Illinois' Top 10 Stories of 2013



By Sean Duncan
Executive Director

It’s that time once again to count down the top 10 Illinois stories of the year that was. Certainly 2013 delivered its share of indelible moments, good and bad. Some stories represent a bigger picture, while others are, well, baseball stuff happening on baseball fields.

Here’s a look back at 2013. Note: Stories are in their original form from when they were written.

10. The Ro Show

By Sean Duncan

CHICAGO – Anyone who has seen Simeon infielder Ronell Coleman play over the last three years has, at some point, been amazed by what he does on the baseball field. The more you watch the 5-foot-3 Coleman, the more you grow accustomed to his remarkable abilities, yet somehow he continues to do things that leave you amazed, surprised and, at times, even shocked.

On Monday, on the Chicago Public League’s biggest stage, the littlest player on the field played like a giant. Coleman led off the game with a triple, and Simeon didn’t stop scoring runs until it had soundly throttled Morgan Park, 20-9, to claim the Wolverines’ second consecutive city championship before a packed house at UIC’s pristine Les Miller Field.

Coleman, a switch-hitting Vanderbilt recruit, once again served as Simeon’s ultimate table-setter, scoring three runs. But it was his two-run homer in the sixth inning to left field that had the lively crowd buzzing as he sprinted around the bases. For the day, Coleman finished 4-for-5, falling a double shy of the cycle. Coleman also had four hits in the city semifinal game at U.S. Cellular Field last week.

Coleman, however, was far from the only standout in Simeon’s ninth city championship under long-time coach Leroy Franklin’s tenure. After Coleman’s leadoff triple, the Wolverines proceeded to push across eight runs on five hits in the first inning. The first eight batters reached base before an out was recorded. Sophomore DH Jamary McKinney hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and finished the game going 2-for-2 with two walks and a hit by pitch.

9. Instant Classic: No. 1 Mount Carmel edges No. 2 Lockport

By Drake Skleba
Senior Writer

CRESTWOOD - With No. 1 Mount Carmel clinging to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh of the Class 4A Standard Bank Supersectional, Lockport senior Ron Sessler stepped up to the plate. With Porter mates on first and second, Sessler jumped on a changeup from Mount Carmel’s starting Jeremy Kravetz. Sessler hammered a shot down the right-field line, which hooked foul, missing the fair line by six inches. With both runners moving with two outs, Sessler’s rocket would have been a walk-off game-winner. Unfazed, Kravetz then dispatched Sessler on a ground ball to senior shortstop

Jerry Houston, who retired Sessler for the final out of the game and the top-ranked Caravan were heading the to the Class 4A Final 4 on Friday in Joliet.

Before a sell-out crowd of 1,785, the two top-ranked teams in Illinois put on quite a show. In one of the best games in this reporter’s long career, the Caravan and Porters made every one of the overflow crowd happy to have spent six dollars to watch this instant classic. 

Mount Carmel (32-8) broke out on top with a run in the top of the first inning. Sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas walked and went all the way to third on a wild pitch and then scored on a RBI groundout from Houston. The Porters quickly answered in the bottom of the second on a clutch two-out RBI single from Porter shortstop Thomas Smith. Porter right-fielder Jeff Pattison, who doubled, scored the first Porter run.

In the Caravan third, Beau Filkins singled to lead off the inning. Thomas sacrificed Filkins to second. Sophomore Josh Stowers hit a ground ball to Porter third baseman Doug Matthews, who attempted to tag the sliding Filkins at third base. The third base umpire claimed Matthews missed Filkins with the tag and Stowers reached on a fielder’s choice.

One of the Lockport assistant coaches had a discussion with the man in blue.

The Porter assistant coach insisted that the crafty Filkins went outside the baseline to avoid the tag. After a small discussion it appeared like the umpires were going to reverse the call and call Filkins out. Caravan head coach Brian Hurry exploded out of the third base coaches’ box to have a discussion with both the third base umpire and the Porter assistant coach.

After all the dust had settled, Filkins was ruled safe at third. The Caravan star of the night, Houston, followed with a clutch RBI single, plating the eventual game-winner scored by the crafty Filkins.

“This is truly unbelievable,” said Houston. “We still have two more games to win. It feels great to go downstate again but we want to win it this time. Lockport is a very good team and hats off to them. I’m just having fun with my brothers. I feel very happy to have driven home the two runs and this was a team win.”

After the controversial third inning, the pitchers, Kravetz (8-3) and Lockport’s SIU-Edwardsville right-hander Evan Martens (9-1), settled in to shut down the opposition the rest of the game.

The University of Kansas-bound lefty Kravetz went the distance for the Caravan, allowing one run and just four hits. Displaying an absolutely filthy changeup, the future Jayhawk struck out five and walked one.

Martens went the distance, allowing just two runs and five hits. Martens fanned 10 and walked one – Thomas, who led off the game with that lone walk and scored the first run of the game.

“What a great baseball game. Our hats are off to Lockport. They are a very good baseball team and a super program,” said Hurry. “Jeremy Kravetz and his teammates were outstanding. Two of the best pitchers in the state went head-to-head. Evan Martens was outstanding for Lockport as well. Jerry showed his senior leadership by having great at-bats to drive home the two runs.”

Lockport closes out a tremendous season under the leadership of head coach Andy Satunas at 32-8

“That’s baseball; it’s a game of inches,” said Satunas. “We had a game of inches go in our behalf against Providence and maybe our magic ran out today. I’m so proud of these seniors. They will be successful young men no matter what they do in life.”

8. Ryne Roper caps stellar 4-year career with POY honors

PBR Player of the Year, Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year and two-time All-State recipient. There’s not much the two-way standout hasn’t accomplished in his decorated four-year career at Harrisburg. This season, the University of Illinois recruit dominated in every facet of the game.

On the mound, Roper went 11-0, which included seven shutouts, one perfect game and one no-hitter. He also notched two saves, 106 strikeouts to only eight walks and a 0.41 ERA. Offensively, he batted .468 with 10 homers, 11 doubles, four triples, 39 RBI, 46 runs, 25 walks, 12 stolen bases and struck out only five times. CLICK HERE to read Roper’s Player of the Year story.

7. MLB Draft ends with a thud

As expected, it was a down year for Illinois high school players in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. The highlight of Illinois’ draft came from 2010 PBR first-team All-State selection Eric Jagielo, who was drafted in the first round by the Yankees, No. 26 overall. Jagielo, a power-hitting corner infielder from Downers Grove North HS, went on to have a decorated career at Notre Dame.

It took 24 rounds before the first Illinois prep prospect was selected, when Moline RHP Matt Brill was taken by the Mets with the 716 pick. Ottawa OF Michael Hermosillo was the next high school player taken, in the 28th round (847 overall), by the Angels.

For a complete draft list, CLICK HERE

6. A Star(ai) is Born

By Sean Duncan

Prior to the season, few, if anyone, knew the name Matt Starai. But with each passing start, the St. Charles East senior right-hander continued to raise his profile, to the extent that he was unquestionably one of the premier Class of 2013 pitching prospects in Illinois, ultimately earning PBR first-team All-State honors.

Indeed, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Starai was the spring’s biggest revelation, rising from unknown prospect to one of the state’s most dominant pitchers. Starai threw one shutout after another until he had led the surprising Saints to the Class 4A state semifinals, where they finished third. In the end, Starai went 11-1 with a 0.54 ERA, including four victories in the playoffs. In 83 innings, he racked up 88 strikeouts to only 17 walks behind a consistent 87-89 mph fastball and sharp upper-70s slider. After the season, Starai signed with Judson University.

5. Nick Derr accelerates recruiting process

By Sean Duncan

Nick Derr created a seismic ripple across the Midwest recruiting world when the 5-foot-11 shortstop from Geneva HS became the first Class of 2016 prospect to verbally commit before even playing a game in high school.

The athletic freshman committed to Florida State University in late January.

While freshmen pledging their allegiances have become fairly common in warm-weather states, Derr’s verbal is the first known baseball commitment as a freshman in Illinois since the Prep Baseball Report’s inception in 2005. Typically, recruiting in Illinois is more accelerated than its Midwest brethren.

Derr’s athletic gifts are unquestionable. A three-sport standout, he was the starting varsity quarterback for Geneva in the fall. He’s a sub-7 runner with arm strength and has an advanced approach at the plate.

Since Derr’s commitment, Illinois has seen seven 2016 prospects make verbal commitments to date.

4. The Year of Evan Skoug

By Nathan Rode
National Supervisor

Back in June, Libertyville catcher Evan Skoug hit a grand slam that propelled his team into the 4A state championship. While Libertyville ultimately lost to Mount Carmel, the grand slam capped a big season for Skoug. However, it turned out to be just the beginning.

After finishing second and receiving PBR first-team All-State honors, the left-handed hitting Skoug traveled to North Carolina to participate in the Tournament of Stars. He went 4-for-12 with four singles and then homered at the East Coast Professional Showcase in August. He finished off the showcase season with an MVP performance for the Reds Midwest Scout Team at the World Wood Bat Championship in Jupiter, FL, at the end of October. The summer before a prospect’s senior year is typically a whirlwind, but Skoug was locked in the whole time.

“It was pretty hectic,” Skoug said. “I was traveling way more than I have in the past. When I went out there, I just tried to compete and make a name for myself. I ended up doing better than people thought I was going to do and even better than I thought. I just didn't over think it. I just let it happen.

“I hit really well this year, in the spring and the summer. I was pretty hot all year. I was working hard all winter and it finally paid off for me.”

Skoug went 7-for-11 in seven games in Jupiter with a double, home run, six RBIs and eight runs scored as he helped the Reds reach the semi-finals. Skoug did well to take advantage of pitches to hit when they came. Only four of his plate appearances resulted in an out as he walked eight times and was hit by a pitch once.

“I just went down there and played like I had nothing to lose,” Skoug said. “I guess everything just fell into line for me. I was locked in. I was seeing the ball. I was walking a lot and just making sure I was hitting my pitch. Everything was clicking for me.”

Skoug said the biggest improvement he made over the summer was in his approach at the plate. Facing some of the country’s top pitchers is a challenge hitters face on the showcase circuit, but Skoug learned to put aside who was on the mound and control his nerves.

The grand slam Skoug hit in June was part of an exciting spring as well. Just before the playoffs started, he announced his verbal commitment to Texas Christian.  Skoug finished his junior season with eight homers, 13 doubles, three triples, 45 RBI and 51 hits. He also was walked 27 times and had a .545 on-base percentage.

3. Joliet Catholic shuts out the competition, wins another 3A title

By Sean Duncan

Even before Nick Dalesandro stepped onto Joliet Catholic’s campus, he was widely known as the next baseball prodigy at the baseball -rich program. The multi-talented Dalesandro showed glimpses of his immense ability as a freshman starter last year, but only time would tell if he’d live up to the hype.

On Saturday, Dalesandro showed exactly why he’s one of the top sophomore prospects in the Midwest when he threw a gritty 5-0 shutout to beat St. Francis in the Class 3A state championship game.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound right-hander ‘s nine-strikeout, seven-hit  performance gave Joliet Catholic (25-14) its third state championship and second in the last five years.

“I told the seniors I’d go out there and do everything I can do for them,” said Dalesandro, who walked two batters and ended his 107-pitch masterpiece by striking out the side in the seventh. “The hype will be there, but I don’t pay much attention to it. It’s cool to look at, but at the end of the day it’s about this right here.”

In an up-and-down season for the Hilltoppers, their pitching staff carried them in the playoffs, posting five shutouts in seven games.

“I don’t see Nick as a sophomore,” said three-year starting shortstop Chris Tschida. “It was unbelievable what he did today.”

Dalesandro’s fastball  sat in the 87-89 mph range for most of the game, climbing as high as 91 mph in the fifth inning. But as well as he pitched, the Hilltoppers were deadlocked in a scoreless tie in the fourth inning, and St. Francis was consistently threatening to score throughout the game.

Then came The Play – a seemingly innocuous sacrifice bunt that ultimately doomed St. Francis.

Junior Aaron Markley led off the fourth inning with a single, his second hit of the day, and Tschida followed with a walk. Dalesandro, the team’s cleanup hitter, came to the plate and bunted an inside curveball that barely made it out of the batter’s box. Dalesandro deftly dodged the tag, forcing a throw to first base.

“Like they always say, ‘When you run hard, anything can happen,” said Dalesandro.

Indeed, the throw sailed over the first baseman’s head, allowing Markley to score the game’s first run and opening the floodgates. The Hilltoppers piled on four more runs, thanks to another St. Francis error, a run-scoring triple by junior DH John Kalisik, and a fielder’s choice RBI by catcher Alex Voitik. When the dust had cleared, Joliet Catholic led 5-0.

“We have a philosophy of staying out of the big inning,” said St. Francis coach Rich Janor. “We had a couple strange things happen, made some mistakes and didn’t recover from it.”

Said Joliet Catholic coach Jared Voss:  “After that first run, Nick needed at least one run to pitch behind, to give him room to breathe.”

Joliet Catholic also played a flawless defense, which included a diving catch by centerfielder Zach Jackovich that ended the third inning and kept St. Francis from scoring a run.

St. Francis (25-12) was led by senior catcher Brett Jungles, who had two doubles down the left-field line, and Tim Zettinger also had two hits. The Spartans, who earned the Wheaton school’s first state trophy, had at least two runners on in four innings, but couldn’t break through against Dalesandro.

“I’m honestly speechless,” said Tschida. “This is the reason why I came here, to be playing in this game. When I was in eighth grade, I stood in the stands and watched them dog-pile in the middle of the field. And now I end my career with a dogpile.”

Related Story: Sam Couch throws fourth straight shutout

2. Improbable Champions: Lisle wins 2A state title

By Sean Duncan

PEORIA, IL – Call it improbable. Call it surprising. Perhaps even shocking. But whatever you call Lisle’s run to the Class 2A state championship, no one can say it wasn’t well-deserved.

The Lions first upset perennial powerhouse Teutopolis to get to the championship game. And once there, Lisle left little doubt who the unquestionable state champion was, by crushing Pleasant Plains 10-1 on Saturday night at Dozer Park.

Not bad for a team that had lost four of its last six games heading into the playoffs.

“I can’t even describe it in words,” said senior left-handed pitcher Alex Ventrella, who earned the win. “This has to be the most incredible story ever. We’re like, what, five-thousandth in the country? I don’t even know what we’re ranked in the state. I don’t even know what to say.”

Indeed, Lisle’s first baseball state championship was filled with ups and downs along the way of its 23-10-1 season. But one thing is for sure: the Lions were clearly the superior team was Saturday night.

Unfazed by a lengthy rain delay prior to the game’s start, Lisle came out firing on all cylinders, pounding out seven hits in the first inning to mount a 6-0 lead. Junior second baseman Cliff Krause got the party started immediately when he rapped the first pitch from Pleasant Plains left-hander Taylor Staff for a single. Senior centerfielder Ryan Van Volkenburg and Brian Czyl each singled to load the bases. Junior shortstop Kevin Coppin, who delivered the game-winning the hit against Teutopolis in the semifinals, came through again, this time with a two-run single over the first-base bag.

After another hit by senior right fielder Adam Grego, Pleasant Plains coach Dave Greer went to the pen, but the hits didn’t stop. Senior DH Jordan Herman greeted the new pitcher with a RBI single, and then No. 9 hitter, senior left fielder Bailey Welch, dealt the final blow of the inning, a two-run double to left-center field.

When it was all said and done, the Lions sent 10 batters to the plate and had effectively sapped all the suspense from the game.

“We were due,” said Van Volkenburg, who defeated Teutopolis, 2-1, on Friday. “After Cliff got on with that first hit, I knew it was going to be a good day.”

The Lions put the game completely out of reach in the fourth, this time thanks to two Pleasant Plains pitchers, who combined to walk three batters, and Oard was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Grego also registered a sacrifice fly for an RBI. Lisle scored four runs on one hit – a Czyl single – and comfortably led 10-1.

Lisle finished the game with nine hits against six Pleasant Plains pitchers.

“This is huge,” said Coppin. “We’ve never been here before so we didn’t know what to expect.”

The contributions were plentiful for Lisle. Czyl went 2-for-2 with two walks and two runs scored, while Coppin went 1-for-1 with three walks – including one intentional – with two RBI and a run. Welch added two hits and two RBI, and Oard had two RBI.

Ventrella yielded four hits and one run – none earned – with two strikeouts, no walks and hit two batters to improve to 7-1. Junior right-hander Jeremy Glavanovits pitched two scoreless innings to put the finishing touches on the Lions’ championship run.

The Lions knocked off two of the state’s most storied small-school programs on the weekend. In the semifinals, they upended Teutopolis, which was the heavy favorite to win its third Class 2A title in four years. And Pleasant Plains, under guide of Hall of Fame coach Dave Greer, was making its sixth state appearance and gunning for its second title since 2000.

“I told the kids that anything can happen in the playoffs,” said Lisle coach Pete Meyer. “I told them you play the season for the playoffs. … Those kids competed like champions and they are champions.”

Pleasant Plains, too, had a tough road to the title game. The Cardinals were trailing 2-0 in the fifth inning to Eureka on Friday night before rain and lightning postponed the contest to 9 a.m Saturday morning. Had there been one more out in the fifth, it would’ve been an official game. Given new life, Pleasant Plains rallied for four runs in the final two innings to advance the championship game.

Related Story: Lisle shocks No. 7 Teutopolis

1.) Mount Carmel brings home first baseball championship

By Sean Duncan

JOLIET, IL – Any other game. That’s how Mount Carmel senior left-hander Jeremy Kravetz described it and, in fact, that’s how Jeremy Krazetz acted – as if it was any other game.

Only it wasn’t any other game. It was the Class 4A state championship game, and he and the top-ranked Caravan were locked in a dead-heat with Libertyville.

Pitch after pitch, play after close play, the bend-but-won’t-break Kravetz didn’t show a blink of emotion until he recorded the final out in Mount Carmel’s exhilarating 2-1 victory over Libertyville on Saturday night at Silver Cross Field.

“The whole thing doesn’t feel real right now,” said Kravetz. “Words can’t even describe it.  … I treat these games like any other game. Our team was prepared. I didn’t have any nerves out there.”

Thanks to Kravetz’s six-hitter, which included four strikeouts and no walks, Mount Carmel (34-8) brings home the baseball program’s first state championship. The Kansas-bound Kravetz (9-3) certainly earned his mettle in the playoffs, delivering victories in Monday’s supersectional (Lockport) and sectional semifinals (Lyons Township), and a save in last Saturday’s sectional final (St. Rita).

“Jeremy did tonight what he did all season,” said Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry. “He makes a lot of big pitches with a lot of grit and determination.”

Libertyville senior right-hander Nate Cote, however, was matching Kravetz pitch for pitch throughout the first five innings. Locked in a scoreless tie heading into the sixth inning, Oregon-bound shortstop Jerry Houston was hit by a pitch with one out. Sun-Times Player of the Year Jason Gasser followed with an opposite-field double down the left-field line to bring home Houston.

Gasser, who made four putouts in centerfield, would eventually score on an error, giving Mount Carmel a 2-0 lead.

“I knew we needed a catalyst,” said Gasser, who finished the game 2-for-3.  “I just threw my hands at it and thankfully it stayed fair.”

Libertyville (28-12-1) came out undaunted by Mount Carmel and its large contingent. The Wildcats threatened in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. In the fourth, junior right fielder Connor Simpson led off with a single and advanced to third after an error.  With one out, a miscommunicated squeeze bunt led to sophomore catcher Scott Kapers gunning down Simpson at third base.

Then in the fourth inning, senior centerfielder Justin Guarnaccio (2-for-3) led off with an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error. With Mount Carmel expecting a bunt, Hurry employed a dive play in which Houston broke to second base. Libertyville’s P.J. Neumann laced a hit up the middle, but Houston was there, and had the presence of mind to gun down Guarnaccio at third base to kill the rally.

“After he hit the ball right where [Houston] was, I thought maybe this is our night,” said Hurry.

Libertyville finally broke through against Kravetz in the sixth when senior DH Kevin Calamari doubled with two outs, and Guarnaccio rapped another single, scoring pinch-runner Nick Rossetti.

But as Krazetz did all game, he got the next hitter to ground out, then retired the side the secure the Caravan’s championship after three failed attempts, including a fourth-place finish when Kravetz was a sophomore two years ago.

“Right now all I can think about is all the great Caravan players of the past, all the alumni and the coaching staff,” said Houston, a four-year starter. “All the people that have made this program what it is today.”

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