Midwest Select Preview: Illinois Teams

Drew Locascio and Nathan Rode

On April 13-14 at Grand Park in Westfield, IN, the inaugural PBR Midwest Select tournament will be played with teams representing Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. The event aims to highlight the talent in the Midwest and the great competition and atmosphere high school baseball creates.

Each team will play two or three games in a round-robin format. In the weeks leading up to the event, PBR will release information on the participating teams. We started with those from Michigan and Ohio. Next up, we have Illinois.

Edwardsville HS, IL
Edwardsville finished the 2017 season 34-8 and second in Class 4A, the largest class in Illinois. With the loss of a number of key contributors to graduation, the Tigers 2018 squad will look drastically different than it did last spring but head coach Tim Funkhouser should have the pieces to once again compete for a conference and state title. Look for senior RHPs Chase Gockel and Reid Hendrickson (Central Missouri) to step up on the mound with the loss of their top two starters, Kade Burns and Andrew Yancik. Senior RHP Caleb Strohmeier and junior RHPs Dawson Taylor and Jonathon Yancik should add some much needed depth on the mound. Taylor could be an x-factor for the staff. The 6-foot-4 right-hander has touched 90 mph this winter and flashed a tight slider to go along with it. His ability to consistently throw strikes will end up determining his role on the staff. When looking at the offense, the Tigers return one of the best hitters in the state, 2020 1B Drake Westcott (Louisville). The left-handed hitting Westcott was named PBR Second Team All-State after hitting .436 with 12 home runs and 11 doubles as a freshman last spring. Senior 3B Cole Hampton and C Collin Elvers, along with a bevy of juniors—MIF Josh Ohl, UT Jack Cooper, C Ben Basarich, OF Gavin Lyday and OF Joe Copeland—will all compete for a spot in the lineup.

Joliet Catholic Academy, IL
On paper, the Hilltoppers have arguably the most talented and complete roster in the state. The Class 3A perennial power currently has nine Division I recruits. The pitching staff will be led by senior LHPs Aidan Tyrell (Notre Dame) and Ryan Surin (St. Louis). Both are strike throwers who pitch in the mid 80s with feel for their secondary stuff. Tyrell struck out 66 in 53 innings last season and had a 0.93 ERA. Alongside the seniors on the mound will be 2019 LHP Alex Vera (Illinois) and junior RHPs Zak Gould (Memphis), Michael Gurka (Minnesota) and Greg Ziegler (Missouri State). Offensively, they are equally as talented as they are on the mound. Junior IF Jared Cushing (Texas Tech) and sophomore Christian Knapczyk (Louisville) should hit toward the top of the lineup. Tyrell, who will play the outfield when not on the mound, hit .321 with 24 RBIs in 2017. Ziegler will also be a mainstay in the outfield when not on the mound. He hit 11 doubles and knocked in 24 last season. Seniors IF Justin Conant (Ball State), 1B Matt Bebar (North Central College) and C Simon Grashoff fill out the rest of the lineup. Grashoff hit .359 with 31 RBIs in 2017. It would not be a surprise if Joliet Catholic was hoisting the Class 3A state trophy come June.

O’Fallon High School, IL
In 2017, the Panthers won 32 games and made it to a sectional final before being ousted from the postseason by fellow 2018 Midwest Select participant and the Class 4A runner-up Edwardsville. Despite ending the 2017 season on a loss, O’Fallon is entering this spring with supreme confidence in its roster, namely because it’s returning seven players to its roster and five arms, including senior RHPs Hayden Juenger (Missouri State) and Brayden Arnold (Maryville). Specifically, Juenger has cemented himself as one of the best righties in his class because of his sinking fastball that sits in the upper 80s, but touches 90 with regularity in addition to his overall athleticism and pitchability. Arnold, as well as fellow senior RHPs Logan Boente (McKendree) and Jaysn Miller (Elmhurst College), will back up Juenger on an experienced and talented staff that can set the Panthers on the course to the state playoffs. Though, O’Fallon has no shortage of firepower in their lineup either. Junior SS Josh Gibson (Missouri State) is the Panthers’ generator on offense. He’s emerged as one of the best shortstops in his class and was one of the main reasons O’Fallon was a 30-plus game winner last season. He hit .371 from the leadoff spot as a sophomore and led the team in hits and runs scored. Even when they’re not pitching, Juenger and Arnold remain weapons as two of the team’s best sluggers who also hit back to back in the three- and four-hole at times last spring. They protect senior OF Quinn Lowery, who normally slots in a spot in the order ahead of them and is yet another gifted and experienced player head coach Jason Portz gets to rely on. The Panthers have an enviable combination of skill and experience that could make for a lengthy playoff run this spring.

Sandburg HS, IL
The Eagles are coming off an impressive 2017 season in which they finished 24-8 and made a Class 4A super sectional appearance before losing to eventual runner-up Edwardsville. Sandburg returns their entire starting infield from last year’s squad and two PBR All-State selections—seniors SS Branden Comia (Illinois) and C Ryan Hampe (Illinois-Chicago). Comia is going to be a four-year varsity starter and is currently the top-ranked shortstop in the state. Last spring, Comia hit .418 with 12 doubles, six home runs, 26 RBIs and nine stolen bases. Hampe finished the season hitting .468 with 10 doubles, seven home runs and 35 RBIs. The depth on the infield is impressive with senior 3B Andrew Tenison (Lewis), Comia at shorstop, 1B Seth Masters (Illinois-Springfield) and senior Matt Kocinski (Wisconsin-Oshkosh), junior Tommy Windt and junior Brian Adams competing for time at 2B. Windt will also see some time in the outfield with senior Andrew DeMatteo (Augustana). The pitching staff will be led by 2018 RHP Evan Tenuta (Notre Dame). He will be surrounded by a strong supporting cast that includes Comia, who saw some time in the closer role last spring. Masters, 2018 RHP Erik Herold Tommy Windt and junior Ryan Leland could all be options for head coach Jim Morsovillo this spring.

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