Baseball preview: Wheaton Academy, St. Francis return to diamond with high hopes

Wheaton Academy

Coach: Brad Byrne

2012 record: 16-18

Top players:

Jake Cousins sr. P/CF

John McKenna sr. SS

Sam Perna sr. OF

John Schmitz sr. P

Peter Ferrel sr. C

Next game: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Marmion

What to watch: Last season was the first time in six years that Wheaton Academy didn’t reach the 20-win plateau. The squad finished four wins short of that benchmark.

Now, a less experienced Warriors team will look to start a new streak.

“I’m excited,” said Wheaton Academy coach Brad Byrne. “Last year, we had so many returning starters and I think maybe our expectations exceeded reality. We scheduled a really tough schedule and played a lot of 4A teams.

“We lost 11 seniors from last year and six starters. They were our foundation but we are excited about our young guys, the juniors coming up.”

Two holdovers who help provide plenty of optimism are senior Jake Cousins, the team’s No. 1 pitcher who also plays center field, and senior shortstop John McKenna. Both are three-year starters.

Major contributions are also expected from leadoff hitter Sam Perna, No. 2 pitcher John Schmitz and catcher Peter Ferrel, who is returning from a torn ACL suffered in Week 1 of the football season.

“I’m really excited about our pitching staff,” the coach said, “and our defense will be better. We will make the plays and we will be able to run.

“We lost some power, we lost Trevor Swaney, the two-time MVP for the conference, and that hurts us. But I think we will get on base, we have more contact hitters than we had last year.”

St. Francis

Coach: Rich Janor

2012 record: 17-16

Top players:

Jason Sullivan so. SS/P

Jack Petrando sr. P/OF/IF

Josh Croci sr. 1B

Alex Alcantara sr. OF

Andrew Brundage sr. P/OF

Next game: 11 a.m. Thursday vs. Danville-Schlarman

What to watch: The Spartans have a strong foundation in place with a solid core of returning players.

That group is headlined by Jack Petrando, who batted .308 a year ago while compiling five wins on the mound. Josh Croci is back at first base after hitting .353 with 27 RBIs in 2012. Alex Alcantara (.311 average, 23 runs scored 12 stolen bases) and Andrew Brundage (.310 average) also return.

Additionally, big things are expected out of sophomore Jason Sullivan, who received 61 varsity at-bats as a freshman while throwing 24-1/3 innings.

Newcomers to keep an eye on include juniors Chris Smith, Jack Ciombor and Dan Zurawski and senior Tim Zettinger.

The Spartans hope to compete for the Suburban Christian Blue championship. They finished third in the league last year with a 9-6 mark.