returning pitchers: Conner Dickens (1-3, 1.88), Zakk Welsh (3-1, 2.14), Garrett Allen (4-4, 2.28), Josh Reinhardt (4-4, 2.93).
Last year's advancement: Lost to Hall 14-3 in 2A regional semifinals.
Outlook: Wick Warren brings back six seniors, two juniors and two sophomores who played for him last year. Warren also welcomes five freshmen to the big club.
Senior Josh Reinhardt returns for his third full year on the varsity. He anchors the pitching staff alongside seniors Garrett Allen and Zakk Welsh and junior Conner Dickens. Other senior stalwarts are catcher Conner Alter, second baseman Christian Parry and center fielder Cade Harris.
Warren looks for juniors Braden Murfin and sophomore Jacob Starr along with freshman Jamie Reinhardt and Tyler Gibson to pitch in as well.
Josh Reinhardt and Christian Parry were the leading hitters last year. Warrens looks for Dickens, junior Beck Robbins and sophomore Caleb Alter to step up at the plate with freshman Owen Rossler capable of providing a power bat and classmate Noah Hoffman some speed.
Freshman Drew Woolley will provided depth at catcher, Warren said.
"Three very talented teams in TRAC and the Midwest 'spring' weather make playing baseball in our area a real challenge, but our kids seem poised to embrace the challenge and have a good season in 2018," Warren said.
Coach: Bill Booker (4th year, 24th overall).
Last year: 20-10 (9-3).
Conference: TRAC East.
Leading returning hitters: Ben Bernabei (.311, 12 RBI).
Leading returning pitchers: Tyler Marcinkus (2-1, 5.41)
First game: Thursday vs. Mendota.
Last year's advancement: Lost to Alleman 5-2 in regional finals.
Outlook: Booker said this will be one of the least field experienced teams he has ever coached in 24 years. The Bruins have numerous holes to fill upon graduating a class that won 60 games the past three seasons including a trip to state and a Sweet 16 appearance.
“Our field inexperience may show early while we focus on improvement and putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Our goal for this year as well as any year is to compete and be playing in the month of June,” Booker said. “Nothing changes with graduation, we still have high expectations, and each teammate, as always, must be accountable for their maximum efforts in leading this year's Bruin team to playing top-notch baseball.”
Booker said he potentially could give the ball to 11 different hurlers, including seniors Dominic Bernabei (1.40 ERA), Tyler Marcinkus (5.41), and Demetrius Schupp (4.66) and three sophs.
Other returning players include senior Devin Cook (P/OF) and Jerrick Kapraun (OF/P) and juniors Mateo Sanchez (IF/P), Demetrius Schupp (C/IF), Kane Clendenen (OF/P) and Ben Bernabei (P/IF/C).
Rounding out the roster are sophomores Caleb Boucher (IF/P), Trevor Mooney (IF/C), Matt Obmann (IF/P), Logan Ulrich (IF/OF), Colton Yanish (IF/P), Dylan Grammer (P) and Ethan Borelli (IF).
Senior Camron Barto will be out for the season with an injury.
Booker said he will begin to set his depth chart after Monday’s scrimmage.
“We do have questions, but many will be clearer after a little competition on the diamond,” he said.
Coach: Kenny Shrimplin (third year).
Last year: 2-18 (2-12).
Conference: Little Ten.
First game: March 16 at Oregon.
Last year's advancement: Lost to Indian Creek 8-2 in first round play 2A regionals.
Outlook: While the numbers are low overall (8 upperclassmen, 4 F/S), the Lions bring back a lot of experience. That experience starts on the mound where the Lions return their top three hurlers in seniors Dominic Moore, Ryan Schultz and Clay Sundberg. Senior Austin Walker returns to captain the outfield in center and provides pitching depth along with junior Luke Lovgren, who also plays the hot corner.
Other returners are seniors Tyler Perry (1B) and Trever Perry (OF), junior Luke Beatie (OF) and sophomores Luke Moore (2B) and Garreck Trent (OF). The Lions welcome two newcomers in sophomore Nate Pond (OF) and freshman Jason Martin (U).
"We are senior heavy this year. We are expecting to compete in every game this year from our leaders," said coach Shrimplin, a 2004 LHS alum.