Prep Baseball Report

Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 1 Joliet Catholic

By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

The Illinois high school season kicks off on March 12th, the first day for regular season games.

Leading up to the opening week of games we will be rolling out team previews of high school teams all across the state and across all classifications, eventually launching our Preseason Power 25.

We will bring you a snapshot of what to expect along with top players and keys to success for that particular team.

Team: Joliet Catholic
Preseason Rank: 1
2017 Record: 23-12-1
Conference: East Suburban Catholic
IHSA Class: 3A
Head Coach: Jared Voss
Playoff Run: Regional championship appearance
2017 Final Rank: NR
Returning Starters: 6
Returning Pitchers: 9


Alec Hartsell, LHP (Heartland CC)
Michael O’Brien, 2B (Lewis)
Antonio Saldana, LHP (Heartland CC)
Jack Surin, C (Benedictine, IL)
Jack Naal, C
Brendon Wills, OF (IU-South Bend)


Name State School Class Pos Commitment
Justin Conant
IL Joliet Catholic 2018 LHP Ball State
Aidan Tyrell IL Joliet Catholic 2018 OF Notre Dame
Matt Bebar IL Joliet Catholic 2018 RHP North Central College
Simon Grashoff IL Joliet Catholic 2018 2B
Ryan Surin IL Joliet Catholic 2018 3B St. Louis
Alex Runge IL Joliet Catholic 2018 C Aurora
Blake Munch IL  Joliet Catholic 2018  OF  
Greg Ziegler IL  Joliet Catholic 2019  OF Missouri State
Jared Cushing IL Joliet Catholic 2019 RHP Texas Tech
Zak Gould IL Joliet Catholic 2019 RHP Memphis
Alex Vera IL Joliet Catholic 2019 INF/OF Illinois
Mike Gurka IL Joliet Catholic 2019 RHP/C/1B Minnesota
Christian Knapczyk IL Joliet Catholic 2020 INF Louisville


INF Christian Knapczyk, a sophomore, is an all-around talent who’s already committed to Louisville. In fact, Knapczyk committed to the collegiate powerhouse without ever having played in a high school game. He played real innings for the Hilltoppers as a freshman last season and should get even more looks this year, what position remains to be seen. He’s a lead-off type, left-handed hitter who takes consistent, competitive at-bats and utilizes a short, quick swing with sneaky gap-to-gap power. With almost a year of varsity experience under his belt look for this sophomore to be a spark plug of the offense.

Christian Knapczyk (9.17.17)


LHP/OF Aidan Tyrell, a Notre Dame commit, is the one arm with the most varsity experience returning for Joliet Catholic. Along with that experience, Tyrell, has had his fair share of success as well. Last season Tyrell struck out 66 in 53 innings pitched and had a 0.93 ERA en-route to being named ESCC pitcher of the year. He will once again assume the ace role among the abundance of talent on this staff. If that is not reason enough for Tyrell to be an X-Factor in 2018, he is also one of the top hitters in the Hilltopper lineup and will play the outfield when he is not toeing the rubber. Last season Tyrell hit .321 with 24 RBI in 2017. Among all of the talent that Coach Voss will have at his disposal, Tyrell may be of the utmost importance to their success this spring.

Aidan Tyrell (8.4.16)


We might look back on this group of Joliet Catholic Hilltoppers as a legendary blend of experience and next-level talent. There are nine Division-I commitments on this roster, the most head coach Jared Voss has had during his 20 years at the school. Of the nine commitments, just three are seniors: second baseman Justin Conant (Ball State), and lefty pitchers Ryan Surin (St. Louis) and Aidan Tyrell (Notre Dame). The rest of the D-I-bound squad is comprised of underclassmen, including the aforementioned Knapczyk, shortstop Jared Cushing (Texas Tech), pitchers Zak Gould (Memphis), Michael Gurka (Minnesota), Alex Vera (Illinois), and OF/RHP Gregory Ziegler (Missouri State).

It’s stunning how much talent will be on the field, all at once, for Joliet Catholic each and every gameday. Last year, the team’s youth and relative inexperience caught up with the Hilltoppers in the regional championship against a strong Lemont team. They went up against a D-I arm themselves that fateful day last year in Ryan Sublette and it ended their state-fueled dreams.

A silver lining isn’t hard to find. A loss like that can rally any team, especially one as talented as this. They’re still defending conference champions and a team that will inundate its competition through sheer numbers. With so many prospects sharing one dugout, it’s the depth of this Joliet Catholic team that should have the rest of ESCC bracing for impact.

The rotation is authentically all-Division I, anchored by the seniors, Tyrell and Surin, followed up by juniors Gould, Gurka, Vera and Ziegler -- all of whom would probably be the ace of most prep staffs. Tyrell himself is coming off the honor of being named the ESCC Pitcher of the Year.

The lineup is tooled up, too, featuring the three-year starter and senior Conant, juniors Ziegler and Cushing, senior 1B Matt Bebar (North Central College), C Simon Grashoff, and three-year varsity infielder and senior Blake Munch, among many others.

One of the midwest’s most stacked squads, with seemingly no weakness on paper, Joliet Catholic is prepared to earn coach Voss’ first state title since 2013 behind a tidal wave of talent.


Currently, Joliet Catholic has six of the top 109 players in the 2019 class, as per our latest rankings, and three within the top 28 of the 2020 class. So, what may be the wildest part of all of the talent assembled onto one field is that they’ll be given this year, the next, and maybe even the one after that to capitalize on the surplus of riches they’ve surrounded themselves with. However, this year may present the best opportunity for state glory, given the mix of senior experience and on-the-rise raw skill.

Find more information on the 2018 Hilltoppers below:

+ Full Schedule
Team Website
+ Gamechanger

Make sure to follow @pbrillinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the season.