IHSA Playoffs: 1A State Preview


By Jackson Dvorak
Illinois Staff

The 1A IHSA state finals are set for Thursday at Duffy Bass Field, on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal. The semifinals will feature Newark taking on Father McGivney at 10 a.m., and Farina South Central against Mt. Pulaski at 1 p.m. The teams defeated in the semis will play one another in the third-place game at 4 p.m., while the winners will battle for the 1A state title at 7 p.m.

What’s particularly special about this year’s 1A state tournament is that none of the four teams headed to Normal have made it to state in their program’s history.

Let’s dive into what this year’s 1A finalists bring to the table.

NEWARK (26-1)

This will be the Norsemen’s first-ever appearance in the state finals, and their trip to this point has been an impressive one, having won 26 of their 27 games this season under head coach Joshua Cooper. Newark has not had many close calls in these playoffs, winning most of their games by a wide margin, though they were tested by Newman Central Catholic in the game that earned them this state berth, in their 5-3 Super-Sectional victory.

C Lucas Pasakarnis (2022) is a threat at the plate, and has been the Norsemen’s best hitter this year. The right-handed-hitting catcher is batting .449 with 41 RBIs on the year, both of which are team-highs. The three Kruser brothers on Newark have each been critical to the team’s success this season: Jake (2023), Mitchell (2022), and Tegan (2022). Combined, the three have produced 82 hits and 50 RBIs for Newark this spring. INF/RHP Joe Martin (2023) is hitting .403, with 26 driven in on the year, all while operating as one of the team’s top pitchers.

RHP/INF Dalton Reibel (2021) has been the go-to arm for the Norsemen, and he’s been among their most productive hitters, too. The right-hander has tossed 62.2 innings this season, going 11-0 and striking out 67. Though, when it comes to strike outs, Martin’s been the team’s most effective. Martin has fanned 89 hitters in just 40.1 innings this season, which comes out to be 20 K/9. These two have eaten up the majority of the innings this entire year, so expect to see more of the same at state, granting Newark two top-of-the-line arms to lean on in their two state games Thursday.

FATHER MCGIVNEY Catholic (30-6)

The Griffins will also be playing in their first-ever state finals, and head coach Chris Erwin has managed to do so in his first season in charge. The new Father McGivney manager is not new to IHSA baseball, however, as he spent two years as the head coach of Macomb back in 2000.

McGivney’s offense is led by INF/RHP Gabe Smith (2023), a sophomore who’s had a stellar season for the Griffins. The big left-handed hitter is batting a tick over .500 this season, including 19 extra-base hits and 34 runs driven in. INF Matthew Gierer (2021) is a senior bat in this lineup that has produced all season, batting .426 with 17 extra-base hits including four home runs. INF/RHP Daniel Gierer (2023), who is a 2023 grad, has also been an offensive threat, hitting .414 on the season. OF/RHP Jackson Rodgers (2023) and INF/RHP Drew Sowerwine (2021) have been mainstays in the lineup and are productive. 

The Griffins have relied on a variety of arms. Sowerwine leads the way in innings pitched with 49, with a 7-1 record and 1.86 ERA. Rodgers has thrown 45 innings and has been very effective, posting a team-best 0.93 ERA. Gierer has gone 5-0 in his 33.1 innings thrown this year, and RHP Christian Logue (2021) has been effective in his 21 innings of work, with a 2.33 ERA.

SOUTH CENTRAL (24-3)

Like the rest of the 1A field, The Cougars are making their first ever state appearance behind coach Curt Jones, who has been the skipper since 1997. Twenty-four short years, 436 wins, and 220 losses later, Coach Jones has his first shot at a state title.

SS Chase Dodson (2021) is a John A. Logan commit for the Cougars who has led the way all season for his team. The senior has hit .476 with 11 home runs this spring, and he has driven in 30 runs while scoring 51 himself. C Sebastian Cowger (2021) has been another threat in the middle of the order for South Central, as he’s hit .374 this season with 29 RBIs. UTL Aidan Dodson (2023) is a sophomore who has crushed five home runs and seven doubles on the season. Senior OF Sam Rubin (2021) is another name to monitor here, as he;s recorded a couple homers for South Central this spring, all while hitting .329.

Both Dodsons have been the horses on the bump for the Cougars as well. Aidan has tossed 48.2 innings, with a 1.29 ERA, while striking out 64. Chase has thrown 47.1 innings, striking out 81, which equals a 15.5 K/9.  OF/LHP Spencer Johannes (2022) has thrown 33 innings and boasts a 2.97 ERA, while OF/C Brandt Hiestand (2022) and 1B/LHP Beau Jolliff (2022) have gotten it done out of the bullpen.

MT. PULASKI (21-1)

Coach Joel Washko leads Mt. Pulaski to the finals for the first time in his seventh year as their head coach, and the first in program history.

RHP/OF Drew Martin (2021; Heartland CC commit) has been the Hilltoppers leader in just about every major category. The Heartland recruit is hitting .525 with 16 extra-base hits, including five homers and 27 RBIs. LHP/1B A.J. Bailey (2023) has been productive, especially for a sophomore, hitting .433 and scoring 32 runs on the season. 1B/C Grant Davis (2021) has also been a threat all year long, hitting at a .418 clip with 23 hits and 25 runs scored. INF Garrett Fitzpatrick (2021) is hitting .400 on the season, with C Jackson Fricke (2023) right behind him hitting .395.

Martin has done a lot of the heavy lifting on the mound as well, where he’s previously projected best long-term, throwing a team-high 37 innings with a 0.76 ERA. The right-hander has fanned 70 hitters on the season as well, which leads the team by 21 Ks. RHP/INF Evan Cooper (2023) has earned a large responsibility in the rotation, tossing 32 innings and posting a 1.09 ERA. Gavin (2023) and Landon Smith (2024) have been a pair of underclass arms that have combined to pitch over 30 innings for Mt. Pulaski in 2021, and Gavin’s stuck out 32 batters in just 14.1 innings this season.

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