LA GRANGE PARK — Following back-to-back trips to the Class 3A state baseball tournament, Nazareth is not going to sneak up on anyone this year.
The Roadrunners have four key returners and a number of other players that racked up valuable big-game experience during the run to a third-place finish last spring.
All-conference returners Timothy DalPorto and Mike Stromberg will be back as crucial pieces to the defense and lineup. Stromberg is a strong defensive catcher, and DalPorto, who already has offers from Division I programs, will return as shortstop and led the team in hitting (.355) last season.
Junior Jake Bartels and senior Kyle Piotrowski are expected to be the top two pitchers. Bartels has been on varsity since his freshman year, and coach Lee Milano said he will be the No. 1 this spring. Both players also hit over .300 last season.
“We have a lot of players that have quality game experience last year,” Milano said. “You have a good handful of players that made the run last year and a couple guys that were up when we made the run two years ago so I would think the experience we’ve gone through the last couple years will definitely be an asset for our team.”
A number of players who were with the team, but weren’t starters will see bigger roles this spring. That’s the case for the Roadrunners’ four main outfielders. Carl Jackson, Mike Noesen, Chaz Usher and Andrew Barreto all have good speed.
Noesen and Piotrowski will both continue their careers at North Central College. Stromberg is still weighing his options, which include going to college just for academics on the weight of his 31 ACT score.
Pat Houlihan, a senior second basemen, and Mike Kogut, a sophomore first basemen, figure to be starters after seeing sparse time last year. Milano also talked up his infield depth, giving him a variety of options.
“I think that there’s a lot of competition within the team, which I think will bring out the best of everyone,” the coach said.
On the mound, junior lefty Peter Minella, Nelson and Kogut will add depth. That depth will be crucial for the Roadrunners in the competitive East Suburban Catholic Conference, which includes defending Class 3A champ Marian Catholic.
“We have guys that can really throw the ball,” Milano said. “When you play four conference games a week and every team is a quality team you have to have pitching depth.”