Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 7 Lincoln-Way East


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: Lincoln-Way East
Preseason Rank: 7
2017 Record: 15-17
Conference: Southwest Suburban
IHSA Class: 4A
Head Coach: Eric Brauer
Playoff Run: Regional finals appearance
2017 Final Rank: NR
Returning Starters: 3
Returning Pitchers: 2

KEY PLAYERS LOST

Matt Blaney, RHP (Texas-Dallas)
Jake Pomykalski, RHP (Illinois-Chicago)
Joe Prestamer, RHP (Illinois Wesleyan)
Jimmy Quinn, C (South Suburban JC)
Jim Richmond, INF

TOP PLAYERS

Name State School Class Pos Commitment
Danny Zimmerman
IL Lincoln-Way East 2018 LHP Louisville
Brandon Petkoff
IL Lincoln-Way East 2018 OF Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
Julian Everett
IL Lincoln-Way East
2018 OF Lewis
Cole Kirschsieper
IL Lincoln-Way East
2018 LHP Illinois
Brandon Laux
IL Lincoln-Way East
2019 RHP Houston
Ryan Ritter
IL Lincoln-Way East
2019 INF  
Ethan Lambrigger
IL  Lincoln-Way East
2019  RHP
Jake Frencl IL  Lincoln-Way East
2019  RHP  
Chase Blatzer IL Lincoln-Way East 2019 LHP  
Zack Jurgens
IL Lincoln-Way East
2019 INF  
Matt Watson IL Lincoln-Way East 2019 INF  
Cameron Lee IL Lincoln-Way East 2019 INF/OF  

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

After the Griffins’ loss in the regional final to their next-door neighbors and rivals Lincoln-Way Central last season, head coach Paul Babcock resigned. The program’s next hire was going to be a very important one because, looking ahead at the state of the roster, its best players -- really some of Illinois’ brightest it has to offer -- belong to East and will enter the 2018 season as juniors. The Frankfort high school quickly, but carefully, looked over the candidates to take over this exciting group of players and the big pile of interested applicants pointed to only one name: Eric Brauer.

Brauer has found much success in his time as a head baseball coach in the state. Previously, Brauer spent the past nine years at Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights where he served not only as head baseball coach, but as the school’s athletic director. During his time as head coach of the 2A program, Brauer stacked the school’s trophy case; he helped his team earn eight regional titles and a sectional crown in less than a decade. They finished third at state in 2017 to conclude an historic 40-win campaign.

With such a decorated track record, Brauer is fully equipped to handle the antsy expectations this young, talented group will have after a disappointing 2017 season.

X-FACTOR

Junior LHP Cole Kirschsieper. The talented southpaw is poised for a breakout year for the Griffins. Kirschsieper and Danny Zimmerman, both left-handers, create one of the best one-two punches in the state. If Kirschsieper can continue to build off of his success last spring and the summer state playoffs, Lincoln-Way East will undoubtedly be one of the toughest team’s in the Southwest Suburban league and the state.

Kirschsieper stays even keeled on the mound, absolutely pounds the zone with his three-pitch mix and can run his fastball into the upper-80’s. Keep an eye on Kirschsieper as Lincoln-Way East tries to navigate their way to Joliet.

Cole Kirschsieper (2.11.18)

OUTLOOK

As previously mentioned, Lincoln-Way East recorded a sub-.500 recorded this past season, at 15-17, and came in with much loftier expectations than that. The team staffed a rotation of arms that was talented enough to carry them all the way to state, but was otherwise inconsistent. The losses of graduated pitchers Matt Blaney, Jake Pomykalski, and Joe Prestamer hurts this year’s rendition of the rotation a little, but it must be nice to know its ace, Danny Zimmerman, returns for his senior season and ace-in-waitin Kirschsieper will take on an even larger role as a junior. Another junior, Brandon Laux, should round out this three-man barrage that can go toe to toe with anyone in the state.

All three have verbal commitments to play Division-I baseball -- at Zimmerman to Louisville and Laux to Houston, respectively -- while Kirschsieper recently pledged his commitment to Illinois. Zimmerman is currently ranked as the No. 5 LHP in the Illinois’ 2018 class because of his low-90s fastball that works very well in conjunction with his fading changeup. Laux has a highly-projectable frame, live arm and has been committed to Houston since October of 2016. Kirschsieper is the No. 1 ranked left-hander in the 2019 class and had offers from all over the Midwest before ultimately deciding on the Illini.

There is depth to go along with the three horses on the mound, provided by junior RHPs Ethan Lambrigger, Jake Frencl and LHP Chase Blatzer. This may be down the road a year or two but the Griffins also have one of the top freshman arms in the state in RHP Landen Looper. Looper has a bright future and is already committed to Louisville.

A rotation like this is a weapon the rest of the teams in the Southwest Suburban Conference will fear. Lincoln-Way East will never be an easy win on anyone’s schedule because of the advanced pitching it’s packing.

At the plate things aren’t as clear, but they do have seniors they can rely on to provide their offense. Outfielders Brandon Petkoff and Julian Everett are two left-handed hitters that should play a main role in the middle of the lineup. Everett takes competitive at-bats and has sneaky power. Petkoff can also turn on the fastball and runs a 6.74 60. Junior infielders Ryan Ritter and Matt Watson may have the inside track on playing up the middle but nothing is for sure. Ritter has a long frame and advanced defensive actions. Another position player to keep an eye on is INF/OF Cameron Lee. Lee has a long, athletic frame, natural infield actions and should add some versatility for coach Brauer. Another junior, Zack Jurgens looks like the he should be the starter at the hot corner to begin the year.

BOTTOM LINE

Despite losing a few notable arms, Lincoln-Way East can comfortably slot in their replacements, Laux and Kirschsieper. In fact, those two are going to be leading this rotation next season, too, which will likely provide some much needed stability for the school’s new head coach Brauer. In addition to those two, Zimmerman should be the go-to guy on staff who is capable silencing any lineup on any given day.

That being said, the Griffins may, on occasion, be looking for offense. Beyond its pair of savvy senior outfielders, Lincoln-Way East is going to be in search of runs anywhere they can get them.

Nevertheless, it bears repeating that this pitching staff is among the most talented in the state. A strength like this can help any program achieve redemption from an unsatisfying season a year ago. The Griffins have a compelling case to make it to state this year with a mix of their sturdy rotation and some senior experience in the field and lineup.

Find more information on the 2018 Griffins below:

+ Full Schedule
Team Website
+ Gamechanger
Twitter

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

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN